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close this bookLearning with Music (VSO)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHow to use this book
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPart I - Music Curriculum
View the documentPart II - Music Activities
View the documentAbout the Author
View the documentVolunteers working for a better world: Welcome to VSO


by Stephanie Margetts
The material that follows has been provided by VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas)

How to use this book

'Learning with Music' was compiled to use with children who are hearing impaired, although it can be used with children who have other special needs and with people of various ages.

The paper is divided into two parts: Part I consists of a music curriculum, while Part II lists music activities which correspond to the curriculum.

The curriculum and activities are divided into sections ranging from basic sound awareness to playing instruments and moving to rhythms.

When using the book the teacher should first select a section from the curriculum in Part I that is appropriate for the students. It is important to start with the first numbers from each section to ensure that the students understand the specific concept and then to progress onto the other numbers. Once a curriculum item has been selected the teacher should refer to Part II, which is the activity-based part of the book, to see if there are any relevant activities for that item. The activities in Part II are listed under the same headings as those used in Part I. At the end of each activity the relevant curriculum numbers are given.

The activities can also be used as a guide or starting point to give the teacher ideas for their own activities.


Most people, whatever their age or abilities, enjoy music, whether this be playing, dancing or just listening to music. Children with special needs are no exception. They can gain much benefit as well as enjoyment from musical activities. Music gives children confidence and they feel less inhibited when playing instruments in a group situation.

The following music curriculum and activities can be used with children who have various special needs, although it was primarily designed for children who are hearing impaired. The activities can be used by anyone who is in charge of a group, as the activities do not need the expertise of a trained music teacher or music therapist. The activities should be selected and adapted to suit the particular needs of the students. The paper is therefore intended to provide teachers who have not previously used music with some initial ideas and to encourage them to create their own ideas. Once the students have acquired the basic skills these can be expanded and developed by the class teachers or group leaders.

A variety of musical instruments can be used with the activities although percussion instruments are advised as they are easy to play and the children are able to dance and move around while playing. It is recommended that the hearing impaired students wear hearing aids while doing the activities to amplify their hearing; although children who cannot hear any sounds will still be able to enjoy the music by feeling the vibrations.

The activities should be fun for everyone. Care needs to be taken with the more 'competitive' activities, such as Musical Chairs, to ensure that all the children are able to play; if not, less able students could be given other activities to do, such as helping the teacher play the musical accompaniment.

All the activities have an objective, whether this be acquiring a listening skill or playing a rhythm. The emphasis is not on learning to sing or to play an instrument, but on acquiring other skills through the medium of music.

Part I - Music Curriculum

1. Introduction

1.1 Shows tactile awareness while playing a simple rhythm game
1.2 Can feel music through vibrations
1.3 Listens and watches instruments being played
1.4 Can play freely with the instruments

2. Awareness of sound

2.1 Shows a spontaneous awareness of sound, ie reacts when a sound is produced
2.2 Can differentiate between sound and no sound
2.3 Can stop or make an appropriate action when the music stops
2.4 Associates a sound with a particular instrument
2.5 Can determine the number of times a sound is produced
2.6 Shows an awareness of environmental sounds

3. Discrimination - selective attention and sound features

3.1 Discriminates between two different sounds
3.2 Discriminates between several different sounds
3.3 Discriminates between two similar sounds
3.4 Discriminates between several similar sounds
3.5 Discriminates between sounds by doing different actions to different sounds
3.6 Discriminates between long and short sounds
3.7 Discriminates between fast and slow sounds
3.8 Discriminates between high and low sounds
3.9 Discriminates between loud and quiet sounds

4. Discrimination - everyday sounds

4.1 Discriminates between linguistic and non-linguistic sounds
4.2 Discriminates between voices of men, women and children
4.3 Discriminates between basic environmental sounds
4.4 Discriminates between fine environmental sounds
4.5 Discriminates between environmental sounds and is able to say the name and/or
knows the correct signs for sounds

5. Discrimination - locational

5.1 Searches for or localises a sound source
5.2 Discriminates between the same sound played in different locations

6. Demonstrates auditory skills at varying distances

6.1 Demonstrates selected skills next to sound source
6.2 Demonstrates selected skills five to six feet from sound source
6.3 Demonstrates selected skills across the room from sound source

7. Rhythm skills

7.1 Listens and copies a simple rhythm
7.2 Follows a simple rhythm, playing with the teacher
7.3 Listens and copies a complex rhythm
7.4 Follows a complex rhythm, playing with the teacher
7.5 Can create a simple rhythm by themselves
7.6 Can create a complex rhythm by themselves
7.7 Can recognise and distinguish musical notes
7.8 Can play to a simple rhythm while following musical notes
7.9 Can play to a complex rhythm while following musical notes
7.10 Can discriminate which rhythm is being played from two different rhythms
7.11 Can discriminate which rhythm is being played from several different rhythms
7.12 Can discriminate which rhythm is being played from two similar rhythms
7.13 Can discriminate which rhythm is being played from several similar rhythms
7.14 Can conduct while other students play

8. Ability to play instruments

8.1 Can play an instrument from quiet to loud
8.2 Can play an instrument from loud to quiet
8.3 Can play an instrument from fast to slow
8.4 Can play an instrument from slow to fast
8.5 Can play an instrument when conducted by the teacher or member of the group
8.6 Can play an instrument when conducted by the teacher, even if the tune is
different from that played by the rest of the group
8.7 Can play a well-known song when accompanied by the teacher
8.8 Can play a well-known song by themselves

9. Movement and rhythm

9.1 Can play a percussion instrument and move around the room at the same time
9.2 Can do different actions to the rhythm of the music when copying a teacher or a
9.3 Can react with different actions when hears different sounds
9.4 Can create their own actions to music
9.5 Can walk to a specific rhythm
9.6 Can dance freely to music

10. Use of voice/signing to music

10.1 Can use voice when a note is played and when accompanied by the teacher
10.2 Can use voice when a note is played without help from the teacher
10.3 Can copy the teacher using their voice while playing an instrument
10.4 Can use voice with notes of two different tones
10.5 Can use voice with notes of various tones
10.6 Can play an instrument to accompany a short spoken phrase
10.7 Can use voice to accompany a simple rhythm
10.8 Can use voice to accompany a complex rhythm
10.9 Can use voice/sign to a well-known song

Part II - Music Activities

To be used with the Music Curriculum - see Part I.

All these activities can be adapted to suit the individual needs of the students and to learn different skills from the curriculum. The numbers given at the end of each activity (eg 1.1) indicate the curriculum skill for which that activity is particularly relevant.

1. Introduction to music

The students sit in a circle and one student taps the leg of the student sitting next to her/him, who passes the tap around the circle. If the student receives two taps s/he must reverse the direction; therefore one tap goes in one direction and two taps in the other direction. 1.1

The students stand in a circle, holding hands. One student squeezes the hand of her/his neighbour. Everyone passes the squeeze around the circle. If the hand is squeezed twice the direction is reversed. 1.1

The students sit in a circle and turn to face the person on the left so that each person looks at the back of the person in front. The leader taps the back of the person in front of her/him a certain number of times who in turn passes on the same number of taps. The activity continues round the circle. The students can close their eyes while doing this activity. 1.1

The students watch the teacher play different instruments. The students touch the instruments while the teacher plays so that they can feel the vibrations made. 1.2, 1.3

The students are allowed to play with the instruments themselves so they can get used to the sound and feel of the instruments, explore different ways of producing sounds and experiment with the different noises the instruments make. 1.4

The students sit in a circle, each with an instrument. The teacher starts by playing her/his instrument and after a short while looks up at one of the students, inviting her/him to join in.

After playing for a while, that student looks up at another student who then joins in the playing. This process continues until the whole group is playing together. 1.4

Two students stand facing one another holding the same percussion instrument in opposite hands. The other students watch and listen. The students must decide which of the two is going to lead. The leader plays her/his instrument a certain number of times and her/his partner must copy. When they have finished their playing the two exchange leadership. 1.4

2. Awareness of sound

The teacher places a chair at one end of the room and a cymbal at the other end of the room. The students line up by the cymbal and run across the room and around the chair when they hear the cymbal being struck. Each student has a turn at striking the cymbal. 2.1

Beanbags or sheets of paper are placed in a zigzag across the room. The teacher strikes a cymbal and the students must hop or jump from one to another when they hear a note being struck. 2.1

Music is played from a tape recorder or a keyboard. The students must raise their hands in the air when they hear the sound and lower them when there is no sound, without looking at the teacher. The students can do this by feeling the vibrations from the music but with their eyes closed. 2.2

The students sit in a circle. The teacher picks up a tambourine very carefully and passes it to her/his neighbour without making a sound. The tambourine is passed around all the students without a sound being heard. 2.2

Music is played and the students dance/move around the room. When the music stops the students must stand still. The student who moves is out of the game. 2.3

The students sit in a circle and two instruments are given to two people who sit next to each other. Music is played from a tape recorder or by the teacher. When the music begins the instruments are passed around in opposite directions. When the music stops the students holding the instruments play together. When they have finished playing the music starts again and the instruments are passed on in the same directions as before. 2.3

Chairs are placed in a row so that each chair faces in the opposite direction from its neighbour. There should be one fewer chair than the number of students (eg if there are 10 students, there should be 9 chairs.) Music is played from a tape recorder and the children move or dance around the room. When the music stops, they have to find a chair to sit on.

The student who is not sitting on a chair when the music stops is out of the game. Each time the music stops a chair is taken away. The students who are 'out' can either help the teacher play the music or place their hands on the instrument and feel the music being played. 2.3

The students pass a parcel around the circle and unwrap a layer when the music stops. They pass the parcel on when the music starts again until the present inside the parcel is unwrapped. 2.3

The students sit on chairs in a circle, each with an instrument. The teacher plays a piece of music and the students join in on their instruments. When the music stops they place their instruments on the chairs and each person moves to the seat on her/his left. The activity starts again when all the students are waiting to play their new instruments. 2.3

Each student has a portable instrument. Dance music is played and everyone dances and plays their instrument. When the music stops the students exchange instruments. When the music starts again everyone resumes dancing. Different types of dance music can be used with students moving and dancing in different ways. 2.3

The students sit in a circle. When the music begins a hat is passed around the group with each person in turn placing it on the head of her/his neighbour. When the music stops, the teacher asks the person who is wearing the hat to do an action for everyone to copy. The activity continues when the music starts again. 2.3

Each student has a portable instrument. The teacher plays some music, either on a prepared tape or on a keyboard. Whilst the music is playing, everyone joins in with an instrument.

When the music stops, all instruments must immediately be held above the head, without a sound. The music can start up again once the group is completely silent. 2.3

Two students sit back to back in the middle of a circle. They each have an instrument and are asked to have a musical conversation, ie one student plays her/his instrument and when s/he has finished playing, the other student starts to play. 2.3

Each student has a tambourine. Music is played from a tape recorder. When the students hear the music they dance freely to the music. After a few minutes the teacher lowers the volume of the music and the students play their instruments in a variety of different places, eg behind backs, on the wall, on the floor, on knees, on another group member etc. When there is no music the students must stand still. 2.3, 3.8

The teacher lays an old white sheet out on the floor and one student dips both feet in the paint and moves across one side of the sheet in response to the rhythm of the music. When the music stops, the student also has to stop and stand still. All the students take it in turns to do the activity using different colours. Those not walking on the sheet watch and join in by clapping. Once the paint has dried, individual students can recreate the rhythm by following the different coloured footsteps on the sheet. 2.3

The teacher places percussion instruments in different corners of the room, as far away from each other as possible. When the music starts, each participant finds an instrument and begins to play. When the music stops everyone puts their instruments down, runs to a different instrument and waits for the music to start before playing again. 2.3

One student is the soloist and stands in the middle of the circle. The others all have percussion instruments. When the music begins, the participants dance around the soloist, playing their instruments. Meanwhile the soloist stands still. When the music stops, the students stand still like statues, holding their instruments out in any position they choose. The solo player then goes around and plays all the instruments. When s/he has finished playing, the activity starts again with a new soloist. 2.3

Each student chooses a large piece of coloured material/paper and places it on her/his head like a hat. The teacher places a piece of each material in each corner of the room. When the music starts everyone dances. When the music stops the students group in the appropriate colour corner of the room. The colours can be swapped around and the activity starts again. 2.3

The teacher plays a musical instrument, eg a drum, and the students must guess the number of beats being played. 2.5

3. Discrimination - selective attention and sound features

Students stand behind two or more musical instruments. One student plays an instrument and another student stands with her/his back to the students and must guess which instrument is being played. 2.4, 3.1, 3.2

The teacher plays all the notes on a tone bar or xylophone. The student then turns her/his back or closes her/his eyes while two notes are played and must decide if the notes are the same or different. 3.1, 3.3

Students practise listening to two or more different instruments. Each instrument is assigned an action, eg playing the drum means 'run'. When the students they hear an instrument being played, they must do the appropriate action eg when they hear the sound of the drum they must run and when they hear the bell they must jump. 3.1, 3.2, 3.5

The students sit in a circle except one student who sits outside the circle with two contrasting instruments, eg a drum and a bell. One of the students in the circle has a ball.

The students must throw or roll the ball to their neighbour depending on the instrument being played. The students will learn to associate the sound of an individual instrument with a particular action. 3.1, 3.5

The students sit in a circle. One student plays two notes on the xylophone or tone bars. These notes must be different in pitch, eg one low and one high note. The student then passes the instrument to another student who plays the same two notes, and then plays her/his own notes before passing the instrument on again. If a student cannot remember which two notes have been played, the two notes can either be repeated or the group can help the student. 3.1, 3.8

The group sits in a circle and the teacher plays in the low range of the keyboard while the students pass bells around the circle. Suddenly the teacher plays high notes and the students must then pass the bells around the circle in the opposite direction. The music continues and every time the high notes are played the bells change direction. 3.1, 3.8

The students draw long and short lines on the chalkboard or on a large poster, to represent loud and quiet beats. A long line is associated with a loud beat and a short line with a quiet beat. The students first watch the teacher play a short sequence of loud and quiet beats and then they draw the corresponding lines on the chalkboard/poster. When the students have done this successfully they can close their eyes or turn their back while the rhythm is played and the student then draws the lines on the chalkboard/poster. The students take it in turns to play and listen. 3.9

A small group of students, about 3 or 4, places both hands side by side on top of the keyboard. A rhythm is played on the keyboard which consists of loud and quiet beats. The students place their right hands on top of their left hands on the loud beats, and back to the original position for the quiet beats. A student plays a short rhythm with loud and quiet beats and the teacher holds each student's hands in turn to help her/him move their hands while the rhythm is being played. All the students can then move their hands to the rhythm while watching the teacher. Finally, the students can do the activity while watching the notes being played and then with their eyes closed so that they are responding by touch, feeling the vibrations of the music, and by listening to the different sounds. 3.9, 7.5, 8.1, 8.2

The students are divided into two groups. One group is given one kind of instrument, and the other group a different kind of instrument, eg tambourines and bells. The teacher plays a rhythm on the keyboard and the group with the bells plays with the quiet music and the group with the tambourines plays with the loud music. A pause between each type of music will give the students a chance to listen/watch what is being played. 3.9

The students stand in a circle while the teacher plays beats on a drum. The students pass a ball around the circle; passing it in one direction for loud beats and the other direction for quiet beats. 3.9

The students stand in a circle. The teacher also stands in the circle with a drum. One student stands opposite the teacher, closes her/his eyes and counts the loud beats that the teacher plays. A ball or bean bag is passed from student to student each time a loud beat is played. It should always be passed in the same direction, eg always clockwise. When the teacher has finished playing, the student standing opposite the teacher opens her/his eyes and must guess who has the ball. 3.9

The students walk around the room while the teacher plays the drum. They take large steps when they hear a loud sound and small steps when they hear a quiet sound. 3.9

4. Discrimination - everyday sounds

The student listens to sounds of everyday noises and must match the sounds to pictures and/or words showing or describing the noises. The student should also try to say or sign the words. 2.6, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5

5. Locational discrimination

The students sit with their eyes closed. The teacher uses a percussion instrument while slowly walking amongst the students. The students raise their arms if the sound is close and lower them if the sound moves away. 5.1

The teacher plays a musical instrument from different parts of the room and the student stands in the middle of the room with her/his eyes closed. If s/he hears the sounds, s/he must turn to the teacher. 5.1

One of the students volunteers to leave the room. Another student is asked to hide the tape recorder. When this has been done, the volunteer is asked back into the room to listen to the music from the tape recorder and find it. 5.1

The teacher asks a student to close her/his eyes or to wear a blindfold. The teacher plays a percussion instrument or a drum and walks around the room, the student must follow the sound. 5.1

Two or more students have the same instruments but stand in different parts of the room.
One student plays her/his instrument and another student must close her/his eyes and decide who is playing the instrument and therefore where the sound is coming from. 5.2

6. Demonstrates auditory skills at varying distances

The teacher and one student stand opposite each other. Each has a xylophone or a drum.
The student stands with her/his back to the teacher. The teacher plays a very short rhythm on the xylophone or drum. The student must listen to the rhythm and then copy exactly what the teacher has played. When the student can copy the rhythm correctly, the length of the rhythm can be extended each time and the distance between the student and the teacher can gradually be increased. 6.1, 6.2, 6.3

7. Rhythm

The students sit on the floor in a large circle so that everyone can see everyone. One student starts to beat out a simple repeated rhythm of claps, using floor, hands and knees. The others copy and stop when s/he stops. Each student takes a turn at being leader. 7.1, 7.2, 7.5

The students sit in a circle and the teacher claps a simple rhythm which can easily be repeated continuously. When the students feel ready they join in, until the whole group is clapping together. The teacher may then stop the group and clap a different rhythm. 7.1, 7.2

The teacher claps or plays a short rhythm with a percussion instrument and the students repeat the rhythm. The teacher then changes the rhythm, extending it slightly each time. 7.1, 7.5

The student creates her/his own rhythm which s/he plays to the group. This rhythm is then passed around the group. When one rhythm has been passed around the group, the next student thinks of a different rhythm which in turn is passed around the group, and so on until each student has created and passed around a rhythm. 7.1, 7.3, 7.5, 7.6

A student creates a rhythm; the next student repeats the rhythm and then plays her/his own rhythm. This process continues around the group. Variations on this activity and the previous activity can be made in loudness and pitch. 7.1, 7.3, 7.5, 7.6

8. Ability to play instruments

The students sit in a group and one person plays a percussion instrument, building up to a climax. The other students copy and aim to stop when s/he stops. 8.1, 8.2

The same activity as above but starting very loud and then becoming quiet. 8.1, 8.2

The students sit in a circle, holding hands. The teacher plays an instrument, gradually increasing in loudness while the group slowly raise their hands. Once all the hands are raised the teacher makes the same sound in reverse - ie from loud to quiet - and the students gradually lower their hands in time with the music. This activity can also be done without looking at the teacher. 8.1, 8.2

A small group of students plays various instruments while another student conducts the group. The other students participate as an audience. The conductor must establish clear hand signals for starting and stopping, eg pointing for starting and a raised hand for stopping. The students must play according to the hand signals. Players can play one at a time or together. The audience takes over as players and conductor when the first group has finished. Signals can be established for loud and quiet, fast and slow etc. 7.12, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6

9. Movement and rhythm

Two students stand facing one another, each holding a portable instrument. The other students watch. The two students determine which of the two is going to lead. When the music starts, the leader moves the instrument and her/his partner copies the movements as exactly as possible as though s/he were a mirror image of the leader. The two students stop when the music stops. When the music starts again, the two students either exchange leadership or two new students have a turn. 9.1, 9.4, 9.5

The students choose three or four percussion instruments to 'control' movement, eg triangle means 'hop', cymbal means 'stop', drum means 'sit down' and tambourine means 'run'. The students have to react with the appropriate action when they hear the sounds. 9.2, 9.3

Walk or dance to music using different tempos and timebeats. 9.5, 9.6

10. Use of voice/signing to music

The group sits in a circle. One student has the xylophone and plays four notes. At the same time, s/he makes a comment about a member of the group, eg 'I like John's shoes'. The instrument is then passed to the left and the next person plays the xylophone and says what s/he likes about another student. The activity continues until everyone has had a turn. 10.1, 10.7, 10.8

This activity is for students with some listening and speaking ability. Each student places a hand on the drum, keeping it still. On the back of each hand is a different sticker (eg in two different colours, or showing two different animals). The teacher or one student acts as a 'caller' and names one hand to play. The appropriate hand plays once and says the appropriate word. The caller then names another hand and the activity continues. 10.1, 10.2

Final activity

The students sit in a circle around an empty box. Each person has an instrument. The teacher plays a rhythm and encourages everyone to join in. When the group has played together for a while, the teacher points to a student who places her/his instrument in the box.
Each student continues playing until the signal is given by the teacher.

About the Author

The author is a qualified special needs teacher who has experience of working with children and adolescents with learning disabilities and hearing impairments. Working with hearing impaired children is her particular area of interest and her Masters degree dissertation focused upon the effectiveness of sign language and the possibility of bilingual education for hearing impaired children. Stephanie worked for two years in a school for deaf children in
Thailand, which involved not only teaching but also team teaching and in-service training of the other staff, as well as curriculum development.

Volunteers working for a better world: Welcome to VSO

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VSO Books is the publishing unit of VSO. VSO Books publishes books in development based upon the professional experience of volunteers and their overseas partners. Titles cover topics from natural resources to school libraries, reflecting the wide range of development sectors in which VSO works.

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Working Papers in Development share first-hand experience recorded by VSO volunteers and their colleagues, allowing others to build upon their methods and approaches. The first series of Papers focuses on special education and further series will represent all areas of
VSO's development work.

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