Got a new student with disabilities, and no idea where to start?
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What is Notable all about?
Straightforward, actionable answers to your questions about teaching piano to students with disabilities. No fluff or "special ed" strategies.
How is Notable different?
There's enough general information on disabilities out there. You want a plan. Here, you'll find quick wins to implement in your lessons TODAY.
Note reading, ear training, studio design, music theory, supplemental activities - Here, you'll find value for every aspect of your teaching.
Strategies build on students' skills and gifts. Neurodiversity - the understanding that brain differences are normal rather than deficits - is a core belief.
Hi, I'm Selena. I’ve been teaching piano since 2008. I teach full-time in the SF Bay Area, California, in my studio of 50+ students, and almost all of them have disabilities.
In 2013, while finishing my Psychology and Music degree, I got a crash course in the field of special education (but with a twist). I joined a small, brand-new, nonprofit inclusion school in Silicon Valley as the program coordinator and music specialist.
I was tasked with developing a music curriculum for students age 5-14, all with different diagnoses, all in the same room at the same time. I also taught private piano lessons to the students throughout the school day. Each student was a new universe that presented a unique set of challenges.
I struggled to find effective strategies (or really any strategies at all) among the scattered, general, and sometimes patronizing information about disabilities piano teaching on the internet. I cobbled together lesson plans through frantic googling, trial and error, and many failed Pinterest experiments.
I was learning that many of my students, although considered to have disabilities and sometimes labeled as “severe” or “low-functioning" (this terminology is inappropriate for many reasons), were incredibly musically gifted. I was surprised to find that most of them, especially those with autism, had perfect pitch.
Though their musical potential sometimes threatened to hide behind a nonverbal facade or poor motor skills, I could see it once I knew where to look. I realized that teaching one-on-one piano lessons to neurodiverse students was my favorite part of my job.
- Course creator at TopMusicPro
- Guest on TopCast Episode 204 with Tim Topham: Embracing Special Needs Teaching
- Author of The Milestone Method
- Writer on piano teaching for students with disabilities at the Notable Blog
- Studio Owner/Teacher at Cultivate Music Studio
The Jump to Teacher Training
I left the school, and within one year, my private studio grew from 4 to 50 students (not including the waiting list), without a single dollar spent on advertising.
Nearly every week, I woke up to a new message like this: “My child is autistic, nonverbal, and has always been interested in music. Will you teach them piano?” I had begun to figure out a clear and effective strategy for teaching this underserved population.
In a market saturated with piano teachers, I had more students than I knew what to do with. I wondered what to do with my waiting list. Why wasn’t anyone else teaching students with disabilities?
I realized there was a lack of information on the actual nuts and bolts of teaching piano to students with disabilities. Most of the information out there was either too general (speak in short sentences, be aware of sensory sensitivities) or insufficient for true learning (use one finger at a time, color-code the staff, teach only by rote). I tried all of these approaches, but none of them were comprehensive or worked long-term.
After years of trial and error, I gathered the most successful techniques I’ve found for working with neurodiverse students - particularly those with minimal speech and motor skills. I created Notable as a platform to share these strategies with you.
Whether you’ve just been contacted by your first family with a disabled student, or you’re a veteran teacher with years of experience, I can equip you with the tools, mindset, and curriculum to effectively teach students with disabilities.