Countless studies and reports have identified ways that music can be used in the classroom. These reports also identify how studying music can have a profound impact on student achievement, helping students perform better on standardized testing, increasing their self-confidence, and engaging them in learning about other cultures.
All of these benefits apply to the typical student in a class. Within a classroom, however, there are students at all levels of learning, and music has a way of reaching all students, no matter where they may be developmentally. Teachers of students with special needs have identified music as a viable tool in the education and training of this group. What makes music so adaptable for teachers, and why is it so effective in the classroom?
Music can be motivating.
Classroom teachers who allow students to earn class-wide treats, such as listening to music, have harnessed the motivational power of music. Students who are working on developing speech can be motivated to ask for the privilege of playing an instrument, using their newfound vocabulary and verbal communication skills.
Music engages all the senses.
One of the largest components of communication is non-verbal skills. Music allows for movement and development of the five senses, giving students the ability to use their senses to communicate with the world around them.
For example, instruments such as percussion use the tactile system to touch, feel and strike the drum. Kinesthetic systems engage when kids move and dance to the music. Auditory processes are developed as the students listen to a variety of musical styles and instruments. Visual systems are impacted as the students use their eyes to read music and play their instruments.
Music is multi-sensory.
Scientists have determined that during the process of making music, both hemispheres of the brain are engaged. With a variety of cortexes firing at once, the brain is completely involved in the experience. For students with special needs, this can be particularly important, providing them with experiences that engage their whole brains and allowing them to form new synapses and connections.
Music is non-verbal.
Students with special needs may struggle with verbal skills and have difficulty making themselves understood. This can be frustrating and distressing for both the verbal and non-verbal participant. Music, however, allows people to communicate and be understood without words. For many students, this may be the first time they have the tools to express their emotions in a meaningful manner.
Music forms bonds.
Something magical happens to a group of students who share music together. Through singing, dancing and making music, connections are formed and strengthened. Similar to the way that mothers and their children bond over nursery rhymes, music allows students to share experiences.
Music allows for success.
One of the goals of the classroom is to find methods that allow all students to be successful. In a mainstream classroom, music is often used as a means of instruction that can provide students with special needs the opportunity to respond to lessons, engage in the learning process, and demonstrate mastery of a skill. Music gives students with special needs the chance to succeed in their lessons.
Looking for ways to include music when working with students with special needs?
Auditory information can become overwhelming for some students with special needs. Adding elements of rhythm allows students to filter their environment for the information they need, and helps them to get their body in sync with an activity. This can be done through simple chants, rhymes, and clapping activities that help students structure their verbal interactions.
Adding visual cues to music increases a student’s understanding of lyrics and instruction and assists in memorization. Teaching simple songs while showing images reflecting the information is a powerful means of communicating with students.
Preparing lessons around popular or favorite songs is a meaningful way of engaging students in the learning process. Reading lyrics aloud, identifying vocabulary, and discussing a song’s meaning are all comprehensive lessons that students can relate to and enjoy.
Ask many adults to name the fifty states, and they will immediately break into song, unable to name them all without the helpful tune. While this is a powerful testimony to the impact music has on learning, it is also important to provide visual and memorization skills to allow for generalization of information without music. Adding visual cues that prompt memory, gradually transitioning from musical to spoken words, and allowing students to engage in discussion about songs in non-musical settings can facilitate the process.
Music is a powerful tool and is one of the most effective means of instruction for all students. Particularly useful for teachers of children with special needs, the addition of music to lessons allows instructors to engage with their students in ways that verbal lessons cannot.