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Teaching visually impaired child

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  • #89700
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    I have just started teaching a 12 year old girl who is totally blind. We are very fortunate that she has an excellent sense of pitch. She could even name notes as I played them. Otherwise I was pretty worried about just teaching her to tune “The harp that shall not be named.” She had taught herself piano and now decided she is in love with Celtic music. She has already been tuning the harp although I am still a little suspect of its integrity until we see if it will hold its tuning. Any suggestions from other teachers would be appreciated! I will use a piano keyboard to first teach her the basics of music theory since she will be able to feel the whole and half steps and then relate that to the harp. We are starting from scratch on music theory as her piano playing was by ear. Thanks for any help!

    #89701
    kimberly-rowe
    Keymaster

    Wow, what a challenging project Donna! I’m not big on insisting piano if someone wants to learn harp, but I would think it would be extremely helpful in this case. How about a blog on your progress with this student???

    #89702
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    I’ll see if I have anything to post! She is a bundle of energy that I have to direct. I worked for many years as a speech language pathologist with children with multiple physical and cognitive disabilities. So I’m used to adapting what I teach but I have never worked with a visually impaired child, teaching music! She has made up her own theories about music, has her own names for intervals and probably much more. Some of it has some basis and some of it is her imagination! So yes, quite a challenge. I just hope she sticks with it while I figure this out!

    #89703

    Donna,
    Sigma Alpha Iota is an International Fraternity for Women in Music. For many years we have had outreach projects to help musicians with special needs, such as the blind. There are so many resources available these days, no teacher of music should have to be self reliant. Go to this web site to find wonderful help. Best wishes from Patricia, Life Member SAI

    http://www.sai-national.org/home/Philanthropies/OutreachProjects/SpecialNeedsServices/tabid/252/Default.aspx

    #89704
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    Thanks! I’ve done some reading on that site already. And as I expected, you don’t start out thinking about Braille music for a beginning student until they have achieved some other goals. I’ll find out if her family is signed up for the library services. I believe they have just moved here from another state. I found a great article by David Goldstein to help piano teachers plan for the first lessons.
    http://www.blindmusicstudent.org/Articles/piano_teaching.htm

    And then I have this “harp that shall not be named” to deal with.

    #89705
    Sylvia
    Participant

    I am certified in braille music and have taught two blind students to read music, one cello and the other violin….not harp. Look to your student’s future. Braille music is the way to go….you wouldn’t teach a sighted student without print music. Of course, all music must be memorized because you can’t read the braille and play at the same time. I found that they both picked it up much faster than I had. If I had not been there, they would not have learned because the VI teachers were too busy to bother with something not important (to them or the school system). See if you can find someone in the area who teaches braille, and they should have some kind of access to braille music. There is an online course from Hadley. I’m assuming your student uses literary braille in school. For a music teacher not familiar with braille, your job is formidable, but at least folk harp is not as ambitious as pedal. Too often, blind students who want to study music never have anyone to teach them to read music. There are people on the braille music forum who have taught themselves because they really wanted to read music.
    Menvi-discuss@menvi.org
    Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired

    Personally, I think harp would be very hard for a blind person, simply because you have to reach up in the air. A keyboard is right down there where you can find it. We had to use a bow-right on the violin for a couple of years so the bow would stay in the right place…until the student had the feel of where it was. The cellist played before she lost her sight. We know there were blind harpers back in the middle ages, but we don’t know how big the harps were…probably not very. I would not want to teach harp to a blind student, and I’ve been around the blind and braille music for many years….I feel fortunate that no one has asked me!

    #89706
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    I guess it’s a good thing no blind person has come to you for harp lessons since you think it is such a bad idea. The child is the one making the request and my feeling is that she should have the opportunity to try. This is just a young child with a very small inexpensive harp . We aren’t talking about orchestral work on a pedal harp.

    #89707
    Sylvia
    Participant

    I agree you are doing the right thing. I would certainly provide the opportunity, as you are doing. I would be able to get them going on reading music, and the student could decide as they went along if they wanted to keep playing…just as sighted students do. The violin student I worked with was not going to be allowed in the sight reading section of competition, but I whined until he was (getting the music early to learn it). I figured he needed the opportunity, and if he felt he couldn’t do it, he would eliminate himself…no one had to do that for him. (he did great) The other school didn’t want the girl to play cello, but I taught her braille music during the summer (on my own time) so she could participate when school started. I’m definitely a provide the opportunity person….so maybe I gave the wrong impression. Another factor is if the person is previously sighted, they know what things look like…but if they have always been blind, it’s quite different for them.

    #89708
    HBrock25
    Keymaster

    As a percussionist, I’ll just say if Evelyn Glennie can play the marimba blind I don’t see why this girl can’t play the harp that way. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t imagine doing it myself, but clearly it’s possible.

    #89709
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    Evelyn is actually a deaf percussionist who plays barefoot to help feel the rhythms. You know I just met another musician who has worked with her. The only special request she made of the band was not to play too heavily on the bass. Her playing is unbelievable to me. I worked with physically and cognitively handicapped people for 20 years. I was always amazed at what they could work out for themselves. Our job as a therapist or teacher is to bring aspects of the world to them which their disabilities do not allow them to reach in the same way as everyone else. And in many cases, like with this little girl, she was already teaching herself the harp in her own way, making up her own music theory and technique, unusual posture. My immediate goal is simply to redirect that to a more reasonable approach, try to develop some appropriate hand skills and basic understanding of the circle of fifths. On receiving a 19 stringed harp with a full set of levers she immediately engaged every single lever and tuned the harp herself by ear. Her parents didn’t know any better. So it disturbed her when I told her first we needed to take the levers down. We’ve all had self-taught students who came up with some pretty strange approaches. She just needs an appropriate introduction to the instrument. She could be finished with it in a few months or we could go on to searching for consultation from other specialists.

    #89710
    HBrock25
    Keymaster

    Oh gosh… I’ve even seen her, I completely forgot she’s deaf not blind. Heh.

    Good luck with this project, seriously, and let us know how it goes.

    #89711
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    That’s just because we were talking about visual impairments Hugh. I figured you knew that. But I’m glad that you mentioned her!

    #89712

    Donna, for what it’s worth, there was a concert here last week that I missed, where a blind pianist gave a recital of Debussy and Chopin in our largest concert hall. Nobuyuki Tsujii has been blind since birth, yet has performed major concertos and recitals in many parts of the world, and records exclusively for Avex Classics. In 2009 he shared the gold medal award at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. A live DVD of his 2011 recording of a sold out Carnegie Hall solo recital is distributed by Naxos in the U,S. and was chosen DVD of the Month by Gramophone in November 2012. This is truly amazing!

    #89713
    mia-strayer
    Participant

    I myself am a visually impaired harp student
    let me tell you that it’s not easy
    being my harp teacher’s only blind harp student
    i have 2 advantages over her harp students
    while they can all see i can hear & feel the music

    i have low vision in my left eye & almost no vision in my right eye
    me & my harp teacher use my ipad to record a video
    she playas eater a celtic harp or a pedal harp
    after we are done recording i listen to it & try to practice along
    we also do a lot of things by ear
    i also have mild CP too

    #89714
    donna-germano–2
    Participant

    Thanks Mia! I just now got around to reading your post. In fact I have been using an iPad app to record small pieces for my student. That way we can email it to her to help her practice. Much faster than using my computer and recording software. She has no usable vision at all but I am always amazed at what she can do. Probably like you, she is very good at playing by ear. She is also a singer so she’s had some quick success by being able to accompany her own singing with simple chords. I don’t get to see her too often because she has many medical appointments.

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