Day 4 : Musical Experiences

by | Adapt & Modify Activities

31 days medal 400 by 400 red


Music plays a huge part of our lives. Not only do we enjoy listening to various tunes, but research shows the many benefits of music on all aspects of development.  From cognitive to social to emotional to motor to language development (and so much more!), music reaches the depths of a human being in ways that no other art form does.

So, when your disabled child doesn’t have the manual dexterity to play an instrument, the attention span to stay with the task long enough, the ability to accept and discriminate different sounds, don’t despair.  Like all the other Pinterest hacks I’ve shared with you, this one is doable in small increments as well!



music screenshot

So many of the Pinterest inspirations include images of young children who appear to be able to not only hold instruments, but also to blow and strum them like it’s a piece of cake!

Why playing a musical instrument may be a challenge for a disabled child

  • If a child has an auditory sensitivity, certain sounds might be too much for him to handle.
  • For the child with fine motor limitations, manipulating an instrument may be difficult.
  • For children with oral motor issues, blowing into an instrument may pose a challenge.

Musical experiences -

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for musical experiences

  • Fill the home with soft, gentle music – then contrast it with louder, more allegro-type arrangements.  Even if you cannot sing, be sure to hum, or play CDs in your home as much as you can – without over-stimulating your child, of course. You know your child’s limits best.
CD collection - musical experiences for children with special needs

We play music in the morning (to welcome the day), after lunch and right after dinner (to keep my son occupied while I clean-up the kitchen).

  • Don’t limit musical selections to one style.  World music, hip-hop as well as classical should all be a part of your family’s repertoire (among your favorites).
  • Exposure to authentic instruments is key.  While it’s nice to create homemade drums and shakers (and goodness knows that Pinterest shares plenty of ideas for kids to produce their own), expose your child to the authentic sounds of a real guitar, harp, flute, etc.  It helps with auditory discrimination because the sounds are not synthesized.  You don’t need to expect your child to play the instruments. Hearing them being played live – or, if that’s not possible, a recording – is an enriching auditory experience.
musical toys - musical experiences

While exposure to authentic sounds is recommended, these toy instruments are child-friendly in that they’re small and light making them easy to manipulate for a child with fine motor challenges.

piano and organ - musical experiences for children with special needs

This is a battery-operated organ that my son loves, along with his very first piano. He still plays with both. In fact, now that he has mastered using the pointer finger, he is better able use these one finger at a time (as opposed to smashing down on the keys with his entire hand).

  • Invest in at least one authentic drum, and at least one set of authentic rhythm sticks.  The sound they produce is unmatched. Offer the opportunities for your child to experiment with these magical sounds first-hand by having them in the home.
drums and rhythm sticks are must-haves for homeschooling

This drum produces a deep sound. The sticks were part of project, but we use them as rhythm and drumsticks. The sound is nothing like authentic rhythm sticks when they are tapped together, however.

  • If your child has auditory sensitivities (ie: freaks out with certain pitches or sounds), you will need to approach musical experiences with gentleness.  To this day, there are certain high pitched sounds that my son cannot hear without breaking into a fearful cry.  The only way to have him overcome that is through gentle exposure – in small bits – and with lots of comforting words and loving hugs. Don’t avoid the sounds altogether – just build them up slowly.  
wooden blocks percussion - musical experiences for children with special needs

These are wooden stacking blocks.  We discovered accidentally one day that, with a xylophone mallet, we can make music with them, too!

  • Begin with percussion instruments.  Drums, rhythm sticks and shakers are must-haves in a homeschool setting.  They are the most basic to begin with, and are highly captivating to listen to.  Their rhythmic nature call to the human rhythms of breath and heartbeat.
rhythm sticks

These are authentic rhythm sticks. They can be used to “tap”, “scrape”, “boom” and so on. Many exclamatory words can be practiced in addition to tapping. Their use is endless – which is why they are must-have instruments.

  • Use the hands as well as tools to play different instruments.  Encourage your child to tap the drum with the palm of the hand.  If your child can’t, use a tool, like a drumstick (or other similar object).  Don’t be afraid to mix tools from one instrument with another.  Shakers, rattles, or maracas are all so captivating to a child.  Decide whether using a maraca is better than an egg shaker, for instance, as one has a handle, and the other doesn’t.
ocean drum -  musical experiences

This is an ocean drum. When you tilt it one way or the other, the small beads roll across the thick cellophane-like surface to imitate the sound of the ocean. While this is a toy drum, the sound that comes out of this is almost like that of a real drum.  It’s one my favorite drums in our collection.

  • Find the ideal positioning.  Your child should engage in musical experiences in the place that best supports him physically.  Unless you are specifically targeting gross motor skills in the activity, it’s best to have his trunk and lower body supported while he works with his hands.  You will see the best results when your child is in his adapted seat.
  • If possible, sit on the floor behind your child and work though different musical activities hand-over-hand.  But, also play along in front of him for better interaction.  If he can, have your child imitate your rhythms.  Start simply.  Do it hand-over-hand if he struggles with doing this alone.
wooden xylophone - musical experiences for children with special needs

This toy xylophone produces a unique sound in comparison to authentic xylophones. Yet, because it’s wooden, the sound is very organic and soothing.  (It comes with the wooden mallet pictured with the stacking blocks above).

  • Remember that the voice is a musical instrument as well.  Don’t ignore the importance of singing to, and, if possible, with your child. Have a set of seasonal go-to songs on hand at all times.  Nothing is more soothing to a child than the sound of his parents’ voices – no matter how terribly you think you might sing.
song cards - music

I have songs and poems laminated and bound with ring binders. This makes them portable and handy for impromptu sing-a-longs (even if I’m the only one singing).

  • Consider hiring a music therapist.  My son’s first exposure to a music therapist was when he was 2 years old and it was pure magic.  From having authentic instruments to touch and strum, to having the honor of a live vocalist in the home – there was nothing but goodess vibrating within these walls.  Music therapists know how best to meet your child’s goals (even beyond music  – to include fine and gross motor development, etc.) and will create a personalized program just for your child.  We still sing the songs our music therapist composed just for my son.

How do you incorporate music into your homeschool life?  Do you have the luxury of having a music therapist regularly in your home?  How do you adapt musical sessions to better meet the needs of your child?

If you are enjoying the tips in the 31 Days of Special Needs Homeschool Pinterest Hacks, I have plenty more up my sleeve specifically for your child’s needs.  Contact me.  I’d love to help you sort through your concerns.


More Resources

Continue reading my essays, activities, and case studies for supporting the education of disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent children.