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The advantages of multi-sensory learning

music and dyslexiaHow do you learn best? Are you more of a visual person? Or do you prefer learning by doing? Or maybe you like hearing something new before trying it yourself? Everybody has their own unique style of learning.

But the most effective way to teach is to engage all the senses. For both dyslexic and non-dyslexic students alike, multi-sensory learning is the best method around.

multi-sensory learning stimulates the brainAs a music instructor, it’s tempting to teach the way you personally prefer to learn. But be careful. It’s far better to bend your teaching style to the way your students actually learn. To develop a true multi-sensory environment, just ask these three questions during each lesson:

1 – What can you HEAR?

Music is sound. So help your students develop fine-tuned listening skills. When learning any new song, get them to identify the beat. Can they pick out the rhythm, with eighth notes, quarter notes, etc?

Reinforce the auditory aspect of music to maximize understanding. Regularly listen to recordings. And make sure students practice songs on their instrument—dissecting the sounds into small, simple units. Well-developed ears are essential for any good musician.

2 – What can you SEE?

For many students—especially those with dyslexia—the visual part of music can be confusing. Traditional notation isn’t friendly, so you’ll have to be creative. But there are some effective ways to reinforce visual learning.

Try using color to simplify music notation. The uniform black-and-white symbols of traditional sheet music can wreak havoc on your student’s eyes. So use images as much as possible. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. (And a video is worth 10,000 words!)

Also, limit any writing as much as possible. Keep handouts clear and uncluttered, using nice, large fonts. Dyslexic students tend to prefer san-serif fonts that are left-aligned on the page. Also use lots of bulleted lists, bold headings, and plenty of white space.

3 – What can you DO?

Music is motion. So be sure to incorporate movement into your lessons, as well. Have your students tap their foot to the rhythm, or move their hands with the melody … or whatever.

And, of course, have them regularly play songs on their instrument to truly reinforce understanding—always emphasizing proper technique. By focusing on the motion of music, you can help each student master any song more quickly.

For the best results, be sure to incorporate multi-sensory learning into your music lessons. Your students will win when you broaden your palette of teaching styles. And it’s a lot of fun!

How do you reinforce multi-sensory learning?

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Music technology and dyslexia

music and dyslexiaDid you know that many well-known technologies were designed for dyslexics? Yep. Tools like text-to-speech software were developed with dyslexic users in mind.

This makes sense … because someone with dyslexia requires very clear and deliberate communication. So if a new software program is going to work in the dyslexic community, then it’s got to be really good.

As a side benefit, these well-designed and intuitive products tend to appeal to people in general. Because everybody prefers clear and deliberate communication. So you might say dyslexia-friendly products are the real innovators in today’s world.

the best innovations are dyslexia friendlyIf you have any dyslexic students, there are a number of technologies that can take your music lessons to the next level:

1 – Tools for learning

  • iTunes is full of some very cool apps. There are tons of resources that can simplify your teaching. But one of my favorite apps is Octavian by Bitnotic.
  • By definition, dyslexics typically don’t like writing information—including sheet music. So there are a number of music notation packages that simplify the process. Consider software by Sibelius or the relatively inexpensive Notion 3. Or you might try my personal favorite—MuseScore. (Which is free!)
  • YouTube is another great learning resource. Encourage your students to watch step-by-step tutorials. Or have them look at different performances of the songs they’re learning. Videos like these are ideal because they don’t rely on written text.
  • Music teaching websites also provide tons of useful information. MusicTheory.net has many useful exercises. And you can find even more instruction here at MyColorMusic.com.

2 – Tools for organization

  • Use your mobile phone to keep students on track. With their (or their parents’) permission, you can send lesson reminders and other general notes via text message. You can also communicate with a larger group via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Record information on your student’s phone or iPod. Or encourage them to record their own messages to jog their memory.
  • Use a shared online calendar to mark important dates. Tools like Google Calendar are great for blocking out practice times, rehearsal dates, and special events. And because a calendar is so graphical, it can really help a dyslexic student soak everything in.

3 – Tools for learning AND organization

  • Moodle is a great tool for organizing lesson plans and interacting with students via the web. It’s a “virtual learning environment” (or VLE) that allows you to add things like a repertoire database, student diaries, quizzes, and other features.
  • Another cool online tool is Udemy.com. Like Moodle, it lets teachers design comprehensive lessons, and add all sorts of multi-media to aid learning. Students can take their own notes, submit questions, and review information at their own pace. Check out the ColorMusic Udemy courses for some (objectively excellent) examples!

When it comes to teaching students—and especially those with dyslexia—technology is your friend. It can make a real difference in the learning experience … and help guide a student along the path of awesome. So use it! 

What technologies do you use in your music program?

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4 smart ways to organize your music lessons

music and dyslexiaOrganization … it can be a major challenge for anyone with dyslexia. For many people, this condition can make it hard to sequence information. That is, to keep the order of things straight. So a dyslexic student might struggle following the steps of a lesson.

how to get organized

That’s why you must be very intentional about the way you organize your music lessons. Here are some proven tips to keep your dyslexic students on track:

1 – Remove distractions

Dyslexic students already have a hard time focusing. So minimize potential disruptions. Hold your lessons in a quiet place, turn off your cell phone, clean up the clutter, and generally help your student zero in on the task at hand.

2 – Establish structure

Take the time to produce well-structured lessons. Your students will know you care when you lay out a predictable format that they can follow. That way, they’ll know the order of things and can get into a nice learning rhythm.

It’s okay to mix things up a bit every so often—to keep things fresh. But much of the time, it helps to stick to the same, solid lesson structure.

3 – Simplify instructions

Simplicity is key. Anytime you give instructions, break them down into steps. Number them, cross them off … do whatever it takes to ensure they’re super clear.

Checklists are also a great tool for organizing information into bite-sized pieces. You can also use highlighters, bookmarks, and assignment sheets to emphasize important points.

4 – Leverage technology

Also use electronic resources to organize your lessons. For example, you can send practice reminders via text messages. Or you might encourage students to use an online calendar to schedule activities. The Internet is full of cool goal-setting resources and other software for establishing timelines and recording achievements.

Whatever you do, be sure to stay organized and on-point. The more structured you are as the instructor, the more your students will improve!

How do you keep your lessons organized?

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Why the best teachers use a “dyslexia friendly” approach

music and dyslexiaDo you have any dyslexic students? If so, it can be a challenge, right? Dyslexia can make it hard for a student to concentrate and learn new information. So it can be equally difficult for you to teach them effectively.

But teaching a dyslexic student is also a huge opportunity. Because it forces you to really think about your approach. It requires that you step back and truly simplify each lesson in order to maximize your impact.

the best teachers are dyslexia friendlyOnly the best teachers are doing it

Over the last 10 years, great advances have been made in education. Teachers have discovered new ways to reach that “eureka!” moment with their students. And a big part of this evolution has been driven by dyslexia.

Yep. Educators have found that the methods used with dyslexic students benefit other students, as well. In other words, a “dyslexia-friendly” approach is really a learner-friendly approach … for everyone. It’s simply the best way to teach.

What it means to be dyslexia-friendly

When teachers adopt a dyslexia-friendly style, it means they use multi-sensory teaching methods in the classroom. That is, they don’t rely so much on reading and writing. Instead, they use a broader range of skills to aid a student’s learning.

It’s a paradigm shift, for sure—since most instructors still favor the old, linguistic-centric learning model (where reading and writing reign supreme). But the proof is in the pudding, as any cutting-edge teacher will tell you. Multi-sensory teaching is what really works.

Teachers who use this approach do two basic things:

  1. They intentionally simplify each lesson—removing any potential barriers to learning. For example, they might buy new instruction books featuring less text and more pictures. They may also revise lesson plans, reducing lecture time and adding more hands-on learning activities and exercises.
  2. They focus on each individual’s own learning style and needs. This approach takes more time and attention, but the payoff is huge. Teachers who make it a point to understand each student’s preferences can truly minimize the student’s weaknesses, while leveraging their strengths.

Anyone can do this

Music instructors who are dyslexia-friendly get better results. Their classes tend to learn more. And all students—both dyslexic and non-dyslexic alike—benefit from more personalized, multi-sensory lesson plans.

If you want to be a rock star instructor, it’s the only way to go.

So what’s your style of teaching?

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How ColorMusic is like the Rosetta Stone

It’s true … music is just a bunch of simple patterns. But what sounds like poetry to our ears is a foreign language to our eyes. It’s strange, because while my ears are naturally fluent in music, my eyes can’t make heads or tails of it. Why?

Well, that’s because traditional notation does a bad job of translating the patterns we hear into the patterns we see. In other words, music gets lost in translation. Staff lines, little black dots, and accidental symbols don’t really illustrate the sounds of scales, chords, and progressions. Sad, but true. In fact, these symbols look more like ancient hieroglyphics than any understandable pattern.

Traditional notation and Egyptian heiroglyphics

Which is why we need some type of translator—our own musical Rosetta Stone. When Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops rediscovered the original Rosetta Stone back in 1799 during a trip to Egypt, it was a major breakthrough in understanding real Egyptian hieroglyphics. Until then, no one could understand any of the messages written on the pyramids.

Rosetta stone translates Heiroglyphics into Greek

The Rosetta Stone was a big deal because it included a single message written in different languages. And that helped crack the code to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Because people already understood the Greek text etched into the stone, they could easily decipher all the hieroglyphic symbols written on another part of the stone. So just like that, folks used a language they already knew to quickly learn a totally knew language. Brilliant!

This is how ColorMusic works, too. It quickly translates the patterns of music into a language we already understand. How? By combining color and music … which both happen to follow the exact same patterns. We already know about red, blue, orange, complementary colors, and so on. So we now can easily understand musical terms like “tonic, “flat-five,” major-third,” etc.

It’s sort of spooky, actually. Color and music directly mirror each other. Just two different languages that tell the exact same story. And that makes learning music a breeze—seriously. So I hope you have your seatbelts on. Because we are in for one a wild ride. Honestly… our new music skills would make even the most powerful pharaohs jealous.

Ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics with ColorMusic

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