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Singers with disabilities: How to help students with Dyslexia

Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 11:55:51 -0500 (EST)
From: GLENZA(a)
Subject: Re: dyslexia and music reading

I taught in a private school for learning disabled students -- for three
years. I had an Orff-based program and a chorus as well. Music reading is
strongly tied to the ability to "track" -- both from left to right and from
up to down, or vice versa. Music reading is complicated further by the fact
that it is dependent on one's ability to connect aural stimuli to visual

I found that dyslexic students had some of the same problems non-dyslexic
students have. That is, music always travels (in notation, that is) in a
linear fashion from left to right -- whether the melody is ascending or
descending. On a keyboard, this is a challenge, neurologically speaking.
The hands move to the left when the pitches descend -- yet, the eye (and
hence, the brain) continue to move to the right. You will often find piano
students can play ascending scales and melodic patterns with accuracy -- but
have difficulty on the descending passages.

Wind instruments are a tiny bit easier, in terms of the above problem -- but
there are other problems. In general, I believe it is easier to teach
children how to read music using an instrument. But with dyslexic children,
I strongly believe it is better to teach music notation (if you ARE going to
teach it) with the voice only because the spatial anomalies presented by
instruments only compound the problems.

I did not note any great differences in my dyslexic students and my
non-dyslexic students in terms of learning to read from notation. What I DID
note was that dyslexic students had difficulties reading WORDS and also
pitches and/or rhythms simultaneously. Don't know which was the greater
problem for them.

Good luck in your research. An interesting topic.

Glenda Cosenza
Assist. Prof. Music Education
Univ. of Vermont
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 12:08:24 EST
Subject: Re: dyslexia and music reading -- p.s.

We had an Orff-based program at the school I mentioned in my earlier letter
... and one reason why they hired me was to put that in place. Since Orff is
a "process" that is mostly aural (the emphasis is not on music notation in
most programs that are so-called 'pure' Orff), the activities worked very,
very well in the classes with learning disabled (including dyslexic) children.
In fact, they were natural-born improvizers -- highly creative -- and had
excellent aural perception skills, for the most part.