Dyslexia and Music

Dyslexic learners constantly meet barriers to learning across the curriculum and may become discouraged very quickly due to lack of initial success in some subject classes.  This can result in subject teachers assuming that these individuals are inattentive or lazy, when they are actually working much harder than their classmates, though with little apparent effect.

Success in musical activity can boost a dyslexic student’s self-esteem and may even encourage re-visiting other learning where performance was previously poor.   Difficulties experienced by people who have dyslexia in music will not be the same in each case, and general characteristics of dyslexia – such as problems affecting reading, writing will impact on learning generally.  Dyslexia may adversely affect specific aspects of music such as:

  • Interpreting musical notation
  • Visual processing of written music
  • Manual dexterity

Significant strengths of dyslexic musicians may include:

  • A good ‘ear’ – sometimes perfect pitch
  • Ability to ‘hear’ notes in their heads
  • Above average kinaesthetic and multi-sensory learning abilities
  • Curiosity and high awareness of the environment
  • Vivid imaginations with high levels of creativity and originality

Barriers to learning music:

  • Experiencing directional/positional confusion e.g. – up/down; left/right
  • Piano playing requires two-handed playing and two-stave reading, so can be particularly difficult for those who are dyslexic (electronic keyboards may not create the same degree of difficulty)
  • Experiencing personal disorganisation, leading to:
    • Losing track of time in lessons
    • Forgetting/losing instruments
    • Forgetting music to be brought
    • Turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time for lessons/practice

Suggested Support Strategies – teachers should:

  • Not show any impatience if students seem to lack practice
  • Use ‘multi-sensory’ methods to embed:
    • Recall of fingerings
    • Recognition of rhythmic patterns
    • The understanding of pitch
    • Relation to notation
    • Use colour or ‘bracelets’ to help with left/right hand laterality problems
    • Introduce singing and choral work as positive experiences, since these activities involve the separation of syllables, arising from the music text, and can minimise reading difficulties
    • Teach a single line instrument rather than piano, at first

Dyslexic musicians can experience great success provided they are given sufficient encouragement and understanding.

Famous musicians share their thoughts on dyslexia below:

“School didn’t really hold anything for me – I knew from a very early age what I wanted to be; I wanted to be a musician.  What I was bad at was spelling.  Still am.  Anything over 6 letters and that’s me gone.” Noel Gallagher

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“It meant I was very slow at reading. In class I’d hate it when it was my turn to read out loud. Once I found out I was dyslexic, it was a relief because I understood why I found reading so much harder than everyone else did. Now I like to show other people with dyslexia that they can accomplish things.” Mollie King, The Saturdays

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“When I was in school, it was really difficult.  I never read in school.  I had to learn by listening.  My reports said I was not living up to my potential.  I got really bad grades.  I just quit.” Cher

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