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Special Needs and Piano Pedagogy

This section provides information on specific special needs and piano pedagogy resources, tools, and strategies for teaching. It is organized into specific needs. Our goal is to provide up-to-date research in this area. Please provide any recent research that would be useful to add to this list by filling out the contact portion.

Jump to: General | Down Syndrome | Autism | ADHD | Dyslexia | Cognitive Delays



Bauer, Beth A. “Ten Characteristics for Teaching Students with Special Needs.” Clavier Companion 2, no. 4 (July 2010): 18–25.

The author describes characteristics that a teacher must have when teaching a student with special needs. Those characteristics include, consistency, adaptability, flexibility, setting expectations, patience, compassion, a sense of humor, learning from mistakes, losing an ego, and having fun. This information would be helpful in a practical sense of teaching piano.


Crouch, Sarah Joyce. “The Effect of Movement Instruction on Steady Beat Performance of Learning-Disabled Piano Students.” M.M.Ed. thesis. The University of Texas at Arlington, 2003.

Crouch discusses and explores the results of the effect that a steady beat performance has a on a learning-disabled piano student. She discusses the effect of large motor movements to a steady beat and how that improves the students understanding of music. Her study included three students and her thesis provides graphs and tables of the results.


Etoile, Shanon. “Meeting the Needs of the Special Learner in Music.” The American Music Teacher 45, no. 6 (June 1996): 10.

A scenario of a teacher and a special needs piano student are explained in this article. The author discusses problems in the lesson and strategies to over-come them. The different needs of the students are addressed and proved ways to meet those needs.


Duncan, Adrianne. “Experiences in Teaching Students with Disabilities (With No Experience)” Alfred Music Blog (October 2019): https://www.alfred.com/blog/experiences-teaching-students-disabilities-no-experience/

The author of this article describes in detail some of her experiences with students with disabilities. The disabilities range from MS, neurological disorders, and autism. This would be a practical resource to use when teaching students with any kind of disability.


Gowers, Caroline. “Teaching & Learning - Working with Children with Special Needs: Nicola Beattie.” American Suzuki Journal 37, no. 1 (2008): 58.

The experience that Gowers had teaching a piano with special needs is described in this article. Gowers explains her challenges and future goals when teaching a student with SN. This article would be helpful if ever teaching a blind student.


Jutras, Pete. “The Uniqueness of Being.” Clavier Companion (July 2010) 4-5.

Jutras describes in his article the importance of realizing the uniqueness of each SN student is important. He discusses information has been found about this topic and how it is completely attainable and possible for piano teachers to do. The author explores the importance of flexibility of methodology when teaching each individual student.


Leger, Elizabeth, and Sarah Rushing. “The Sensory-Friendly Music Teacher: Creating a Welcoming Environment for all Students.” MTNA e - Journal 11, no. 1 (September 2019): 28-29.

Rushing and Leger discuss the importance of sensory motor developments in SN children and how this should be handled in a music setting. They provide ways of diagnosis and strategies for overcoming obstacles during a lesson. This would be helpful when knowing how to handle a student with SN when trying to play the piano.


Martiros, Melissa. “The Perceptions of Piano Teachers regarding the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in the Piano Studio.” DMA diss., The University of Wisconsin - Madison, 2012.

Martiros explains the reasons and facts that special needs students get excluded from the private piano setting. She then describes her research in how piano teachers include those students and what strategies they use to accomplish that. The conclusion includes the importance of family involvement and positive attitude when teaching a student with SN.


Martiros, Melissa and Cheryl Hanley-Maxwell. “It's Not My Fault!” MTNA e - Journal 5, no. 2 (November 2013): 2-16.

The authors explore the reasons why special needs students are excluded from piano studios and ways to include them. Martiros explains the piano teachers’ ability and education on teaching a SN student. Understanding the factors of why SN students are excluded will help identify what areas need to be researched and explained.


Pausch, McKenzie. “Adaptive Piano Lessons: An Incredible Adventure.” Clavier Companion 11 (January 2019): 20–24.

The author gives insightful information on ways to adapt a lesson when teaching SN students even if that during the lesson itself. She provides activities to help with their musical ability of the bench using playdough, Legos, flash cards and various games. Topics cover needs with behavioral, communication, physical, and cognitive issues.


Silini, Flora C. “A Piano Course for Special Adults.” Music Educators Journal 65, no. 6 (February 1979): 72–77. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2307/3395659.

This course includes information on how to include a SN adult into an educational setting with piano. The strategies emphasize the importance of music making and how that can positively affect a person’s life. The writer also explores the use of coordination and motor skills and the importance of working on that with the adult students.


Zdzinski, Stephen F. “Adapting Piano Teaching for Special Learners.” Piano Pedagogy Forum 5, no. 1 (January 2002): 81-84. http://keyboardpedagogy.org/images/PPF/PPF%20Vol.%204-5.pdf

Zdzinski provides different examples of ways to adapt your teaching strategy when teaching piano to a SN student. He talks about physical limitations, social environment, and parental involvement. The most helpful aspect of this article is the explanation of being able to adapt teaching rhythm, notes, and technique.


Price, Scott. “Vocabulary Effectiveness for Students with Special Needs” The Francis Clark Center (September 2017): http://keyboardpedagogy.org/blogs/inclusive-piano-teaching-blog/282-vocabulary-effectiveness-for-students-with-special-needs

This article explains the importance of a teacher’s choice of words and vocabulary when teaching a piano student with special needs. Price emphasizes to not use metaphors, slang, synonyms, homophones, and contradictory language but rather be clear and consistent using the right tone of voice.


Price, Scott. “Finger Numbers (not finger knots!)” The Francis Clark Center (May 2018): http://keyboardpedagogy.org/blogs/inclusive-piano-teaching-blog

The importance of vocabulary and the teaching of numbers is expressed in this article. Price goes into detail of thoughts to have before teaching finger numbers to students with special needs. This resource would be helpful in giving practical advice and steps to teaching finger numbers to special needs students.


Price, Scott. “More than a Lesson: Piano Study and Students with Special Needs.” Clavier Companion (July 2014): 24-25.

Price discusses the importance of a routine and schedule during a lesson with a SN student. He provides an outline of suggestions for the lesson such as time socializing, speech practice, performance, and family involvement. Price concludes with making the statement that be aware and ready to learn, even as the educator.


Price, Scott. “Teaching Students with Disabilities: Personal Accounts from Teachers.” Piano Pedagogy Forum 5 no. 1 (January 2002): 71-76. http://keyboardpedagogy.org/images/PPF/PPF%20Vol.%204-5.pdf

The SN students in this article range from young to adult and dealing with disabilities such as cognitive displays, physical disabilities such as blindness, and autism. It provides teachers accounts from their personal experiences and how they dealt with those students. This is an amazing resource for ideas and strategies on how to overcome obstacle given by teachers experiencing those types of students.

Down Syndrome


Bauer, Elizabeth Anne. “What is an Appropriate Approach to Piano Instruction for Students with Down Syndrome?” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2003.

Bauer explains her studies on down syndrome and piano instruction for a student with down syndrome. She discusses general education and how that correlates with teaching music to a special need’s student. Her study includes methods from John Dewey and Maria Montessori and what can be drawn from them.



Creviston, Hannah. “A Child-Led Approach to Music Education: Reaching the Child with Autism.” Piano Pedagogy Forum 20, no. 1 (January 2019): 9-15. http://keyboardpedagogy.org/images/Piano_Pedagogy_Forum_-_Volume_20_-_No._1_-_January_2019.pdf

Creviston addresses in her article why piano and music are important for the special needs child. She discusses strategies for piano pedagogues such as listening, movement, imitation, and improvisation. The article concludes with an extensive bibliography for sources in piano pedagogy and autism.


Price, Scott. “All in a Day's Routine: Piano Teaching and Autism.” Clavier Companion. (July/ August 2010): 10–16.

Price explains the details and strategies of teaching children with autism. The article dives into the importance of having a routine during the duration of a piano lesson. He also emphasizes the importance of perspective, vocabulary, precision, and the importance of being in their world with them. [Online Francis Clark Center]

Price discusses in his article the importance of what to teach and how to teach children with autism. He explains in detail the questions to ask step by step to create the correct learning process for his students. This article contains several step by step instructions on teaching a piece to a child with autism.



McAllister, Lesley Sisterhen. “Positive Thinking: Strategies for Optimal Learning with ADHD and Hyperactive Students.” American Music Teacher (February 2012): 18-22.

The importance of strategizing and knowledge of knowing how to do so as a piano pedagogue is explained in this article. The author describes strategies and approaches to teaching students with ADHD and hyperactive students such as allowing students to move activities off the bench and allowing room for activities.



Overy, Katie, Roderick I. Nicolson, Angela J. Fawcett, and Eric F. Clarke. “Dyslexia and Music: Measuring Musical Timing Skills.” Dyslexia 9, no. 1 (02, 2003): 18-36.

The data and research in this article reveal the difficulty of musical timing that students with dyslexia will have. Each section provides graphs, illustrations, and strategies to have knowledge of while teaching musical timing to a SN student. The conclusion has an extensive reference list for this topic.


Overy, Katie. “Dyslexia, Temporal Processing and Music: The Potential of Music as an Early Learning Aid for Dyslexic Children.” Psychology of Music 28, no. 2 (2000): 218-229.

Overy describes the importance of music and the effect it can have on dyslexic children’s learning experience. She explains the importance of preparation and strategizing for the student’s success during a musical experience. This type of practice helps with SN students during the lesson as well as their over-all educational ability.


Sitser, Sheryl. “Colors Aid Dyslexic Pianist.” Music Educators Journal 84 (1998): 44.

Sitser explores in her article the different strategies of helping a dyslexic piano read music. This includes adding colors to notes and numbering systems. This allows the students to learn the music and have progress on the instrument for motivation. This article includes step by step instructions and examples on how to accomplish tasks.


Vladikovic, Jelena. “Gifted Learners, Dyslexia, Music, and the Piano: Rude, Inattentive, Uncooperative, Or Something Else?” DMA diss., Arizona State University, 2013.

Vladikovic explores what it means to teach piano to a gifted student, particularly with dyslexia. She concludes her research with describing characteristics and difficulties the student may encounter when being taught. It includes strategies of how to help a dyslexic student overcome the difficulties while reading music and playing the keyboard.

Cognitive Delays


Gilbert, Janet. “A Comparison of the Motor Music Skills of Nonhandicapped and Learning-disabled Children.” Journal of Research in Music Education 31, no. 2 (1983): 147-155. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3345217?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents

Gilbert discusses the motor music skills test and its outcome based on students with and without learning disabilities. She explains the relationships between cognitive and motor abilities and how they can be affected by a learning disability. It includes different charts with analysis and results from the motor music skills test from students with and without a learning disability.


Minot, Mark. “Identifying a Music Student’s Learning Paths and Facets: Implications for Music Teachers and Teaching (An Exploratory Study).” Piano Pedagogy Forum 15, no. 1 (January 2013): 197-209. http://keyboardpedagogy.org/images/PPF/PPF%20Vol.%2011-15.pdf

The results of this study reveal how students learn in different situations. It proves that learning music is cognitive and requires information processing. The pages are filled with graphs and explanation of how the brain works when learning music. This would be helpful in understand how students learn and what sort of learning behaviors are used.


Steele, Anita Louise and Christopher Fisher. “Adaptive Piano Teaching Strategies: For the Physically and Cognitively Handicapped Piano Student.” The American Music Teacher 60, no. 4 (2011): 22-25.

Strategies and adaptive teaching are discussed in this article by Steele and Fisher. They provide a list of challenges and ways of assessing a SN student so that learning can begin. The conclusion provides strategies for teaching rhythm, music reading and notation, and practice.


Hello and thank you for your interest and heart for inclusive piano teaching. We hope that this website provides you with the resources you need for your students.

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Jump to: General | Down Syndrome | Autism | ADHD | Dyslexia | Cognitive Delays