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Music and Disabilities

Whole Music Approach™

People with disabilities have a strong, instinctive bond with music. Because of this, music is not only a positive activity in itself, but is also often an excellent way of achieving significant enhancements in cognitive, behavioral, and social functioning.

Dr. Muir has developed his Whole Music Approach over a period of more than 25 years.  The idea is that student is learning a musical skill, just as with regular music lessons, except he is being taught in such a way as to maximize his functioning.

One reason for this is that, in so many people with disabilities, musical functioning is ahead of more general functioning. For instance, many with major speech challenges will be able to sing a complex song with clearly recognizable and correct lyrics. A person with autism often makes much stronger eye contact while music making than in regular communication. In many cases, someone entirely non-verbal and socially withdrawn is willing and able to play percussion instruments in group situations. Dr. Muir teaches each student is taught in a way that is specially tailored both to accommodate his cognitive challenges and to optimize the development of his musical potential.

The approach consists of three components:

1. Assessment

The initial assessment period evaluates the student in two areas; musical ability and learning potential.

  • Musical Ability: Assessment of the student’s relationship with music, history of making music, musical interests and strengths.
  • Learning Potential:  Evaluation of the student’s intellectual, physical, and relational strengths and challenges.

2. Personalized Music Development Program

After the initial assessment, Dr. Muir develops a Personalized Music Development Program for each student. For most, the Program includes one-on-one instruction (individualized as to frequency and length of lesson). Depending on the needs and abilities of the student, a program may include a combination of singing and instrumental music. In addition, many students are invited to participate in our community (group) music programs.

It is an important distinction of our program to know that we are totally non-judgmental with regard to the technical abilities of any student. Particularly in the case of people with disabilities, music comes from the heart, not the brain. Technical achievement is always secondary to the joy of music-making.

The Personalized Music Development Program has two goals:

  • To encourage the student to explore and embrace their music-making abilities (by experimenting with different genres and song-styles, and by experiencing different instruments)
  • To develop a personalized teaching methodology that embraces an individual student’s cognitive strengths and abilities

3. Relationship Building

Developing a trust-based relationship with each student is critical to the success of the development program. The one-on-one learning environment is designed to be stress-free and non-judgmental. Those factors, combined with two decades of working with people with disabilities, enable Dr. Muir to form a unique bond with each student that is based on trust and respect. This bond provides a foundation that allows students to take full advantage of their musical capabilities.

Dr. Muir has in the course of his 25 years of experience worked with individuals with a wide array of disabilities and medical conditions.  The two most common are autism and intellectual challenges, but there have been many others, including various types learning disabilities, neuro-developmental disabilties,  mental illness, degenerative illness.  For a full list of, click here.

A Testimonial from the Parent of a Child with Aspergers Syndrome
“With your singing and music sessions, Nick has come out of his shell. He interacts with his peers, and takes part in school life in a way that was unthinkable even a few months ago.  School teachers, officials, and caregivers have also noticed the change. We have tried many programs, social groups, psychologists, sports, etc., over the last 14 years, but before he started working with you, Dave always seems to be content to just stay in his room with his computer.”