Adapting Music Games to suit Special Needs Classes

Teaching people with disabilities is such a rewarding experience that is enjoyed by everyone!

I know this because I had the pleasure of teaching disabled children in the past. One of the schools I taught at described the job as “teaching children with delicate health” and the conditions ranged from autism, cerebral palsy to TB. The other school I worked at was for children who were visually impaired or blind.
Before I started to teach in either of these schools, I had no real knowledge of what it would be like or how I would go. I also felt immense pressure to perform well because my work was being examined.

My husband Kevin has also had loads of experience with working with percussion with special needs students. The ages have ranged from children right through to adults and he has come up with many projects that have helped groups and classes excel to their highest standards and have been a real hit!

Together we share a passion for teaching and sharing music with people with special needs and we want to share some ideas with you in this post. In our experience, the needs of different disabilities can vary quite a lot, so feel free to use and adapt the ideas that suit you most. We are also aware that there are so many special teachers out there who share the joy of music with disabled people every day, so if you have your own experiences, advice or teaching tips please feel free to add them to the comment box below.

In our experience, we both found that both children and adults wanted to do most activities even if it would be difficult for them to achieve. We spent a lot of time with coming up with aids to help bridge the gaps and to help provide a sense of achievement without making them feel all the frustrations in the process.

Here are three music game ideas that have been very successful for our students in the past and how we adapted them to suit their particular needs:

Game#1: Musical Detective
The aim of this game is to simply choose the given instrument using a set of clues.

Original version: The facilitator reads a short clue about an instrument such as;

“What keyboard instrument has 88 keys”

the group answers the question to score a point for their team- (the answer of course being the piano )The team with the highest score wins!

Variation1 – the facilitator could play an example of the instrument in question and could also help with using a number of other clues as well. Who am I style.

For the Piano example you could use the following:

I have 88 keys

My real name is the PianoForte because I can Play loud and soft

There are different types of me such as the grand, upright and baby grand

I sound like this

Who am I?

The group member answering the question could verbalize, point to a relevant picture chart or identify the instrument in the room to answer the question.

Variation 2: Play a match game match the clue card to the correct instrument.

You could score as a whole group and play until the group reaches the required amount of points set. Instead of competing it then becomes a team effort.

Game Idea#2: Notes To Riches
The aim of this game is to collect “music money” by rolling a musical dice and identify the correct answers.

Original version:
Roll a musical dice which includes musical symbols such as whole note, quarter note, quarter note rest, half note etc on it. The musical note you roll is the amount of money you receive.
For Example If the group member rolls a quarter note they get $1, if they roll a whole note they get $4.

Variation 1- Make a picture map of the music symbols for each individual group member to identify the answer.

Variation 2- Instead of naming the musical note, clap or tap how many beats it goes for together as a group for the group member to collect the money.

Variation 3 – make a textured dice, so the players can feel rather than see what has been rolled. Place corresponding textures on each participants own picture chart.

Variation 4- Make it into an instrument matching game. Place instruments on the dice instead of musical symbols. Identify the correct instrument to score $1. The overall aim might be to score $5 for the whole team or you could choose to play individually. The choice is yours.

Flash Match
This game is a keyboard matching game.

Original Version:Make some paper keyboard keys on a sheet of A4 paper and laminate and 3 counters for each player. Each player chooses where they would like to place their three counters on the paper keyboard. The players then in turn choose a pitch card from the centre, when they match all three correct pitch cards to the correct notes, its a Flash Match!

Variation 1- Use keyboard cards instead of pitch cards- the group members could directly match the pictures instead of musical notation. You could make the keys on the keyboard cards textured and corresponding textures could be fixed on the A4 keyboards mats.

Variation 2- Use it as a piano/keyboard aural game – the facilitator/teacher plays notes within a set range and the players work out what notes they are – the first to get three in a row wins.(You won’t need the pitch cards for this version.)

6 Comments

  • By Chin Wai Ling Reply

    Dear Janice,
    Thank you for sharing the music games. I have got some inspirations from your flash match and modified it.
    Do you have any ideas where I can get some accessories like keyboard map or keyboard floor map or huge stave etc. These will be good for group teaching.

  • By cheryl shepard Reply

    I work with a group of abt 12 adults with special needs, some are blind, some deaf and blind , most are unable or unwilling to hold objects and none of them are verbal. Do you have any ideas of how i could adapt the above games to suit them or of other, appropriate games. I dont think they would be able to pick out cards or make choices and they definitely couldnt talk about them. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thankyou.

  • By Victor George Reply

    Hi, I wanted to find out how I can adapt (Variation 4- Make it into an instrument matching game. Place instruments on the dice instead of musical symbols) to accommodate special needs young people, espcially young people that are visually and hearing impaired. Thank you for you anticipated response.

  • By janice Reply

    Hi to both Victor & Cheryl,

    Hi Victor & Cheryl,
    Thank you both for your questions on this post. I’ve just come up with a new way that you could adapt this game to help young people with a hearing and visual impairment and older people as well. The post is called ” Rich Instruments- a new game idea for special needs classes”. I would love to know what you both think and I hope it helps,
    Kind Regards
    Janice

  • By Mildred Borders Reply

    Thank you for the article and you quick response. I am just starting with this student, but I think the games will be helpful later.

    Thanks for your help.

    Mildred

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