From Carrie Lennard: Inspiring Piano Improv for Students with Special Needs

I’ve said before that improvisation can be a tool in our lessons. It doesn’t have to be something that takes away time; it can be an element that enhances what we need to get done. And that’s especially true when it comes to teaching piano students with special needs –.improv can be just the ticket you need.

piano improv for special needs

Carrie Lennard has created something truly exceptional to bring music to students with special needs and limited mobility. It’s called The Improvise Approach.

Carrie’s journey to creating this resource started when she brought the iPad to one particular student who had cerebral palsy. In 10 minutes, he was already creating music using Garageband. He inspired Carrie to see how much further they could take this new technology.

She now uses the ThumbJam app and her Improvise Approach tracks to get students with special needs creating their own piano music, in an improv environment where they can be truly successful.

You can teach students with special needs too!

As I said in the interview, I’m very passionate about encouraging piano teachers to take students with special needs.

You might not feel qualified. You might feel that there’s someone better for the job.

But I’m here to tell you there probably isn’t. In many cases, if you don’t take that student then nobody else will.

I have students who travel over an hour to come to me, and it’s not because I’m extraordinary. I’m not some amazing super-teacher. But I am, in fact, out of the ordinary because I’m willing to keep trying to find solutions and adapting my teaching to suit each student.

I know many piano teachers want to do this. They just feel apprehensive and scared to fail.

If that’s you, please, take the leap! Your mind (and the internet, including articles on my own blog here and here) will come up with the resources for each challenge you face, and the result will be so worth it.

You will have given music to a child and a family that might not have had access to it otherwise. 

If you visit my Planning Lessons hub page, you’ll find an entire section dedicated to resources for teaching students who have special needs.

Are you nervous to take on a student with special needs?

What’s the biggest fear that’s holding you back? Write it in the comments and let’s break it down together.

4 thoughts on “From Carrie Lennard: Inspiring Piano Improv for Students with Special Needs”

  1. Thanks so much for this support! I used to teach individuals with special needs years ago and I’m just getting back into the work force again. This is so helpful to know about!

  2. hello- I started teaching piano to a student with Down’s syndrome this year. I think it’s going well, but I am pretty much “making it up”. do you know of any resources that are specifically for this type of student? We are doing lot’s of finger exercises, playing by number (with stickers on the piano. I recently changed the stickers to letters).

    thanks for any advice!

    • No, none. I’m doing the same thing with a student right now who has down’s syndrome. We’re working with colour a lot and I write my own modified notation using coloured stars and matching sticky tabs on the keys for him.


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