Guitar and Special Needs Students

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Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by pfuentes361 » Tue Oct 17, 2017 3:58 pm

Does anybody have any experiences teaching guitar to special needs students? If so, what materials, books, music, methods do you use? I teach a beginner guitar high school class with a special needs student in it and I'm not really sure what to do with her. She's physically capable of playing and following simple directions, but I probably can't teach her how to read and play like the other students. Any info will be greatly appreciated.

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Sean Eric Howard
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Re: Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by Sean Eric Howard » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:56 am


I am a classical guitarist and a special education teacher. You state your student has special needs - what specifically are her special needs? I know a lady from college who has epilepsy and Asperger Syndrome . . . but has, according to the University of Louisville, a 178 IQ and she plays the piano better than anyone else I've ever heard play - and that includes a great number of professional concert givers. Does this student have a verified learning disability or a deeper cognitive deficit?
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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:13 pm

Its such a varied area I suspect one would have to take every single case as an individual situation and if necessary produce materials specially. If the particular student has a carer or other responsible person I'd want to talk to them to find out how they are fixed in the various areas of learning.
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Re: Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by simonm » Fri Oct 20, 2017 1:04 pm

Interesting comments - it illustrates that politically correct jargon only works within a specific "in-group". As the previous post have said you need to work out why the label "special needs" has been applied.

Good luck with your quest.

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Re: Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by MaritimeGuitarist » Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:15 pm

I agree with S.E.H. that it would be helpful to know more about your students needs, but there are a few suggestions I can make anyway.

First, before you even think about resources, you will need to determine your goals and objectives for this student. If you have never set goals for students with special needs, it may be helpful to consult your special education/resource teacher--they will probably have an understanding of that student's needs and they should be able to help you even if they are not musical. They should also be able to tell you if any accommodations have been put in place for that student.

If you have a paraprofessional in your room, then that person should be able to provide one-on-one support for your special needs student. Just make sure you go over your plan with the paraprofessional so they understand what your expectations are.

Once you have determined your student's individual goals, you can then decide which resources will help the student best achieve the outcomes. You may, depending on the student's needs, have to create your own resources for that student or, If you are teaching in ensemble format, write out simplified parts. I don't know of any guitar specific resources, but I can recommend, "Teaching Music to Special Needs: A Label Free Approach" by Hammel and Hourigan as general resource.

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robin loops
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Re: Guitar and Special Needs Students

Post by robin loops » Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:41 pm

I taught a girl with severe down's syndrome. In this case I didn't need any books (and books would have been a hinderance). With two months of classes she was able to learn a few chords. One of the biggest challenges as a teacher was trying to get her to count four strums and change chord (or whatever). So I gave up on that and just used visual cues for when she should change the chord. At the end of two months (the time we had set aside for classes) I felt like it was a complete waste of time. HOWEVER, I was completely wrong. I found out a short time afterwards (from her caregiver) that it transformed her life. She would pull out her guitar and play the chords she knew (in whatever random fashion she came up with) and it gave her immense enjoyment and overall improved her confidence level.

Two things to keep in mind. First is to be ready to adapt to the needs of the student and abandon any preconceptions about method or even what 'playing the guitar is' and second is not to measure success based on them being able to play music as 'we understand it' (music) and that focus on providing the special needs student with the tools 'they need' to find enjoyment from the instrument... Even if that means just being able to make some noise on it.
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