By Kelly Surette
Teaching music in color is an age-old music educator trick used to increase accessibility to elements of music through colored visual cues. Did you ever have a keyboard when you were younger that had different colors assigned to different notes of the octave? Green for middle C? Blue for D? Red for E? Well, I sure did and I remember it well. It helped me to learn piano before I could read letters!
Teaching music in color to students with special needs and students who are Deaf with multiple disabilities can be an extremely successful method that makes music theory and music notation relatable and familiar.
Additionally, by presenting music in color, you create a multisensory music experience by offering visual access as well as auditory. This is paramount for learners who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing who have limited access to auditory processing. For certain students, making music through the use of color can open the door to mastering an entire song, from beginning to end...a major accomplishment!
Teaching Music Notation With Color
Teaching music notation with color is one of the simplest ways to incorporate a visual medium while learning music. Assign each note a specific color (e.g. C is green, D is blue, etc.) and have students match the color to the letter names of the notes and their position on the musical staff.
Teaching Piano With Color
I recently worked with a student who wasn’t motivated by much except the piano. With the help of his teacher, we used the color page on his adaptive communication device to teach him the notes of the piano. Colors were placed on each of the eight keys of the piano octave. We would press a specific color on his device and then encourage him to match the given color on the piano.
Additionally, we used colored cue cards in the order of the early childhood song Mary Had a Little Lamb. He matched the colored cue card to the piano key and played through the entire song!
Using Colored Handbells to Encourage Music Making
Handbells made of bright colors can also encourage music making in students with special needs and students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in either an individual capacity or in a group setting. When working with an individual, the student follows a colored musical score (colored dots representing different notes of a song)and matches the handbells to the colored dots.
In a group class, each student is assigned a specific colored bell. A poster board with colored dots is used to represent the notes of a chorus or a song. When students see their color on the poster board, they play their bell. A secondary benefit of this exercise? Students are making music together as a group, increasing social-emotional development!
For my students who have physical limitations, I purchase handbells that have a button on top that allows a student to play the bell by hitting it, instead of ringing the bell in the air. An example of these bells can be purchased HERE.
Boomwhackers are long, plastic percussion instruments used to teach students notes of the musical scale. Each boomwhacker is a different color, representing a different note of the chromatic or diatonic scale. Boomwhackers can be purchased HERE.
Colored Ribbons and Scarves
Multi-colored ribbons and scarves can be used to visually demonstrate musical elements such as tempo, pitch frequency...even different notes of the musical scale. Colored ribbons are inexpensive and are a fun way to engage students in musical play. Scarves can be purchased HERE.
This is just a small sampling of the many ways colors can be used to music accessible to students with special needs and Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. Get creative! If you teach music in color in a new or unique way, please comment below to share with the adaptive music maker community!
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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.