Teaching Special Needs Children

by Steve


I've been working with children with autism for a long time. I would like to start giving music lessons to children with any kind of disablities. Where do I start?


Steve, you don't say what your musical background is. Nor do you say if you want to teach a general music group class, or individual lessons on an instrument. Do you know one or more instruments well, or are you comfortable singing with kids? I am going to assume so, since it is music that you want to teach!

If you've never taught music before, but you've been playing an instrument for a long time, you may have forgotten what it's like to be a beginner and just how overwhelming an instrument can be even for a child with no disabilities.

Why do I say overwhelming? Because if you're not used to starting beginners on an instrument, it's easy to overdo it -- to give them too much knowledge and too many techniques at once. But since you have been working with special needs kids, this may be something you are keenly aware of.

So here is what I would do to START PREPARING MYSELF as a teacher: get 2, 3, or even 4 beginning method books in your chosen instrument and play through them carefully, making notes and comparing the methods. Use your own judgement -- does the book move too fast? Will you need to supplement (probably!) the book with other pieces learned by rote, perhaps? Plan extra activities "away from the bench" to reinforce musical concepts such as rhythm. Look at the Piano Adventures website; they have a great forum (archived now) where you can find teaching and game suggestions. Also look at Music for Special Kids.com, SoYouWantToTeach.com and MusicMattersBlog.com. There are lots of others!

Write out a plan of progression for lessons and be prepared to alter it from week to week.

See if you can "borrow" a kid to teach for a few months to practice on before you go whole hog. You will learn so much from the mistakes you will make when you first start teaching, believe me, so offer to teach this guineau pig child for little-to-nothing.

Then, I would START ADVERTISING. Tell everyone you are associated with that you are going to be teaching music. Will this be in your home, or in a church, or perhaps at a school after hours? Post signs. Tell the parents in your community. Call the local schools and Boys and Girls Clubs, and the local Parks and Recreation department.

You need to know what other teachers are charging, but aim low, as you don't have the music teaching experience yet.

Then read all you can about teaching and especially teaching music! There are quite a few forums online; you just need to keep looking for them.

Good luck.

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