partially sighted student- advice needed

Posted by: katemck

partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/05/12 08:51 AM

Hello everyone,

I have a little sister of one of my students starting piano with me. She has Albinism and so has a lot of sight problems. To see something clearly she almost has to have her nose 6 inches away from the page/piano keys. She also has nystagmus which is an involuntary movement of the eyes, so she finds it very difficult to refocus her eyes if she glances away from the piano to check notes. I have been trying to do a lot by ear as she has a great memory, and also lots of repetitive patterns. I haven't had any experience with this and am seeking to pick the brains of anyone who has.

I was wondering if perhaps Suzuki piano method would suit her better? I have no experience of this and can't find a Suzuki trained piano teacher anywhere near me in Ireland to ask.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated

Kate
Posted by: Amy B

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/05/12 09:26 AM

I would love to hear from others on this as well, as I am also considering taking on a student with very limited sight. I did "google" it, and found lots of hits, but would love to hear from others' experience on this forum.
Posted by: apple*

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/05/12 09:38 AM

I would be very interested in that student. ....to watch how you developed a method of memorization that would serve her. How old is she? I taught a totally blind student. It took us a while to get used to each other, but after a while I was able to teach her classical pieces with precision.. lots of small 'lines' or themes and repetition... lots of patience. She went on to study voice at NYU. Piano wasn't her first choice but she did pretty darn well and developed a method of listening and remembering that served her well. I spent a lot of time on arpeggios and chords so she could have a sense of the piano keys without using her eyes.. hard to explain. She had to feel everything and she felt keys signatures very well.
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/05/12 12:58 PM

This is a problem that admits of very good solutions--- at least, for some music students. We would think of Ray Charles, of course, and of the performer who won the Van Cliburn last time. Not to mention Johnny (and Edgar) Winter; albino guitarists, of course, but their accomplishment still counts.

I would wonder if your albino student's vision is correctable enough to see a score if it were photo-enlarged--- very easy to do, these days. Or, if her memory is good enough to first examine the page, and then play what she holds in her mind's eye.

I wish you all the luck with this student. Surely, she is enrolled in a special school for the blind (or near-blind), whose teachers would be glad to consult with you. Such a special student does take a special teacher, and I'm sure you will need considerable help, especially at first. I suppose we might remember, at the top of the list, Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. One would have thought Helen to be a hopeless case if anyone was, but Anne didn't think so.

My favorite quote from Helen Keller: "Everything has its wonders--- even darkness and silence." I think of it often.
Posted by: katemck

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 08:15 AM

Thanks everyone for the helpful comments. She has a very good memory and at the moment I am just working on helping her feel her way around the keys without having to put her head right down to look. I have decided to steer clear of sheet music for a while until she is comfortable navitgating her way around the piano and playing small repetitive pieces (with lots of repeating patterns) by ear.

Enlarged music can help, but more as a quick glance to refresh memory before she starts as she has to move her whole head from 4" away from the sheet to about the same distance from the keys.

She goes to a regular school (over here we have classroom assistants for individual children who have special requirements) which is great and she wants to play as well as her older sister who started with me three years ago (she's around grade 5), not a bad ambition smile. She is 8 years old.

At the moment I am trying things out to try and find out what works best for her, it will probably take a bit of trial and error to get it right.

I was looking at the Limelighter from Dancing Dots online. Has anyone had any experience with this? Looks a bit too pricey but is an interesting idea. I was also wondering if anyone on here teaches Suzuki piano method?
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 08:30 AM

Originally Posted By: katemck
Thanks everyone for the helpful comments. She has a very good memory and at the moment I am just working on helping her feel her way around the keys without having to put her head right down to look. I have decided to steer clear of sheet music for a while until she is comfortable navitgating her way around the piano and playing small repetitive pieces (with lots of repeating patterns) by ear.

Enlarged music can help, but more as a quick glance to refresh memory before she starts as she has to move her whole head from 4" away from the sheet to about the same distance from the keys.

She goes to a regular school (over here we have classroom assistants for individual children who have special requirements) which is great and she wants to play as well as her older sister who started with me three years ago (she's around grade 5), not a bad ambition smile. She is 8 years old.

At the moment I am trying things out to try and find out what works best for her, it will probably take a bit of trial and error to get it right.

I was looking at the Limelighter from Dancing Dots online. Has anyone had any experience with this? Looks a bit too pricey but is an interesting idea. I was also wondering if anyone on here teaches Suzuki piano method?


I don't teach Suzuki, and it's my understanding that you need to be certified to do so or to claim to teach it - which leads me to believe that you are not very likely to get much response on how to teach it here.

However, teaching by rote I know relies upon the student really hearing the tune over and over again before even trying to play it. So you could make recordings of pieces for your student to listen to, and she would have to listen to it every day for a week let's say. Then when she comes in, you can show her how to play it based on how it sounds. You will need help from the parent to make sure she listens to it. You may even want to record it with singing the words as many of the method books have, so the student can sing along with it. This helps tremendously with playing by ear.
Posted by: katemck

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 09:42 AM

Originally Posted By: Morodiene
[quote=katemck]

I don't teach Suzuki, and it's my understanding that you need to be certified to do so or to claim to teach it - which leads me to believe that you are not very likely to get much response on how to teach it here.

However, teaching by rote I know relies upon the student really hearing the tune over and over again before even trying to play it. So you could make recordings of pieces for your student to listen to, and she would have to listen to it every day for a week let's say. Then when she comes in, you can show her how to play it based on how it sounds. You will need help from the parent to make sure she listens to it. You may even want to record it with singing the words as many of the method books have, so the student can sing along with it. This helps tremendously with playing by ear.


I have no knowledge of Suzuki method at all and would never presume to try and teach it. I merely wanted to see if any trained Suzuki teachers here could venture an opinion on whether or not she might benefit from going to a Suzuki method piano class or not.

I have been using recording at the end of each class to help her remember during her practice, but I really like your suggestion of giving her the recording in advance or learning to play it.
Posted by: MaggieGirl

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 10:47 AM

Here in the US we have free assistance for the blind - including braille, books on tape and I beleive music scores (braille). They also have professionals you can talk to (for free) who can give advice for blind and low vision needs.

You might check your country's services - you might get an informative free consult.
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 11:13 AM

There is music which is scored in Braille:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braille_music

It is a very long article; this is a short excerpt:

"...Braille music is a Braille code that allows music to be notated using Braille cells so that music can be read by visually impaired musicians. The Braille music system was originally developed by Louis Braille.

"Braille music uses the same six-position Braille cell as literary braille. However braille music assigns an entirely separate meaning to each braille symbol or group of symbols, different from literary braille, and has its own syntax and abbreviations.

"Almost anything that can be written in standard print music notation can be written in braille music notation as well. However, braille music notation is a completely independent and well-developed notation system with its own conventions and syntax.

"The world's largest collection of braille music is located at the National Library for the Blind, in Stockport, UK..."
Posted by: piano2

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 01:19 PM

I am a Suzuki teacher. Listening to the recording is a huge component of the Suzuki Method. It might help your student to pick a method that has a cd. Check and find one that has good quality recordings. Have the parents play it for her every day. Then, rather than teach her a song note by note, she will develop the ability to play by ear. This is very empowering. She can learn to read the notes later - for now you can develop her ear.
Posted by: piano2

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 01:21 PM

http://suzukiireland.net/
Posted by: katemck

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/07/12 04:32 PM

Thanks for all the helpful advice. Much appreciated
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 11/08/12 08:38 AM

I have worked with visually impaired students. The problem with braille music for piano is that 1) braille music is very hard to learn and 2) since you need your hands to play, you have to read, then play, read then play, read then play (unless you're at a point where you are doing pieces that are conducive to do hands separately).

It's not a bad idea, but just a more difficult road than one would initially think.
Posted by: katemck

Re: partially sighted student- advice needed - 12/03/12 09:54 AM

I agree, I imagine that braille music is slow going for the students. I don't think it would be of any use to me as she doesn't need braille in school. Her text books are specially printed with large well defined text and she can hold them quite close to her face