#004 Dyslexia and Music

This week, Nanci and Rebecca talk about dyslexia and music. We discuss the challenges dyslexics can face with working memory, processing speed, sheet music, and organisation. We also consider some of the natural strengths dyslexics may have with many having a natural instinct for rhythm and patterns. Some dyslexics may have an ear for music that makes it easier to play what we hear or to imitate others. One of the most important aspects for successful learning and teaching is to focus on strengths. This is something Rebecca is passionate about and argues in favour of in her blog post, Focus on Strengths: STOP Trying To Make Your Dyslexic Child A Better Reader.

We also delve into music’s influence on brain structure and learning. You can find our more about the fascinating research into music and it’s affects on the brain in this fantastic article, Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom, by Chris Boyd Brewer from the Johns Hopkins School of Education. You can also find out more about the way learning music can have a positive and lasting effect on working memory as found by Elyse M. George and Donna Coch in their study, Music training and working memory: An ERP study. We talked about how listening to music can create physiological and psychological responses within the body, that alter the heart rate or modulate brain wave patterns for focus or energy. You can find out more in this great article from Scientific American, Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music. And we talk about how music can be a tool for helping balance or reshape mental pathways. We introduce the concept of using music as a way to solidify rote learning and memorise facts. Rebecca mentions a video she had recently shared that paired music with the concept of prepositional phrases in the English language.

Finally, we talk with musician Aaron Gwynaire of Defy Reality Studios who shares his experience learning music in what is considered the “self-taught” approach which, as Aaron shares, is a lot more about learning in a relaxed and engaged way from anything and everything around you, including other musicians. We compare and contrast some differences between learning from music teachers vs taking a self-taught approach. We talk about writing and composing music and lyrics. And take a particular interest in the importance of having autonomy in your learning experiences.

Rebecca shares some fantastic links to research on dyslexia and music with a great resource about Music and Dyslexia from the British Dyslexia Association. They also have a fabulous 18-page PDF booklet.

Ways dyslexia can affect musicians:
  • Reading: Trouble with sight reading music and the fluent reading of words, numbers, or notes.
  • Working Memory: Difficulty remembering instructions in lessons and/or aural work; difficulty with spelling in written work; getting right and left mixed up.
  • Processing: Slower processing speeds and challenges decoding information – in music theory or exams, for example.
  • Executive Function: Organisation of things like attending instrumental or voice lessons, going to rehearsals, having the right stuff, practising alone…
Ways to help children with dyslexia who want to learn music:
  • Find a teacher who understands dyslexia.
  • Look at all the choices: instruments, genres, sheet music, examination, etc.
  • If exams are necessary, are there ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can be made?
  • Use multi-sensory approaches in as many areas as possible.
  • Minimise visual stress and distraction
  • Give the whole picture before focusing on detail.
  • Lean into the dyslexic’s strengths and passions.
Music helps us learn because it can help:
  • establish a positive learning state
  • create a desired atmosphere
  • build a sense of anticipation
  • energize learning activities
  • change brain wave states
  • focus concentration
  • increase attention
  • improve memory
  • facilitate a multisensory learning experience
  • release tension
  • enhance imagination
  • align groups
  • develop rapport
  • provide inspiration and motivation
  • add an element of fun
  • accentuate theme-oriented units
Musicians believed to be dyslexic:
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (Classical composer)
  • John Lennon (from The Beatles)
  • Harry Belafonte (Broadway performer)
  • Jewel (Singer and songwriter)
  • Richard Strauss (Classical composer)
  • Bob Weir (guitar player – and a founding member of Grateful Dead)
  • Noel Gallagher (lead guitarist, songwriter, and occasional vocalist from Oasis)
  • Cher (phenomenally talented singer)
  • Kurt Cobain (lead singer and guitarist from Nirvana)
  • Mozart (Classical composer)
  • Nigel Kennedy (a violinist)

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