Teaching piano to a blind child

Janet said: Jan 18, 2017
Janet Toomes
Suzuki Association Member
San Antonio, TX
6 posts

Hi everyone,
Has anyone had experience teaching Suzuki beginning piano to a 5 year old who is totally blind?
I am excited about this opportunity and my instinct is that this could totally work, but I would love any input you may have. It sounds like I have committed parents, so could certainly begin with some initial parent education, as well.
Thank you!

Laurie Maetche said: Jan 19, 2017
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Guitar, Piano, Cello, Viola
Lacombe, AB
13 posts

Twenty years ago I had a blind teenager for a piano student. He had studied violin from a young age and wanted to add piano skills. Because of his background a lot of my initial work was done for me. The one thing we found most helpful was having him rest his hands over mine while I played a passage so that he had the tactile help with his great auditory abilities. It was sometimes difficult to do, having that added weight, but it allowed for more consistent progress, and I wasn’t searching for proper descriptive words on how to move my hands.

Janse Vincent said: Jan 19, 2017
Janse Vincent
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Madison, WI
6 posts

You could contact Deb Hernstrum at the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City. She has taught Suzuki piano there for over 25 years and is totally blind herself.

Lori Bolt said: Jan 19, 2017
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
261 posts

The advantage he will have over traditional students is that his seeing parent will be able to guide his hand position at home, and he will learn his pieces through listening.

Lori Bolt

Susan Crosser said: Jan 27, 2017
Susan Crosser
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Comstock Park, MI
14 posts

Hi Janet,

I’ve taught seven blind students in my studio. Also I’ve taught other blind students at Suzuki Institutes.
Long term, I had a set of twins blind from birth, starting with me at age 3 and graduating at age 18. They performed a senior recital at a large beautiful hall with an hour and a half program. They are currently in college studying music.

My daughter, a Suzuki violin teacher, also taught a blind student. We compared notes frequently. Throughout my experience I’ve learned many things from teaching blind students.

  1. They teach me more than I teach them.
    As the blind violin student said, “If you want to be a better teacher, teach a blind student! “

  2. Choice of words must be very articulate and clear. I learned to describe things that I would normally show a student, choosing my illustrations and words very carefully.

  3. No two blind kids are alike. Styles of learning are as varied as all human beings are.

  4. The student will let you know if it’s OK to touch them. One of my blind students was fine with me reshaping his hand physically. The other sibling would never allow me to touch her hands.

  5. Use real music terms. From the very first lesson we define “Black” keys. Yes, although these particular blind students cannot see colors, we call them “black” as all musicians do! We also use theory books to learn aurally learn music vocab, etc.

  6. Braille notation reading may not be necessary. Braille reading is very cumbersome. Although one blind student has become a brilliant published composer, software is now eliminating the need to learn Braille music notation.

  7. The child may be very possessive of their instrument. The piano becomes their own personal voice of expression. Interfering with their voice may somehow be equated taking away their opportunity to communicate. Depending on how early the child begins lessons this can prove problematic until trust is built between the student and teacher.

  8. The blind student “sees” more than the sighted person. They’ve learned to listen to the spirit of a person. They have great insight into life. It behooves us as teachers to listen to their “View.”

The blind twins graduated Suzuki piano books 1 to 6. They also perform as a band in folk festivals and for many charities. The have become advocates for the visually impaired, presenting in many places including for government hearings in D.C.

This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Thorough out the entire process of teaching blind students, at each and every lesson, my hope and prayer is to let this child live through their music, that I may be means of assisting them in their music expression, that I may be contributing to keeping bright their spirit and love of music.

Enjoy this wonderful,opportunity!

Susan Crosser

Lori Bolt said: Jan 28, 2017
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
261 posts

Inspirational story, Susan! I hope I am entrusted with a blind student one day so that I can grow as a teacher!

Lori Bolt

James said: Sep 12, 2018
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
28 posts

Thank you Susan and Janse for your recommendations, as I take on my first blind student!

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