Multi-Sensory Music Teaching

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Multi-sensory music teaching is just what it sounds like: using all the senses to teach and learn music. The main senses employed are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (doing).

I would also add in reading and writing (text) as the literate nature of our world shows that many people find this useful, even those with dyslexia.

Multi-sensory music teaching can be seen in some of the most respected approaches to such work throughout the world including those of Dalcroze, Kodály, Suzuki and Orff. It can benefit all learners, including those with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia. In her key book Instrumental Music for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook (Whurr, 2002), Sheila Oglethorpe emphasizes this, encouraging people

“to employ as many of the child’s senses as possible in the hope that the stronger senses will compensate for the weaker ones”.

However, multi-sensory teaching shouldn’t be seen as a method to just use with students who have special needs – it has huge benefits for all…


Seeing it in action

To really understand multi-sensory teaching it helps to see it in action.

Here is a video taken from a piano lesson.  The little girl has only just begun her lessons but has previously done lots of singing with her Mum.

The little tune used here, See-Saw, I first encountered on the Kodály course run by the British Kodály Academy. There is much that can be gained from using a Kodály approach – which is truly ‘multi-sensory’ – adapted here to use in a piano lesson.

We see here on the video that this very simple four-bar tune using just two notes has produced the opportunity for lots of music learning. This includes:

  • Sound before symbol – singing the melody to be performed on the piano.
  • Identifying the rhythm and repeating it – clapping the rhythm values of the melody.
  • Listening to the melody being played and identify the high and low pitches – using a whole body activity touching the head for high and the legs for low (conveniently sat at the piano).
  • Pulse maintenance – having to play in an ensemble meant the pulse had to be maintained. Notice how this is an area that will need a little bit more work. In my experience pulse maintenance needs to be massively re-enforced in lots of different contexts to ensure it is secure.

Teaching a Scale

Now lets look at teaching a scale in a multi-sensory way.

Here’s an example, teaching the C major scale on a piano (simply adapt for other instruments). On woodwind, brass or string instruments let the student feel the fingering on the pads, the position on the valves or the fingering on the strings whilst hearing the notes produced and seeing the notation.

On all instruments including the piano the following areas can be used.

NB. All approaches (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic) should be included and not just one used:


  • Sing to ‘la’the C major scale with the student.
  • Sing the ascending scale again for the student to listen to, using the letter names C D E F G A B C, and then sing them descending while the student follows the progress on the keyboard (or fingering on another instrument).
  • Piano: sing the scale again to the student but this time using the finger numbers 123 12345 etc. as you sing up and down.
  • Play the intervals of a major 2ndand a semi-tone. Help the student aurally identify these intervals within the scale.


  • Provide the student with a picture of the keyboard, wind instrument or valves with the finger numbers of the scale on it.Some students do not think in terms of finger numbers: if this is the case, try another way.
  • Show the student the scale written out as notes on the stave.
  • It is useful to show all students the keyboard and thus to see the shape of the scale in relation to the white and black notes.
  • For other scales, there can be quirky ways of remembering: I have a student who always remembers the D major scale as the one with Fish and Chips in –Fish representing F sharp and Chips, C sharp.


  • Finger numbers need to be learnt. These can be reinforced with a simple song like ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I caught a fish alive’, doing the actions of the finger numbers at the same time.
  • Get students to close their eyes and feel the fingering of the scale.
  • Walk the pattern of the tones and semitones on the floor with large and small steps.
  • Piano: Invite the student to use the right hand and depress the first three notes of the scale (notes CDE) together on the keyboard, then place the thumb on F and depress the next four notes with fingers 1234 (notes FGAB) – ascending up the keyboard.
  • Using the right hand, put finger 3 on the E and then tuck the thumb under onto the F.

Additional resources

Life size stave:  create using masking tape on the floor or an old piece of carpet with black carpet tape (which is transportable). Ask the student to sing the letter names of the different pitches as they stand in the relevant space on the stave; play musical twister, marking and singing different words on the stave; stand on the note pitch and play the corresponding note on an instrument, using a picture of the keyboard for pianists.

Dalcroze:  (Eurhythmics: Art and Education, 1930) is a great way to teach rhythm. Using balls, bean bags and the whole body (amongst other things) to develop pulse and rhythm skills. Various courses are available to learn about this see the Dalcroze website for details.

Froseths rhythmic flashcards (GIA Publications, Inc.):  A backing CD maintains the pulse as the rhythms are demonstrated by the teacher and a flashcard shown of the notation.

Kodály:  As already mentioned, the Kodály method is truly multi-sensory. It is a systematic way of teaching music notation using the voice. Working from the easy to the difficult (in very small steps) it is very accessible for all students. From stick notation and sol fa hand signs, clapping games and cannon singing – musicianship is successfully developed.  Kodály courses can be found on the British Kodáy Academy website.

Get Set!Piano by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, (Collins Music):  incorporating multi-sensory teaching throughout. Suitable for beginner pianists, Book 1 takes the student to prep test and book 2 to Grade 1. Pianodao review.

How to Teach Instrumental and Singing Lessons – 100 Ideas by Karen Marshall and Penny Stirling (Collins Music):  Includes a whole range of ideas for teaching in a multi-sensory way from notation to rhythm, scales and music theory.

Use apps, the Internet and/or YouTube:  There’s lots available here. Check out the reviews for the best resources. All students are different some resources can be more useful to one learner compared to another.

Courses and further information for special needs students:  The British Dyslexia Association runs a course, ‘Music learning and dyslexia’ at Easter each year and they will be holding a Music and Dyslexia training day October 20th, 2018. Visit their website for their Music and Dyslexia specific pages and additional material from a top tips sheet to a booklet with a whole range of information included.


Multi-sensory music teaching is a wonderful tool to accelerate learning in all our students and especially in those with learning difficulties.

It makes lessons more varied, memorable and fun!  It can expand our learning and develop us as teachers in ways we could never imagine. 

Additional reading on teaching students with Dyslexia

Daunt, S. (ed.) (2012), Music, other Performing Arts and Dyslexia. Bracknell: B.D.A.

Oglethorpe, S. (2002), Instrumental music for dyslexics, a teaching handbook. (2nd ed.) London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.

Miles, T.R. and Westcombe, J. (eds.) (2001), Music and Dyslexia: Opening New Doors. London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.

Miles, T.R., Westcombe, J. and Ditchfield, D. (eds.) (2008), Music and Dyslexia A Positive Approach. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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