Ideas for Piano Student with Limited Vision

Mikaela said: Aug 29, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

Next week I’ll be starting a piano student who is 7 years old and has aniridia (the absence of the iris). He can see, but his vision is limited and bright lights are quite painful to his eyes. He apparently hasn’t had much ear training, but is definitely excited about starting piano.

As background, I am trained to teach violin using the Suzuki method, but have not been able to take training for piano yet, although I have 6 years of piano teaching experience.

What suggestions, tips, or reading materials can you give me for teaching a child with limited vision and a short attention span? Any help will be greatly appreciated!
Thanks!

Carrie said: Aug 30, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

When my piano teacher found out she was going to teach a blind student, she spent time in the dark, at the piano, feeling her way around, trying to see what it was like. My guess is that even with limited sight, touch and hearing are keener. When I taught a student with limited sight, we started out exploring the keyboard kinesthetically and aurally. Suzuki is the perfect method for it, considering we don’t teach reading right away.

carebear1158

Lori Bolt said: Aug 30, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Great idea, Carrie. This student is perfect for the Suzuki Method. Don’t hurry into reading notes….give the child time to explore the piano and learn from his comfort zone. Ask the parent for suggestions on how to approach reading as there is probably something from his school experience that you can adapt. I would try large, high contrast materials to learn note values/ rhythms and music symbols (like oversized flashcards or a white board). The Music Road series is an oversized reading book w/ large notes.

As for attention span, mix it up during lesson time….short times at different activities, on and off the piano bench. Have fun! You’ll probably learn just as much from him and he does from you!

Lori Bolt

Lori Bolt said: Aug 30, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

One last thought: if this student struggles too much w/ reading, I would let it go….allow him the pleasure of simply playing the repertoire.

Lori Bolt

Mikaela said: Aug 30, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

Carrie—What a great idea to explore the piano in the dark! I’m going to have to try that! I completely agree that Suzuki is the method for him—any other way would be frustrating, I think!

Lori—Thanks for your wonderful advice! I will definitely check out the Music Road series when we get ready for music reading, and I will plan on asking the parents for suggestions!

Karen said: Aug 31, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

I love the idea of sitting down in the dark and feeling your way around the piano! How creative!

As for your student, Mikaela, I have always thought it would be an amazing opportunity for me as a Suzuki teacher to teach someone with visual impairment. Don’t forget to have them play that recording as many times as they can stand it! Of course that is true with any child, but for a child who will rely much more on their ears than their eyes, it will be crucial. Also, remember that singing is one of the best way to train the ears. That is the reason that most of my students begin by learning solfege with a fixed Do on C. It is much easier to sing those syllables than letter names.

Anyway, I will look forward to hearing about your experiences with this student. It sounds exciting!

-Karen

Monica said: Sep 2, 2012
 Piano, Organ, Violin
9 posts

Karen,
Could you tell me a little bit about how you teach solfege? What games/ methods do you use especially for students just beginning and who do not yet know the do, re, mi names. Do you take time from the class to teach songs/singing, or do you do it at group lessons? Also, do you use hand signs, or body motions for the younger ones? I am very interested and eager to learn about this as I just recently discovered the benefits of solfege especially for a very visual student who needs help in ear training. I am excited to try and begin it with my students this year, so any beginners advice would be a great help. Sorry if this is a little off topic, but I’m sure these ideas would also help for students with limited vision.
~Monica

Karen said: Sep 10, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Hi Monica,

I teach them solfege from the beginning with a fixed Do on C. They never learn the letter names until they start reading (or learn it from a class at school or something). In fact, in most countries, that is how they teach music at the beginning. I have a transfer student from Japan who looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if he learned with ABC or Do Re Mi. Anyway, I find they learn much faster and it is WAY easier for them (and me) to sing the melodies and therefore train their ears while still focusing on good technique. I am sorry if this is not too helpful with what you are looking for… Generally, when I get a transfer student who learned the letter names, I just roll with that because it is too confusing and overwhelming for them to try and add something that will try to essentially change how they think about the very notes of the piece. Since I now have students who are approaching more intense study of theory, I am bringing solfege back in to help them understand the steps of scales, chords, etc. I have a couple of students with whom I will try to use the hand signals because they are very kinetic/visual. Otherwise, I don’t see much use in them. It takes too much time to teach them and they never helped me at all so maybe I am a little biased against them.

-Karen

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