By Kelly Surette
When it comes to teaching music to students with special needs and students who are Deaf with multiple disabilities, accessibility through multiple modes of engagement must be a first priority. Playing music “at” your students isn’t always the best way to engage individuals that are easily distracted, have limited attention spans, and require a multisensory approach in order to stay focused. Additionally, when music is played “at” students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, they are either only seeing instrumental playing, and not feeling it, or experiencing an interpreters interpretation of song lyrics...a one-dimensional experience of music.
Concerts and musical entertainment can make for great for exposure to music to a certain extent, but opportunities for tactile, hands-on interaction results in higher levels of learning success for this population. For this reason, instrument playgrounds are often a popular activity for exploring music in a concrete way.
What Is An Instrument Playground?
An instrument playground is a forum in which musical instruments are strategically placed around a room for the purpose of exploration. Students can touch and play the instruments directly. Doing this allows for a meaningful, physical interaction with orchestral and cultural musical instruments, bringing the musical object to life in a unique way for students who have only ever seen them from a distance.
What Happens When Students Interact With The Instruments?
Student responses are varied and often remarkable. With the freedom to express music in whatever way they choose, students feel unrestrained to let their creativity fly. Some students are shocked by their own power when they blow into a trumpet. Others feel like a rockstar when they bang a wild rhythm on the drum. Others who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing enjoy pulling on the outer slide of a trombone while someone else plays the instrument so they can feel the vibrations in their hands.
How to Set It Up
If you have access to a breadth of musical instruments, create stations for individual musical instruments around a room. In this setup, students travel from station to station, engaging with each instrument one at a time. It will be noisy - but it will be fun! Furthermore, if you have connections to a local orchestra in your area, check with their educational outreach department to see if they can come and set up an instrument playground at your institution.
Sensory Friendly Instrument Playground
For some students with special needs that have sensory processing sensitivities, many instruments playing in a room at one time can be overwhelming. In this case, set up a slower paced instrument playground where students have the opportunity to explore one instrument at a time individually, without other instruments playing in the background.
Have you hosted a successful instrument playground with your students? Comment below to tell us about it!
Follow The Adaptive Music Makers Blog at www.kellysurette.com/blog.
Kelly Surette is the author of Creative Miracles: A Practitioner’s Guide to Adaptive Music Instruction (coming soon.) She is a speaker and adaptive music educator in the New England area. Kelly is dedicated to enhancing the lives of those with special needs and those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing with multiple disabilities through music. Connect with Kelly at www.kellysurette.com.