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T-Time: Making music lessons inclusive for students with dyslexia

27th June 2024

Earlier this month, we held our final T-Time session of this academic year. T-Time creates a space for sharing and professional debate amongst music classroom teachers across the UK. Attendees said that they appreciated hearing the experience of others; we hosted teachers from around the UK from different settings and I am grateful to everyone who contributed. 

If you couldn’t make it to the T-Time session in March or last week, you might be curious about what you missed. You can read the blog on ‘Finding the Finances’ here, or continue reading for a reflection on our most recent T-Time session which focussed on Dyslexia.  


The importance of supporting learners with Dyslexia

Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people 10% of the population (British Dyslexia Association). As teachers, we consider how to adapt and differentiate our teaching so that each young person can make progress. However, with Dyslexia we may have assumptions about how to support young people, or not know where to begin. 

About the provocation  

Kristl Kirk, Piano Teacher and Researcher, provided us with this thought to start our session:  

Dyslexia is not just about challenges with literacy or sight-reading music. It can affect attention, organisation, working memory and coordination, and those aspects may make learning to play a musical instrument challenging 

Kristl also led our session by saying:  

To be inclusive teachers, we have to look after ourselves and our well-being first. We should be aware of the signs of compassion fatigue, or burnout, so that we can prevent that from happening. There are many factors that are out of our control, the behavioural clues of some students might be difficult to interpret and we can become overwhelmed dealing with systems and environments that we cannot easily change.

This prompted attendees to take this in and reflect on the importance of caring for themselves as the priority.

What have we learnt?

Our conversations explored a few themes, including; the significance of colour, the specific challenges of learning the piano, and thoughts about notation. Attendees drew on their own experiences of challenges they faced themselves or in supporting young people to learn music.

Take away 1

My top takeaway from this session is perhaps obvious: to make your teaching more inclusive you need to think about children and young people with dyslexia as individuals and work with them to find out what works well. 

Kristl presented a visual guide to the Universal Design for Learning guidelines (UDL) demonstrating how it can help plan lessons for students with diverse needs. UDL guidelines can be found here on the CAST website. These are currently being refreshed, so sign up for version 3.0 once it is published.

Take away 2

Though we had a number of different comments and discussions, I was interested that conversations returned to the importance of colour multiple times. For some, this was learning that lyrics or music printed onto paper were best if using a light blue instead of white. For others, it was using a projector to show lyrics and ensuring the overlay was a yellow or light blue.  

One piano teacher said she used colour to support students to distinguish between the actions of the left and right hand, for example colouring left blue and right red. Whether the hand was painted as well as the musical score I didn’t ask!

But in saying this I am brought back to Kristl’s words:  

Some students may report symptoms of visual stress – that the music swirls or blurs when they try to read it, but this may be masking other conditions and our role should be to signpost parents to the relevant medical professionals who are trained to diagnose these issues. I recommend visiting the SASC website for further information about this issue.

Next time – have your say:

We are now shaping the T time sessions for next academic year and would love to find out what topics you would be interested in discussing. What would your top three topics be to help you with delivering music education in your school? What are you interested in sharing, and hearing about from colleagues nationally? We are keen to get your feedback, so please get in touch with to share your thoughts.  

Further reading and resources:

  • The Neurodiverse Classroom: A teacher’s guide to individual learning needs and how to meet them, by Victoria Honeybourne, (2018) 
  • Winding it back: Teaching to individual differences in music classroom and ensemble settings ,by Alice Hammel, Roberta Hickox, & Ryan Hourigan, (2016) 
  • Instrumental music for dyslexics:A teaching handbook, by Sheila Oglethorpe 
  • Music and dyslexia: A positive approach, edited by T.R Miles, John Westcombe and Diana Ditchfield
  • The dyslexic advantage: Unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain, by Brock and Fernette Eide 
  • BDA Handbook 2022, published by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA)
  • Music, other performing Arts and Dyslexia, edited by Sally Daunt and published by the BDA 

Written by Abi Marrison, Music Mark’s Schools Lead