Strategies for Teaching Music to Special Education Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Music is a subject area where with the right supports, all students can shine. This lesson gives you some ideas for teaching music to special education students.

Music and Special Education

As a music teacher, you have a responsibility to all of the students in your class. No matter what age group you teach or what the makeup of your school is like, you are likely to encounter at least some students with IEPs, or individualized education plans relevant to their special needs. These students, sometimes thought of as special education students, deserve strong music instruction just like every other student does. However, teaching them might not always be intuitive. This lesson will help you with strategies that will allow your students with special needs to get as much as possible out of music class.

Know Your Students, Know Their Plans

No two students with special needs are alike. As a music teacher, you may not have as much of an opportunity as regular classroom teachers do to get to know students well, but this makes it extra important that you do all you can to get to know students as individual people. Learn what they're good at and what they love. Some strategies for getting to know your students in the context of music class include:

  • Interview students individually about their musical tastes and habits.
  • Ask each student to write a poem or draw a picture comparing him or herself to a musical instrument, and explaining the parallels that they see in themselves.
  • Give your students opportunities to dance and move, and observe them as they interact and use their bodies to express themselves.
  • Ask regular classroom teachers for insight into students' needs, strengths and struggles.

It can also be helpful to read your students' IEPs whenever possible. This will give you more insight into their history and their educational goals, as well as the services they are getting.

Play Games

Many students with special needs thrive on more active and interactive instructional strategies. Students with attention difficulties like and appreciate anything that breaks up monotony, and those who struggle with expressive language will welcome different ways to express themselves. As a music teacher, you're actually really well-positioned to incorporate games, active songs and dances into your instruction.

Each time you play a musical game with your students, begin by previewing it and thinking about areas where students might struggle. Students who have trouble with social skills and motor activities might benefit from the chance to play in a small group first. After playing, give your students a chance to debrief the experience and think about what they might do differently next time.

Graphic Organizers

Often, special education students have trouble organizing their thoughts, materials and ideas. As often as you can, let your students use graphic organizers, or visual representations of materials, time, or ideas that need to be organized. Sometimes, you will make these organizers, and other times students will make them for their own work. Some examples of graphic organizers that might be especially useful for special education students in music class include:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account