Tips for Teaching Your ADHD Child to Read Sheet Music

parenting kids with adhd

Learning to read sheet music can be a rewarding and entertaining endeavor, especially for children with ADHD. Learn more about the benefits of this subject, and pick up some tips on teaching your ADHD child.

Teaching Sheet Music to ADHD Children

Learning music is a critical skill for children of all ages and skill levels. According to Kent State University, learning music helps improve neural activity, teaches intellectual curiosity, and helps develop motor skills and coordination.

sheet music

Music can be an especially useful outlet for children with ADHD. This subject encourages independence, expression, and creativity and is an extremely useful tool when it comes to releasing energy and fine-tuning a child's focus.

Whereas other subjects such as math or science require strict adherence to established rules and principles, learning music is a much more fluid process that lends itself to creativity and innovation. This loose structure may pose some challenges to unfocused children, but a well-organized and meticulously planned lesson can make learning sheet music easy and, more importantly, entertaining for your child.

Let's take a look at a few methods of maximizing the effectiveness of lesson plans for ADHD children concerning the reading of sheet music.

Take Advantage of Customization

Unlike most other forms of instruction, music education is often offered in a private setting, such as a tutor's home or even your own living room. Even if your child is enrolled in a music class, such classes typically involve a fair amount of at-home practicing in addition to time spent in the classroom.

children at piano

Your role as a parent offers unparalleled insight into your child's preferences and learning styles. Ideally, you should constantly be providing information in matters related to your child's education, but learning to read sheet music (and music in general) offers a fantastic opportunity for hands-on instruction.

If your child is a visual learner, employ graphics and illustrations to help him or her learn. If your child learns better when hearing instructions, find a way to incorporate audio into the lesson plan (this shouldn't be too difficult with music-based lessons!)

Be careful to maintain an element of structure and organization to your personalized instruction. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students with ADHD tend to benefit from structured learning environments. It is essential that your child be presented with clear tasks and objectives, as these tools serve as guidelines that keep your child on track.

guitar kid

Understand how Sheet Music is Traditionally Taught

You'll need to understand the basic elements of teaching sheet music before you begin to implement your own spin on the instructions. It's hard to modify existing content if you don't understand the original content itself. If you already know how to read sheet music, you're ready to move on, but less musically-inclined parents may require a quick primer on how sheet music is generally taught.

Students typically being by learning note time values. This includes learning basic rhythm and time signatures. Next, you'll need to know the actual names of the notes: quarter-notes, whole notes, rests, etc.

Next, you'll need to learn your scales. You can accomplish this using a number of means, but the simplest is the do-re-mi method. You may remember it from when you yourself were a child (yes, it's still around, and the method's longevity should clue you in about how effective it can be.)

Finally, you'll need to learn about the stave clefs (the symbols at the beginning of the sheet). These items set the tone for the notes that are to follow and are an essential part of the learning process.

If you need help learning sheet music, these music note flashcards are an effective way to quickly learn the names of important elements of sheet music.

By learning about sheet music (or providing yourself with a quick refresher), you can apply your own knowledge as you help your child learn.

Make it Engaging

As you well know, the attention span of a child with ADHD is notoriously fickle. They may show improved signs of concentration if music is of interest to them, but the fact remains that you will need to create an engaging and intriguing learning experience in order to keep your child's attention. Fortunately, when teaching your child to read sheet music, there are virtually endless possibilities for fun and innovative lesson plans.

Parents of ADHD children also enjoy the benefit of personal supervision and can quickly tailor lessons to meet their children's needs. If you notice your child failing to respond to a certain lesson format, you can quickly change it to a more interesting one.


If you need help finding inspiration, online sites such as Pinterest have thousands of lessons and teaching tricks for students who are learning to read sheet music. Allowing your child to choose his or her own lesson also strongly encourages engagement and allows for a sense of empowerment that is sure to help them commit to the objective.

Update Your Approach

Technology (be it smart phones, television, or the internet) is often considered a huge detriment to an ADHD child's education because of the enormous potential for distraction. Between apps, games, movies, and shows, it's all too easy for your child to find his or her focus diverted because of these devices.

The very same technology, however, can also be used to help your child. There are a number of apps that teach students how to play instruments, understand music theory, and even read sheet music. In fact, recent research from the University of Florida suggests that technology makes music more accessible to people of all ages and abilities

In addition to increased accessibility, a technocentric approach to teaching sheet music allows for a more engaging lesson. Today's students naturally gravitate towards technology and are more likely to interact with digital learning. The same concept holds true for students with ADHD.

Focus on Progress

When learning music, instruction is mostly focused on producing the correct end result. There is no one way to learn; so long as a child can play a piece of music, it does not matter how he or she learned to play it.

Many schools use practice sheets to monitor at-home practice, with students being required to practice for a certain amount of time. While this is an effective means of ensuring improvement, it risks losing the attention of children with ADHD. Instead of setting a time limit, set goals for your child; for instance, instead of telling your child to practice for thirty minutes, tell him or her that practice will be over once they can successfully read the music.

This results-based approach makes learning more of a venture than a chore. Rather than feeling forced to read sheet music for 30 minutes, children are more focused on completing the task. In many cases, students will still spend just as much time learning as they would with a practice sheet, but the satisfaction of making progress encourages the student to continue learning.

children reading

Learning sheet music is a unique combination of entertainment and education. The skills developed in this particular subject can be especially helpful to children with ADHD, and with a carefully designed lesson plan, you can ensure a productive and interesting learning experience for your child.

By Bill Sands
February 2017
parenting kids with adhd parenting tips & tricks

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