Many blind students take an interest in music and participate in school band programs. In this video, Macy gives ten tips for band directors with blind students in their programs. The following text is a summary of the video.
Tip 1: Have reasonable expectations for your blind student. Like sighted students, blind students differ in musical knowledge and ability. As a teacher, you should not expect your blind student to be an advanced musician when they walk into beginning band. You should assess their skills just like you would with any sighted student.
Tip 2: Cater to your student’s needs. There is no right or wrong way for a blind student to learn music. You could make recordings explaining and playing the student’s part, or you could opt to use braille music. There are pros and cons to each method, so it is up to you and your students to decide which will work best for your situation.
Tip 3: Ask questions about what works best. Ideally, your student will tell you exactly what they need, but when it comes to music, many blind students have little experience and are not sure what will work best for them. It is important to ask if the methods you are using in the classroom and when transcribing or recording music are actually beneficial to your student.
Tip 4: Do not substitute learning by ear for music theory. Your blind student may be able to learn his or her pieces just by listening to them, but it is still important that you explain the concepts associated with print music. Rhythms, time signatures, and style markings are important for any musician, and if your student decides to transition to braille music, these skills will be necessary.
Tip 5: Keep the band room as organized as possible. The more organized your room is, the easier it will be for your blind student to navigate. If possible, arrange the chairs and stands before class so they can learn the layout of the room. In addition, if it is possible to put them on the end of their row without sacrificing your sound, this will make it easier for them to access their seat without bumping into their neighbors’ equipment. Also, have specific places for oil, grease, reeds, and percussion equipment so your student can find what they need when they need it and not have to worry about tripping over misplaced supplies.
Tip 6: Assign a band buddy. There are going to be times when your student needs help, both in rehearsal and at concerts and events. It can be a good idea to assign one of their peers to help whenever necessary so they are not continuously teaching someone new how to help them. Look for someone that your student naturally gravitates toward. Be sure not to choose someone who will be condescending or try to help too much. If you are unsure about who would be best, you can always ask your student in private if there is someone they would like to help them.
Tip 7: Be descriptive. Remember that your blind student cannot see you when you are conducting or writing on the board. If you want a specific expression that is not written in the music, you should explain it verbally. Also, if your student is memorizing their music, they are probably not familiar with the rehearsal markings in the piece, so you may need to explain exactly which section you are referring to in their part.
Tip 8: Give your student one-on-one instruction. This is especially important in beginning band because you are building their musical foundation. Make sure they are holding their instrument correctly, sitting with good posture, breathing properly, and grasping all the music concepts you are teaching. Even after beginning band, it is important to work closely with your student to be sure they aren’t becoming overwhelmed or falling behind. .
Tip 9: Include your student. You should be sure your student has everything they need, but try not to call them out in class or treat them any different from their peers. Don’t walk on egg shells or constantly worry about offending them. Also, consider them when planning band activities and trips, and try to find things to do that everyone in your ensemble can enjoy.
Tip 10: Give your blind student as many opportunities as possible. Many band competitions and activities are not ideal for blind musicians, so you shouldn’t pass up any opportunity for your student to participate in activities that are accessible for them. Involve them in honor bands, solo and ensemble, and community performances. These extra events mean extra work for you, but your blind student will definitely thank you for giving them those opportunities and making them the best musician they can be.