Students with Special Needs in Music Class

Today’s music teacher’s Q and A session is on one of the biggest challenges facing music teachers today.

When we asked for questions for these sessions earlier this year we expected a lot of questions on behavior management, classroom routines and technology issues, and that was pretty much what came.

However, by FAR the single most common question was about topics related to special educational needs students.

For this reason we’ve combined a couple of these questions into one session today, and we’ll also delve in more detail into a couple of the questions with experts later in the year.

So check out our thoughts on video first, then please do add your input to the discussion via the comments box below.

In the video I did mention a couple of teaching ideas we have shared previously:

Some of the greatest value in our previous Q and A sessions have come from the comments section – so please keep contributing!


  • By Bonnie Arpin Reply

    I teach at a school where all the students have special needs. I think consistency and routine is the most important for special needs students. I have a schedule printed and laminated so they can know what to expect and keep track of which activities we have done. I keep it very simple. Greeting, Listening, playing instruments, movement activity, and choice time, Goodbye. The lesson can be different each week, but it always follows the same format and the greeting and the goodbye is always the same.

    • By Luciano Reply

      Thank you Bonnie for putting it down so clear, nice and easy!

  • By Janice Reply

    Thanks for being the first to add your experience and input Bonnie. I’m so glad we’re on the “same page” when it comes to special needs. Your story sounds so similar to one of my past teaching appointments – a time I will always remember and treasure. Sounds like you are doing an amazing job with your students- you are so organised with the whole lesson structure. Keep up the great work 🙂

  • By Dearne Curtis Reply

    I have also found that routine is essential with students who have special needs, including those with behvaiour disorders. Keep activites short and ability based. If you have students with poor literacy, issue worksheets with closed passages and space out the text also try to use images to re-inforce the main points. Some students will require worksheets to be enlarged. I also write what each class is going to do on the board and approximatley for how long. When the activity is completed – it’s ticked off so the class can see where we are up to.

    Practical activites – Use simple activites with lots of repetition. It’s important to do this in small sections. Work on a line or 2-4 bars at a time. If students have trouble with notation, have a special folder with the letter names of notes written so they can keep up with the class and not be different to other students. Playing with simple backing tracks also allows you to move around the room to help those who require it (as needed).

  • By Janice Reply

    Thanks so much for your great detail with sharing your experiences and wisdom on this Q&A Dearne. What a super organized and caring teacher you are 🙂 this advice is priceless for any music teacher . Thank you so much for contributing to this conversation.

  • By David Mills Reply

    In OST (Out-of-School-Time) Programs we often do not get information from parents, especially after the shooting at Sandy Hook wherein a young adult with aspergers killed 20 young children.

    There are a number of ways to identify children with social disorders, but in the end, every mind is as unique as a fingerprint. Janice Tuck’s advices us to treat each child according to his or her ability, and that advice is paramount with a special needs child.

    On the flip side, children with special needs, such as, William’s syndrome, often have profound musical talent. For children within the autism spectrum, music, a social art, is often their best platform for positive social interaction.

    In a DoSo Music group the guitar parts are scored at various levels of difficulty so that everyone strumming away appears to be playing the same thing, yet, some parts are more difficult than others. In the first video you see on my web page,, four out of the twelve students have an autism spectrum diagnosis.

  • By Teresa Drozdz Reply

    Hi Janice and co,
    I’m from Hobart, Tasmania.
    I enjoy receiving the weekly lessons, plus conversations you can view. I feel rather isolated here in Tassie although there is a TOSA association here with large numbers. The Orff/ Schulwerk methodology has a lot to offer, but I feel restricted by it, and enjoy your ideas etc.and the fact that they aren’t bound to a particular methodology.

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