Monday, February 27, 2017

Benefits of Classical Music for Special Needs Children wth Jim and Dena Ray

For years, we've known that listening to music has benefits for children's development. CD series like those from Baby Einstein have become extremely popular with parents of babies because experts have recognized that listening to classical music is not only engaging to very young children but actually increases their brain's ability to perform spatial reasoning.

When a baby is born, he has billions of brain cells. As the baby develops, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. When babies listen to music, especially classical music, they make strong music related connections in the brain. Over time, continued listening to classical music actually changes the way the child's mind works by creating brain pathways that would not have been there otherwise. Listening to music does not increase IQ, per se, but can make the mind perform many important tasks more easily and with greater skill.

Listening to music has been shown to prime our brains for spatial tasks, like putting together puzzles. Even adults who did not listen to music regularly as a child can experience a short-term burst in spatial capabilities after listening to music.

Why Classical Music?

Classical music has been shown to have the most impact on creating brain connections in children because of the complexity of the music. Classical music has a very complex musical structure. Studies have shown that babies as young as three months old can detect the special structures in works such as those of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, and can recognize music they've heard before.

It is this complexity that leads researchers to believe that classical music is the best music for building these pathways in the brain. However, all music is good for the brain. Research has also shown that children who have early and frequent exposure to music are better at math, emphasizing the relationship between pathways built by listening to music and the brain's function.

Special Benefits to Children with Special Needs

We're fully aware of music's benefits to all children. But, researchers are becoming more and more aware of potential additional benefits to children with learning disorders like 
Down's syndrome, Autism and other learning disabilities.

Children with Autism

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects socialization and communication. It is a spectrum disorder that affects roughly 0.6 percent of the population, occurring four times more often in males.

There has long been a connection between autism and music. Autistic children, though deficient in language, are generally able to process music as well as children their age who do not suffer from a learning disability. This often makes music of special interest to autistic children, and there have been many case studies regarding autistic children who are musical savants.

In very practical terms, many parents of autistic children have found that listening to classical music can calm and soothe their children during bouts of acting out. Like repetitive motions, such as swinging and rocking, music can sometimes also be used to prevent outbursts by helping children to calm in advance of a potentially stressful situation. Classical music has been shown to actually calm the nervous system.

Children with Down Syndrome

One of the most important therapies for Down syndrome children is auditory therapy. Down syndrome children have great difficulty in auditory vocal processing. They have trouble learning to coordinate the movements of the lips and tongue that are required for speech. In addition, they are highly prone to ear infections, which often lead to hearing loss. When children suffer hearing loss, it further impacts their ability to speak.

Music is a key element of the auditory therapy needed by Down syndrome children. Most music therapists use classical music in auditory therapy because of how it stimulates the brain and calms the nervous system at the same time. In addition to how classical music can help improve cognitive function, it helps improve auditory function, which is of special concern to these children. Children with Down syndrome can actually improve their ability to respond to the full range of sound frequencies through sound therapy using classical music.

Other Learning Disabilities

There are studies to indicate that classical music provides benefit to all children because of its ability to create pathways in the brain, stimulate the brain and calm the nervous system. These features are particularly important to children with any sort of learning disability. Improved ability to focus, concentrate and remain calm are positive affects for children with hyperactivity disorders, Asperger's syndrome and ADD. In addition, the stimulation of the brain and creation of new pathways may help these children to improve their ability to perform certain tasks, especially spatially related tasks.

Music holds a special place in the lives of many people. Most of us have specific songs that trigger responses and memories each time we hear them. So, it's no surprise that music has a profound effect on our minds. We also now know that these effects can be used to improve our minds and our cognitive abilities, especially in children with learning disabilities.

About Jim Ray
Jim Ray is the founder of a website that helps children with learning disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, ADD/ADHD, etc. by creating a personalized custom-made MP3 audio designed for their specific developmental challenge.
What makes the MP3 so unique is that a parent creates it for their child. They choose the classical music pieces, they select the affirmations their child will hear, and they can edit or write their own affirmations - they can even add their child's name to the recording.

We will have the MP3 professionally recorded with the parent's choice of a male or female voiceover specialist and then send their one-of-a-kind MP3 for their child to listen to.

A parent will begin noticing the following benefits after their child listens to their personal MP3 on a regular basis: - Better listening skills - Greater creativity - Increased memory - Better concentration - Greater self-awareness - Improved focus
This unique product was created after years of research, preparation, writing, and recording. Finding the exact classical music pieces that stimulate the right hemisphere and engages the limbic system of a child's brain, finding the most talented voiceover artists to make the recordings, creating affirmations that are worded in a way that that give the most benefit to a child and that fall into the top 5 categories that parents want their kids to learn: - Self-Esteem / Self-Confidence - Faith / Spiritual - Learning / Academic - Family / Social - Health / Physical.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

[Interview] I Don't Want to Go: Delores Connors

When a student with special needs becomes transitions into classes with the regular student population, there are many anxieties they bring with them that are often overlooked. One of the beautiful things about music education is that music class offers students a safe space to emotionally and physically enjoy the arts. This often gets lost in the speed of the school day but when I stop to think specifically about the positives, I think about how the student WITHOUT special needs is benefiting from these new peer-to-peer relationships. In her book "I Don't Want to Go!", Delores Connors is addressing those anxieties through the story of a child who is going to the special education classroom for their first time. 

Delores, what has been your experience with public school special education? 

I am fortunate to have had a positive experience with special education in public schools.  Today there are a lot of inclusive programs.  Special education students are blending more into the mainstream curriculum, and that is wonderful.

What student experiences have you observed with special needs students in music classrooms?

Music and the arts in general have always been a stable space for special education students to feel welcomed, especially the teachers.  They are seen by their peers as equals and sometimes stand out as exceptional for their talents.   No one is ever placed in special education because of struggles with music. I have witnessed many students whose musical aptitudes gained them recognition and respect from their peers.

And how do mainstream students benefit from being in a class where special needs students are being included on a regular basis?

Music is universal.  Everyone starts out on the same playing field.  All students, not only special education students, are able to express themselves in ways that cannot in a traditional classroom. The interdisciplinary possibilities of music instruction are enormous, and all students, including special education students, benefit greatly from a vibrant music program.
To continue the conversation with Delores, you can email her:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Soundtrack Found in Music Therapy

One of my favorite capabilities of music is it’s power to transport you to a certain time and place. Do you ever listen to a song and you are immediately reminded of where you were and what you were doing while it was playing? Over the years you develop your very own soundtrack to your life. To this day, when I hear Sublime’s “What I Got,” I am taken back to my first car……a teal ’92 Hyndaui S’coupe that shot smoke out the back every time I turned the key in the ignition.  I can still smell it, still feel the sun shining through windows as popped it my Sublime cassette tape. (Yes, CASSETTE TAPE!) The music brings me back that feeling of freedom, as a new driver with nothing but possibilities in front of you. 
Songs become associated with moments in time and they run the gamut of emotions. From the good times to the bad, the songs are there bearing witness to your life. “We Are the Champions” by Queen cheered me on in triumphant times and the album Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos got me through the sad times. (Most effective when played through several times on repeat.)
As a music teacher, sometimes we even develop a love/hate relationship with a song. For example, working towards a district wide concert where the finale song was a collaborative effort of 20 different schools that I got to travel to, I knew I had selected the perfect song! However after singing the lyrics and teaching the choreography to a few hundred students for over a month I was calling it something else. Until we performed it all together…..because then it was absolutely PERFECT! The students and teachers all fondly remember the concert we worked so hard towards every time we hear “We Are” by Keke Palmer.
I encourage you to take a few moments to consider your own soundtrack. Make a list of the songs that hold great meaning to you.  Maybe ask your students to do the same. Add the songs to a playlist for a day when you need a morale boost or are feeling nostalgic. I listen to my playlist from time to time in the car, and though my teenage years are far in the rearview mirror I can still feel the sunshine even on the cloudiest of days.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Inclusion Means Everyone in Music Class

[By Rodney Dittmar] After 18 years in the music classroom, I have learned something important. Inclusion isn’t just a technique or a tactic; it’s an approach to a roomful of children that treats each one as important as the next. Yes, there are modifications and adaptations that must be made for special needs students, but doesn’t every student deserve to be assessed, have individualized learning goals written for them, and given individualized best-practices instruction to make sure that they understand the material being covered?...
As music teachers, we are extremely lucky in this area. We can be the one class in a students’ day where they can really look forward to being treated on an equal footing with other students. I have been so fortunate as a music educator to see special needs students blossom in a music performance classroom because they were treated the same as everyone else. (As this blog grows, you will see many examples of this.) Indeed, I have had the unique opportunity to see those students sometimes shine above their “regular-ed” colleagues simply because they had the chance to try. Perhaps music is the great equalizer. Perhaps, for some students, it is the sense of belonging that comes with being in a music group. For some, it is a way to find their voice, a way to self-express and be heard.
This is not to say to disregard a student’s special needs and Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s); quite the opposite. Know your students’ needs before the first day of class if at all possible. This, by the way, includes any talented and gifted (TAG) students who may need extra challenge and motivation to keep them engaged in learning. I am saying know these things and then give as little mention to them during class as possible.
Get the students playing together. Find an instrument that is rewarding, even challenging for the student, and strategically place them with other players who you can trust to help. (Don’t fall into that “Well, they can play the triangle” trap. It is a disservice to students unless they want to learn all percussion.) As a teacher of mostly guitar-based ensembles, I find the guitar very adaptable to multi-leveled instruction. Even very obvious special needs such as visual handicaps or ambulatory handicaps can be minimized by the very demeanor and attitude of the teacher. Remember: If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to them. I had a teacher ask me why I taught blind students how to play the guitar instead of having them play bongos or maracas or something, and my response was, “They signed up for guitar. Anything else would have not occurred to me.” I’m still proud of that answer.
Keep your expectations high. If your procedures and routines are in place, and explained first day, students will rise to follow them. If your behavioral expectations are shown as they come into class the first day of school, you will set a tone for your music room. Many, many music teachers can tell of students who behave well in their class not just because it is music and music is fun, but also because of how veteran music educators set the tone for their rehearsal space on day one. Students are looking for structure, no matter how much they may say otherwise. Do not fall into the trap of letting the lounge gossip tell you how the behavior in your class will be. The same goes for performance expectations – set a habit of excellence on day one.
What do those things have to do with inclusion? It’s simple. Whether your class is an elementary music class or a high school orchestra, you are trying to create a group setting. What we do is inclusion by its very nature. We as music teachers should shout from the rooftops that we provide a setting where all students come into our class on an equal footing and are treated the same. In beginning instrumental classes, most students start out with the exact same knowledge of the instrument on day one. As students progress, it is the teacher’s responsibility to monitor, assess, and help each student grow. That is inclusion. That is music class.
What can this do for a student? I’ll give you one example. At this year’s Grammy awards, every attendee went home with a book that contained an article about one of my special-needs students and how she overcame a battle with a speech impairment to become a magnificent songwriter. Even better: she just graduated high school against all odds.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Singing Makes Children Happy: Here's Why

Singing lessons in early childhood education have long been utilized by teachers. Not ‘singing lessons’ in terms of learning how to sing, but as a vehicle for teaching and learning a concept. We know that song makes things easier to remember because it connects facts to long term memory. And that’s also why singing is always a part of early childhood MUSIC lesson plans.
But did you know that group singing is therapeutic and makes people happy? It’s actually a proven scientific fact. Here’s a link to the actual study:
While the study was done in 2005, it really didn’t become part of the public consciousness until Time magazine published an article on the benefits of group singing in 2013:
Early childhood education benefits from music teachers who use this approach whether it’s in a classroom or a choir setting. And the benefits are amplified when this approach is used in low incomInce schools, special needs settings or in response to a devastating event within a school community. If you are a music teacher in any of those three situations, please consider adding group singing to you music lesson plans even if there is no possibility of having the students perform. The act of singing together is what matters.
You can even have group singing lessons by giving simple pointers about proper posture and how to open the mouth correctly when singing different syllables. This will take group singing to the next level by giving the students confidence in their abilities. Even a little push of self-confidence is better than not helping them at all. And as you already know, always compliment and praise the students when singing. No one wants to sing if they get insulted.
Finally, remember we are talking about early childhood education and your music lesson plans. These simple approaches may be too pedantic for older students or students in more advances situations. If nothing else, think about the benefits of vocal music for the little ones, read the case study, the Time Magazine article and then draw your own conclusions because only YOU know what’s best for YOUR students.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

[Resources] Music In Our Schools Month: The Importance of Music Education

An overview of current neuroscience research on the benefits of music education by The Royal Conservatory (Toronto, Ontario): “Your Child’s Development: Music Study May Be the Best Tool”


A wealth of scientific research over the last decade is proving that music education is a powerful tool for attaining children’s full intellectual, social, and creative potential. Musically-trained children develop to their full potential because participation in music is inherently rewarding, making children more likely to devote the time and practice necessary to develop strong cognitive and social abilities.

Musical activity involves nearly every region of the brain that we know about. Most importantly, music gives children a means to express themselves, to unleash their creativity, and to be inspired by their own boundless capacity for personal growth. For more than 127 years, The Royal Conservatory of Music has contributed to the musical education of millions of Canadians, as well as to their academic success and social well-being. The research we highlight in this document offers compelling insights into the powerful, long-term value children gain through music study.

“The Benefits of Music Education” from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation 

Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading problems... ‘Especially for children ... who aren't good at rapid auditory processing and are high-risk for becoming poor readers, they may especially benefit from musical training.’ (“Playing music can be good for your brain,” SF Chronicle, November 17, 2005)

The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling – training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifelong attention skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression. (A User’s Guide to the Brain, May 31, 2003; Ratey, John J., MD) 

“The Power of Music”: a paper from the University of London


Recent advances in the study of the brain have enhanced our understanding of the way that active engagement with music may influence other activities. The cerebral cortex self- organizes as we engage with different musical activities, skills in these areas may then transfer to other activities if the processes involved are similar. Some skills transfer automatically without our conscious awareness, others require reflection on how they might be utilized in a new situation.

“Music Education Statistics and Facts” from San Marino High School in California


Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. (Lewis Thomas, Case for Music in the Schools, Phi Delta Kappa, 1994)

Students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and
lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs among any group in our society. (H. Con. Res. 266, United States Senate, June 13, 2000)

78% of Americans feel learning a musical instrument helps students perform better in other
subjects. (Gallup Poll, "American Attitudes Toward Music," 2003)

Nine out of ten adults and teenagers who play instruments agree that music making brings the family closer together. (Music Making and Our Schools, American Music Conference, 2000)

“How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve and Succeed” from the Arts Education Partnership


Improves recall and retention of verbal information. Musical training develops the region of the brain responsible for verbal memory—the recall and retention of spoken words—which serves as a foundation for retaining information in all academic subjects. Music students who were tested for verbal memory showed a superior recall for words as compared to non-music students (Ho et al., 1998; 2003).

Advances math achievement. Students who study music outperform their non-music peers in assessments of math, and the advantage that music provides increases over time. These  ndings hold true regardless of socio-economic status and race/ethnicity (Baker, 2011; Catterall, 1998). Additionally, students involved in instrumental music do better in algebra, a gateway for later achievement (Helmrich, 2010; U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008).

Research compiled by NAMM (North American Musical Merchants on “How Children Benefit from Music Education in Schools”


With music in schools, students connect to each other better—greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism and reduced use of hurtful sarcasm. (Source: Jensen, E., Arts With the Brain In Mind, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001.)

The vast majority—96 percent—of the school principals interviewed in a recent study agree that participation in music education encourages and motivates students to stay in school. Further, 89 percent of principals feel that a high-quality music education program contributes to their school achieving higher graduation rates. (Source: Harris Interactive Poll, 2006)

The skills gained through sequential music instruction, including discipline and the ability to analyze, solve problems, communicate and work cooperatively, are vital for success in the 21st century workplace. (Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Concurrent Resolution 355, March 6, 2006)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Music Education and the Every Child Achieves Act

Music Education is included in the draft of the Every Child Achieves Act as a core subject. Since this Act is widely directed at explicitly outlining historically Federalist budgets controlled by each state, it is taking an unprecedented step in showing state lawmakers what needs to be addressed in their education budgets. However, don’t get too excited just yet as music doesn’t appear in the 600 page Bill until page 367 when is says “…use music and the arts as a tool to promote constructive student engagement, problem solving and conflict resolution…”
Then there is a catch, the next word is “OR”.
This gives states a directive to choose between music education or developing “understanding of and knowledge in computer science from elementary school through secondary school.” So what do you think most if not all school districts will pick, especially when faced with diminishing budgets that target for increased spending on educational technologies?
The main benefit comes to us on page 529 where it lists the proposed Core Academic Subjects: English, Language Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Foreign Languages, Civics and Government, Economics, Arts, History, Geography, Computer Science, Music, and Physical Education, and “any other subject as determined by the State or local educational agency”.
How can we schedule all of these core subjects for all students in elementary through secondary education? The devil will be in the details when assessment measurements are outlined. Even if each of the core subjects are addressed only partially in an academic year, only limited time and attention can be spent on the “lesser cores” of the Every Child Achieves Act list. Oh well. It sounded like a good idea at the time.