[Smt-talk] Dylexia and music theory/aural skills

Laurel Parsons laureljparsons at gmail.com
Sun Oct 16 15:59:26 PDT 2011

Dear Kris,

I have been tutoring a dyslexic opera major in aural skills for the past 3
years, and am also collaborating on a research project investigating whether
the multi-modal demands of opera training may ameliorate the learning
challenges faced by singers with LDs.  Your observation of the paucity of
resources and research on the particular challenges faced by adult dyslexic
musicians is accurate, unfortunately, with the exception of a case study by
Sylvie Hebert et al. published in *Music Perception* in 2007.  (I'd be
delighted if anyone could tell me of any more recent research, but that is
the only one I'm aware of.)

I would recommend Miles and Westcombe's *Music and Dyslexia: Opening New
Doors*, since it does make reference to adult dyslexic musicians, both in
post-secondary institutions and in their professional lives.  The book is
very expensive, but you can order the unabridged audiobook version on CDs
for $34.95.

Some specific recommendations I've seen have included printing music onto
blue paper, or thickening the middle line of the staff, or colour-coding the
top and bottom lines. If you'd like to meet for coffee at SMT, please
contact me off-list as I'd be happy to share what I've learned from working
with this student.  Overall, I believe British post-secondary music
institutions such as the RCM are much better at addressing their LD students
than we are in North America.

The good news is that while the problems may seem insurmountable at first,
dyslexics *can* make progress if they are given the time and not thrust into
a classroom situation.  It's best if the student can focus on a limited
number of tasks per session, and work towards completing tests across
multiple sessions rather than all at once.  It takes a great deal of
patience on the part of both student and tutor, and enough sensitivity on
the tutor's part to recognize when the student's frustration has reached a
level where it's more constructive to suspend that task for the day and work
on something else for a while.  It's also really important to break down
every task into the smallest possible steps, and tell the student whenever
you notice the slightest improvement, however small it might seem in
relation to the overall course requirements.

I look forward to reading others' responses to your question.

Good luck to you and your student,

Laurel Parsons, Ph.D.
Tutor, Music and Humanities
Quest University Canada
3200 University Blvd.
Squamish, BC
VB8 0N8
laurel.parsons at questu.ca

On Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 3:50 AM, Kris Shaffer <kshaffer at csuniv.edu> wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> I have a freshman music theory and aural skills student who is
> demonstrating signs of dyslexia. While she is pursuing testing and an
> official diagnosis, I'm searching for ways to help her through some of her
> specific struggles. So far I've found some helpful lists of musical problems
> often associated with dyslexia, many of which are true for this student, but
> nothing in terms of helping an adult learn music theory, dictation, or sight
> singing. Do any of you know of specific resources for music theory
> instructors in this regard? Or have you found types of practice techniques,
> assignments, accommodations that were helpful for a dyslexic student in your
> charge? Until we have an official diagnosis, we can't make any testing
> accommodations, but I'd like to start tutoring as soon as possible (she
> needs tutoring help whether dyslexic or not!), or she may fail the course.
> So I'd *really* appreciate any suggestions for training/practice
> techniques that we can try right away.
> She is currently in the first semester of theory (finishing up 2-voice
> species counterpoint in a week or so and moving on to basic chord
> structures) and aural skills (just started a unit with first substantial
> focus on melodic dictation, using Karpinski's
> protonotation-to-musical-notation method). Any suggestions specific to that
> would be amazing. But anything relating to dyslexia and musical notation,
> musical instruction, solfege, dictation, etc. would be a big help. And if
> any of you with insights want to talk over coffee at SMT, that would be
> wonderful.
> Thanks!
> Kris Shaffer
> Assistant Professor of Music Theory
> Charleston Southern University
> http://kris.shaffermusic.com
> Prof. Kris Shaffer
> Charleston Southern University
> Horton School of Music
> 9200 University Boulevard
> P.O. Box 118087
> Charleston, SC 29423-8087
> (843) 863-7964
> kshaffer at csuniv.edu
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Laurel Parsons, Ph.D.
Tutor, Music and Humanities
Quest University Canada
3200 University Blvd.
Squamish, BC
VB8 0N8
laurel.parsons at questu.ca
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