My name is Kent Nelson and I am a junior high school music teacher in Granite School District near Salt Lake City, Utah. However, whatever views I express are my own based on readings, research, and intuition. I have been an instrumental music teacher for 28 years in different capacities at the elementary, junior high, and university levels. I have performed as a trombonist professionally in many genres (orchestral, jazz, Latin, pop, circus, etc.) for close to 40 years. I also am the music director and conductor of a youth symphony and a community orchestra. My education is a bachelor's degree (BM) in music education from the University of Utah (1976), a master's degree (MM) from the University of Cincinnati in trombone performance (1978), and a doctorate (DMA) in music education (2014). I do not have dyslexia.
Early in my career, I was teaching a private lesson to a high school student (let's say Rick, although his real name is long forgotten). Rick could not remember reading an F (the first note many band students learn) from one week to the next. Every week was the same embarrassing experience. He was able to achieve a beautiful sound, did all of the warm-up and flexibility exercises precisely, and had a great attitude. I asked Rick if he was practicing. "Of course" was his reply. I was very patient with him as I went from high school material, to junior high, to elementary. No matter how simple the material, the lesson was like a bad dream as he played as if he had never seen the material before. He took lessons from me for about two months and that was it. He continued somehow in band class, but his problem and my inability to help him was a cause of frustration on my part (and I am sure his). It has haunted me ever since.
As my career turned to teaching in public schools and a university, I would occasionally see students in music classes and private students with different degrees of the same problem as with Rick mentioned above; and on at least a couple of occasions just as bad. Most of these students ended up dropping music classes or private lessons, some did persevere with limited success. Things changed for me dramatically one day as I walked by the special education room of our junior high school. In there sitting were many of the same students that were struggling readers of instrumental music. By now I had begun my doctoral studies at Boston University and I needed to do a research project. I thought of Rick and now those special education students and decided to do a study on the correlation between music reading and reading text. After music testing, the correlation between students' sight-reading scores and their SAT reading scores were quite strong. With my interest piqued, I had found direction for my doctoral dissertation.
With permission from my adviser and the dissertation proposal committee, I decided to seek out and find professionals musicians with dyslexia who may describe their techniques and recommendations for students and teachers. I found seven such individuals through the internet, word of mouth, newspaper articles, etc. My dissertation committee later reduced this number to five participants. These participants lived in various locations across the country. I traveled to their home cities and interviewed them for data gathering in my case study. The end result was "Successful strategies of individuals with dyslexia in the field of music: A comparative case study" (2014) available from ProQuest (UMI number: 3581077). Those not so inclined to read the whole thing, may I suggest you focus your attention to the individual's stories that seem to most interest you. I also have a peer-reviewed article (with my adviser Ryan Hourigan as coauthor) based on this dissertation coming out very soon in Update: Applications of Research in Music Education (only 13 or so pages). This is an online journal available from Sage Publications and the National Association for Music Educator (NAfME).
In short, my findings and themes included:
- Use of multisensory learning and teaching
- Small group and private instruction
- Use of technology
- Isolating music components
- Learning and performing jazz and popular music
- Self-awareness and self-acceptance
- Disclosure of dyslexia to teachers
- Advocates and support groups
- Mentors and role models
Purpose of this "Music and Dyslexia" Blog
One of the first things I learned in my study was of the wide diversity of traits manifested with dyslexia. Despite this, teachers, parents, and interested individuals come to me and want to know how to teach students music who have dyslexia. They want a quick, compact answer that will fix all the problems: A step-by-step approach that never fails. After all my time and study, I strongly believe there is no one approach because we are dealing with individuals and we are dealing with dyslexia. Anyone telling you otherwise is only trying to impress you.
Because of this dilemma of no one clear approach, I propose that this blog serve as
(a) an exchange of ideas. Please do not think I have any answers, I only have suggestions as I hope many of this sites bloggers will have. Tell us of students' or children's problems, teaching success stories and failures; what has worked and what hasn't. In such an exchange we will all learn.
(b) a support group for students with dyslexia, and their parents and teachers. We need each other to realize we are not alone and there are others with the same challenges.
(c) an advocate for children with dyslexia learning music. We need to make clear that students with dyslexia should be not be removed from music ensembles to attend special education classes, especially if the student is having success in music. Children with dyslexia do better with text reading who are taking music lessons!
(d) a depository of links to websites of research-based and popular literature that may be of benefit to the music-dyslexia community.
Please let me hear from you with your ideas and concerns.