November Newsletter

Music Lessons vs. Adapted Lessons

Welcome to Ignite Music Therapy’s November newsletter edition! This month is focused on the differences between traditional music lessons and adapted music lessons.


Traditional Music Lessons

When you think of signing your kids up for piano lessons, or thinking back to when you took music lessons yourself, people usually imagine sitting on a chair or bench with the teacher critiquing your technique or stylistic approach. You play from a lesson book and work through each exercise or song until it is practically (if not) perfect. Music teachers aren’t required to learn or understand different needs or abilities. They take pedagogy classes and music classes, or sometimes no classes at all and teach based off of how they learned and what they experienced…and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Adapted Music Lessons

Think back to those typical music lessons. After you complete each assignment or lesson in the book, you move on towards the next song which continually grows more difficult to match your musical abilities, but what if you need more time? What if you need to take breaks throughout the lesson because you are struggling to focus? What if you can’t distinguish the treble clef from the bass clef, or the specific notes on the staff? That is where adapted music lessons come in. Not all music teachers are clinically trained to understand the wide variety of needs that students may have. They might not be trained to be able to adapt their teaching styles or materials to fit the needs of all students. As a board certified music therapist, you are trained not only in music, but also a variety of diagnosis and how to allow students with special needs to learn and grow to be the very best they can be.

It might be difficult to really understand the difference without seeing it in person, but I will do my best to describe some of the  lessons I currently teach with students of different abilities. One of my piano students is on the Autism spectrum. He is very musically talented and learns many of his favorite songs by ear, being able to play them on the piano without having any lessons. I bet you are thinking, then why work with him? He is able to play almost anything by ear, but doesn’t understand why they sound good, what the notes are, or play anything without hearing it multiple times first. During his lessons, we do work from a lesson book, but we work through each note and he labels it before we play a song. This demonstrates his knowledge of now understanding what each symbol means, but might not be able to process it as quickly as music plays. By labeling the notes first, he is able to be more successful when it comes time to actually playing a piece of music. Does this mean he will have to label all of his notes forever? Absolutely not. It is a tool that he uses for now and we are currently taking away the labels note by note. Since his strength is learning things by ear, we also do finger exercises that are not in the book to allow him to work on hands playing separate rhythms and notes to prepare him for songs he may play in the future.

Another student has trouble focusing for long periods of time and will start to look around the room, ask questions about things besides music, or start to become frustrated. So, we take a two minute break. During the break he can play other instruments on his own, dance, do jumping jacks, or just sit quietly if that is what he needs. As soon as the two minutes are over, he is usually ready to focus and continues to make progress on his songs.

Why does it matter?

So, why does this information really matter? What does it all mean? The importance truly comes when you are deciding what type of approach to music lessons is best for you or your child. Does your child need more support and breaks in order to stay productive? Then Adapted Music Lessons would probably be a good route. Are you able to maintain attention for an extended period of time and things come easily for you? Then you would probably be able to succeed in typical music lessons. The ultimate goal is for every person to be, and feel, successful. It doesn’t matter if that means going with a different approach. As long as every client feels as though they are improving and growing musically.


If this newsletter has sparked some new questions or thoughts, I would love to continue the conversation further. Additionally, if there are any topics that you would like more information about, feel free to send an email to

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