Music is perhaps the most challenging of all the arts for a dyslexic or dyspraxic student. Musical notation is a language in its own right, and one in which many of the signs and symbols instruct more than one function. For example, the simple line can be used vertically or horizontally; it can differ in size and length and can be straight or curved, each having its own meaning and function. Its significance can differ specifically within the context of other surrounding symbols, and within the context of the musical work’s style and repertoire. For aspiring young musicians with visual discrimination issues , reading music may pose a potential difficulty. From my own experience both personally and as a teacher I have found; separating the musical components on page into manageable chunks by devising practice journals, practicing fingering away from the piano or using colour to indicate certain symbolism are but few ways to make music reading more accessible.
Notation aside, music is often considered as a multi-sensory art form in which the student needs to look, listen, touch, manipulate hand eye co-ordination/and or aural co-ordination, posture and organisation. Despite the challenges dyslexics or dyspraxics face in this area, we seem to have an affinity to create and produce the most outstanding contributions with admirable resourcefulness and ingenuity.
From an early age I have always excelled in music and from the age of 7 I began to learn the piano. It was at the age of 16 I discovered my love of music-making and contemporary music, which drove me to pursue a career as a composer. It was also at this age I was diagnosed with having dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Throughout my school life, I have always struggled academically. Every school report from play-school to year 11 said, “easily distracted, poor organisation, lazy, must try harder”, but the schools always failed to ask “why?” My parents spotted the hallmarks of dyslexia but the schools decided not to investigate insisting they where acts of attention seeking and bad behaviour. My high-school persistently told me to stop messing around with music because I will never make it, and was even told by a charming science teacher “the only place I would end up is jail”. In truth, I grew up through school very angry and frustrated not understanding why I was always drifting in the land of mediocrity despite working and studying as hard as everyone else. However, despite my frustrations I always turned to music, which I found a natural affinity for.
Once I was diagnosed as having visual discrimination problems I started lessons with an incredible teacher who helped me to put in place strategies to assist me both academically and musically. Throughout my journey as a composer, I have found that these strategies have strongly influenced my pre-composition process. Sketching in pictorial forms has helped me define shape, gesture and form in my music, whereas a “hybrid mind mapping/musical notation diagrams” has helped me organise pitch and harmonic material. I strongly believe that dyslexia has become one of the key components defining me as a composer.
I have always wanted to work with aspiring dyslexic and dypraxic musicians. The Creative mentors foundations has presented me with a fantastic opportunity to take a little time aside from my work as an active composer, to train, improve and give back my skills to those wishing to pursue a career or interest in music.
Steven Laurence Frew
Royal College of Music, 2012, Piano and Composition
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