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Music and dyslexia

Dyslexia can affect musical activities

Although some dyslexic individuals may find taking part in musical activities challenging, such involvement can actively help. It can boost self-esteem and it is also thought to help develop areas that dyslexics may find challenging, such as sequencing, organisation, motor-coordination, memory and concentration.

Possible challenges can include

  • Sight reading music
  • Remembering instructions in lessons, exams and/or aural work
  • De-coding information – in music theory, for example
  • Organisation

Suggestions

If music teachers, parents and musicians understand dyslexia and are willing to be flexible in their approach, there are strategies that the learner and the teacher can put in place to help overcome challenges.

  • Find a teacher who understands dyslexia
  • Look at alternatives such as different (or no) exams; choice of instrument etc
  • If exams are necessary, there are reasonable adjustments that can be made to make life easier
  • Is music reading really necessary?
  • Use multi-sensory approaches. For example: use colour, pictures, demonstration, listening to explanations, recordings, discussion, written text (yes – some dyslexic people like it!), hands-on exploration and so on. Music is excellent for multi-sensory approaches as it involves DOING. Find what works for you and your student
  • It can be important for some dyslexic musicians to get a whole picture of a piece before working on it in detail

Visual difficulties

There may be a problem with seeing music on the page. If text or music seems to move or blur on the page, this can impact sight-reading and switching from conductor to written score. An assessment by an optometrist is essential. Find out more on the BDA Visual difficulties webpage.

Suggestions

Any individual having visual difficulties must be referred to a specialist optometrist.

Coloured overlays and/or tinted paper may be used to help. It is legal to photocopy music in order to make reading easier for dyslexic individuals (see Music Publishers Association Code of Fair Practice, clause 11).

Tips to ensure your printed resources are dyslexia-friendly as outlined in the BDA’s Dyslexia Friendly Style Guide (2018)

Organisation

Difficulty with organisation can impact on many areas of learning, from attending lessons with the right music and equipment, to the ability to practise and rehearse alone.

Suggestions

  • Remind your student to make notes or set personal reminders for times/dates of performances and lessons and what equipment will be needed. Students can use a mobile phone perhaps, or a label tied to the music case
  • Colour-coding notes and music can help

Short term memory

It can be difficult for a dyslexic learner to remember instructions from one lesson to the next, and to learn and remember music theory. A poor short-term memory can also make instructions in aural exams, lessons and rehearsals difficult.

Suggestions

  • Keep instructions short, clear and simple
  • Structure lessons and 'chunk' information. For example, begin the lesson with a summary of what the lesson will cover, repeat and recap key points and end the lesson with a summary of what has been covered
  • Ensure the student understands what practice is expected to be done for the next lesson and (if age appropriate) provide a 'homework' notebook, perhaps on a mobile phone, for notes and reminders

Concentration

Many dyslexic learners struggle with sustained concentration.

Suggestions

  • 'Chunk' information; repeat and revise points
  • Use different approaches to engage more of the brain
  • Encourage the student to take regular breaks

Exam Boards and Exam Access Arrangements

All music examination boards provide access arrangements for candidates with dyslexia and other specific learning differences. These adjustments enable students to perform on a 'level playing field'.

Access Arrangements (reasonable adjustments) may include:

  • Extra time
  • Printed materials provided on coloured paper and/or enlarged
  • The use of coloured overlays
  • Repetition of instructions
  • Annotation of sight-reading tests during the preparation period
  • Possible replays of scales and access to a scale book as a reference only
  • Additional attempts at aural questions

We would advise contacting the access coordinator of the specific music board to find out more about their exam access arrangements. Students must apply for adjustments in good time and will need to provide proof of dyslexia such as:

  • A letter from school Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) or head teacher on headed paper
  • An assessment or a letter from your Local Education Authority (LEA) on headed paper
  • For adults the ‘Do-it’ profiler is a good option

See the BDA’s Guide to exams from the 4 main boards in the UK.

Read more about Reasonable adjustments in music exams.

Looking for a new music teacher?

The British Dyslexia Association's Music Committee holds a small database of teachers who are aware of neurodiverse conditions including dyslexia and dyspraxia. The BDA doesn't endorse any teacher but can pass on contact details.

Contact the BDA Music Committee:bdamusicdyslexia@gmail.com
To find out more read the BDA’s Finding a dyslexia aware music teacher.

Further resources

BDA Music Committee's Music and Dyslexia blog

Music and inclusive teaching (information booklet)

Top Ten Tips

A Pianist's Story

Webinar: 'Music and dyslexia: definitions, difficulties, strengths and strategies' . The webinar can be accessed on the Incorporated Society of Musician's website with sound and slides, or as a pdf.

The BDA also runs a Practical Solutions for Music Learning course for professionals wishing to gain a better understanding of the area. For more information please contact: training@bdadyslexia.org.uk.

For any other enquiries contact the BDA Music Committee at: bdamusicdyslexia@gmail.com