By Kelly Surette
You’ve made the decision to find your child with special needs a private music teacher. Congratulations! This is going to make a big difference in their life. But...where to begin? There’s isn’t exactly a sign on the local community music school door that says “specializing in children with special needs.”
Some of the questions you might be asking yourself are:
“Will the piano teacher even know how to teach my child?”
“My son has been struggling lately with communication in general, is this drum teacher going to be comfortable working with an alternative communication device?”
“My daughter wants to play the guitar but her physical challenges prevent her from being able to hold it. Will the instructor know how to make modifications so she can succeed?”
“Is this voice teacher even trained to work with children who have special needs?”
These are all perfectly legitimate questions. So legitimate in fact that they might scare you away from even trying. But, I believe with all my heart that if your child has a song to sing, there’s a music teacher out there that will help them share it. You just have to find them.
Set Your Expectations
Before you embark on your private music teacher search, set clear expectations for yourself regarding the qualifications of the instructor. Private music instructors may not always be trained to work with children with disabilities. But, honestly, being ABA certified isn’t really necessary in this circumstance, or realistic. If the teacher has the right kind of personality, patience, and dedication and they are a trained musician and experienced music teacher, then they may be a fit for your child.
Also, identify the musical goals that you have for your child. Is your child going to take music lessons as an enrichment or recreational activity or is the expectation that they will become proficient in the instrument, potentially going onto a career in music or becoming a serious lifetime player?
Choose Your Child’s Instrument
Knowing what instrument your child is going to learn to play is the next step when searching for a music teacher. The most popular instruments currently are voice, piano, guitar, and drums. The more popular an instrument, the larger the selection pool is of teachers to choose from. This is not to say that if your son or daughter has a dream of playing the tuba that you shouldn’t make every effort to find the ideal tuba teacher for them, but there may be a benefit to selecting one of the more common instruments.
Your Own Network
Start your search by looking to your own personal network of mom groups, other support groups, and friends. Ask them if their children with needs have taken private music lessons, where they go, and the name of their teacher. If a teacher is already experienced at working with students who have disabilities, they may be more successful teaching your child.
Your Geographical Area
If no one in your network knows of a teacher, start searching for one in your own geographical area. A simple google search for local music schools will return some leads. I also recognize that some days, it can be a challenge just to get out your child out of the house. In this case, you may benefit from searching for a teacher on takelessons, a website designed to help you search for local music teachers, some of which will travel to your home.
Speak to the Front Desk
Most music schools have a qualified front desk staff member who can answer your questions. Call the front desk of the school you are considering and ask them any questions that you have and tell them about your child. Front desk staff should know the expertise of the faculty at their school and be able to make a teacher recommendation.
If everything sounds like a match over the phone, request a tour of the facilities. If your child is in a wheelchair, make sure to inquire if the facility is wheelchair accessible. Some music schools, unfortunately, are not. So, it is always best to check ahead of time.
In order to encourage enrollment, most local music schools will let you try a first lesson for free. Take advantage of this opportunity and shop around. Try several different instructors, or several different instruments to find your best fit.
Some additional things to consider when choosing a music school/teacher are:
Personalities and Gut Instinct
Lastly, assess the individual personalities of the teachers you meet and go with your gut instinct. Although music is the vehicle for which the connection will be made, ultimately one of the greater benefits of private music instruction is the relationship that develops between teacher and student. This relationship can provide a lifetime of positive impact for your child, so you want it to be the right one.
If it doesn’t end up being a good fit after you’ve tried for a while, don’t give up. I guarantee that if you keep looking, you will find a compassionate, caring, and knowledgeable instructor that will shape your child as a musician and artist for many years to come.
Do you think this article could help a parent you know? Please take a moment to share this article on social media and visit us at www.kellysurette.com.
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.