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Getting Musical With Kids Who Have Physical Disabilities

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 8/2/2012

Making music is fun, and most kids learn much from music. Creative expression and the ability to communicate in a language that involves sound and rhythm and beat can be an extremely satisfying experience for all. Music activities for kids with special needs can take many forms.

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    Group Music Experiences

    Group musical experiences are easy to run in a school setting, particularly if you have access to a trained music teacher or music therapist. The teacher or music leader is responsible for planning the session, ensuring a logical flow of learning from one session to the next, and for planning, implementing and reporting on the outcomes of the music classes. Here are some great music activities to try with kids with special needs in a group setting:

    • Keep the beat here - One student starts a beat by tapping on a part of their body and, without using words, everyone copies that person's action. When the teacher points at another student, the new person starts a beat on a different part of their body.
    • Song choice - Use Compic cards or Makaton signs for songs that are familiar to students so a student can choose what they would like to play or hear. This is great for encouraging turn-taking, teamwork and communication skills with special needs students.
    • My big bass drum - The song 'I can play on my big bass drum' is great for kids with special needs who have a physical and auditory disability. They can gain lots of sensory feedback and sensory information through a bass drum, while being able to play it fairly easily from a seated position. For a wheelchair student, ensure the drum is positioned in a stable place and that the student is able to hit the drum with part of their body without hurting themselves on the rim of the drum.

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    Adapting Musical Instruments

    Sometimes instruments and other musical items need to be adapted so they can be used easily by a student with a physical disability. You could try:

    • Adding a piece of sponge wrapped around a handle of an instrument (such as a tone block handle or a xylophone beater) to increase the grip size.
    • Mounting an instrument onto a flat board so it remains still, or clamping it to a table top using a monkey grip
    • Adding a circle of soft elastic to a handle of an instrument so it is not lost by a student who has trouble maintaining a strong hand grip.
    • Using a nail brush to act as a holder to keep a piece of music upright (laminate the page first to give it the necessary stiffness; otherwise it will fall over)--This can be placed on a wheelchair tray or table top so it can be seen while playing an instrument.
    • Consulting with a therapist (such as an occupational therapist) about more technical ways of making instruments and music accessible to an individual student.
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    Respecting Different Intelligences

    You've know the concept of different types of intelligences. Remember that musical intelligence is another form that needs to be cared for and nurtured so that it can grow and develop. Find the music intelligence in all your students and take the time to adapt and plan for their individual needs. If you do, you will discover that music activities for kids with special needs could become one of the most rewarding parts of your week as a teacher.