Improvise Approach Brings Ability to Disability

Improvise Approach In Tune with Special Needs

The Improvise Approach is all about music creativity for people who have disabilities using iPads and the ThumbJam app as an accessible musical instrument. It’s a training and resource eBook that has been written exclusively for the iBooks Store.

Designed for staff and those with carers working with people who have profound and complex needs, the Improvise Approach enables one to organize music-making sessions using iPads (ThumbJam app) supported by 10 specially composed backing tracks (included in the The Improvise Approach eBook) that landscape and shape the music session. It can be for solo and group performers (inclusive).

How it all began…

Back in 2011, whilst teaching music at Mandeville School in London UK, I started using an iPad in my music lessons with my students who had profound and multiple learning disabilities. I explored different music-making apps and the various ways they could be accessed by my students. I then fund-raised to obtain iPads and speakers. And so my research began.

2Choosing the ThumbJam application served our mission best because it provides a whole screen playing area, it’s easy to set up and the instrument sounds are of a high quality. The iPads were securely positioned so that each student could access, play and explore independently, using their specific movements on the iPad screen, without needing physical support from a member of the staff. Small speakers were attached to each iPad so that every player could hear themselves and each other clearly, just like a regular band.

I accompanied them on guitar with chords that matched what they were playing and together we created amazingly harmonious music. The students became more and more excited and animated which showed me how aware they were and how independent they wanted to be.

I invited other students to come and play percussion instruments with us e.g.  chime bars, drums etc., and then I stepped back and watched them play freely together. I gave them time and space to explore their own ideas. They played in a way that was easy and accessible to them and together, they were having so much fun. It was fantastic!

improvise-app-main-photoNext, I started composing backing tracks in different styles for the students to play along with. I continued trying out and writing new material, refining the way in which the system could be delivered by staff as a complete approach.

During this time, Sue Hardy, music teacher at John Chilton School, was trying out The Improvise Approach with her students who have moderate leaning difficulties and physical disabilities. She was delighted with the results. Reluctant students were starting to engage in making music on their iPads in a spontaneous and playful way. She found it a useful tool to help them develop their confidence and musicality.

I now teach at St. Ann’s, a secondary special school. I continue to explore the ways in which students with a diverse range of disabilities are able to access and enjoy music creatively and harmoniously.

To find out more about the Improvise Approach, please visit:

In Tune with Special Needs Music Resources and Training

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