Multicultural Music and Students with Disabilities

Music teachers can adapt lessons for various disabilities: physical, behavioral, and cognitive. David Knapp has found ways to include students with disabilities in learning world music. The following are ideas from his article in General Music Today.

Physical limitations

Choose world music that matches their abilities.

  • Japanese taiko drumming may work for some students because of the gross motor movements required to play them. Many Japanese taiko ensembles include musicians with physical disabilities. Use smaller drums (e.g., the tsukeshime-daiko) for students who can’t handle the range of motion for the larger drums.
  • Other percussion genres (e.g., West African or Afro-Cuban) might also be suitable.

Knapp’s article describes a taiko drumming program for students with hearing impairments.

Behavior disorders (oppositional defiance and socialized aggression)

World music can be a part of a student’s Individualized Education Program.

  • Music can help manage behavior disorders through contingent rewards. World music rewards students with a unique musical experience.
  • Classroom guidelines are crucial. With the unfamiliar music and instruments, students need clear and uncomplicated instructions.
  • A room full of exotic and valuable instruments can raise the excitement level considerably. Organize the classroom to promote student focus and classroom control.
  • World music provides a unique opportunity for equality. Because most students in a world music ensemble begin with little to no prior background, mainstreamed students begin on the same footing as other students. This equality could promote self-efficacy and feelings of achievement.
  • Steel bands have long been used to reach students with at-risk behavior.

Cognitive disabilities

  • Use specific adaptive instructional strategies to meet the needs of exceptional students.
  • By modifying instruments and adapting the difficulty, students with disabilities can play alongside their peers.

Knapp’s article describes a steel band program for students with autism.

Learn more about the drumming and steel band programs in “The Inclusive World of Music: Students with Disabilities and Multiculturalism,” in the October 2011 issue of General Music Today, now online.
Adapted from “The Inclusive World of Music: Students with Disabilities and Multiculturalism,” by David H. Knapp, Florida State University, General Music TodayOctober 2011.

—Linda C. Brown, October 26, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (