The Adapted Color Piano: A Resource for Distance Learning

by Sarah Fard

Adapted notation can be a powerful resource for supporting students in developing music literacy. Various forms of adapted notation can benefit students with vision impairment, specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and more. Most often, adapted notation correlates to adaptations to supports added to an instrument. In teaching an adapted music class at the high school level, using adapted notation has been very successful. It has ensured that each student has a form of music literacy that they can use to compose, and most importantly, independently practice music in the classroom. In the classroom.

The recent move to distance learning has revealed a gap in my teaching that had been buried beneath all of the success my students were experiencing in class: many of them do not have instruments at home. Right now, that translates to “how do I continue teaching?” Perhaps the question I should have been asking all along was “how do I support my students learning outside of the classroom?” How do I ensure that the skills they are developing are applicable outside of class?

After searching the internet for resources, I found that there are a bounty of wonderful virtual piano keyboards, but none that allowed me to continue the supports I had put in place for my students. So, I decided that if the need had not yet been met, then I would meet it! I had the curriculum and the design, but I needed the coding know-how to implement the vision.

Enter data scientist Kirsten Moreau, founder of Redefining Default LLC! The Redefining Default LLC vision is to “enable a world that works for everyone by redefining the default way we operate in the world. They support marginalized communities, or groups for whom the standard approach is not working, with analytics, process and product design, and education. Collaborating to help make adapted instruments and music notation more accessible was a perfect fit” (https://www.redefining-default.com/).

I’m thrilled to say the Adapted Piano Keyboard is now up and running! This colorful keyboard lives at https://www.sarahfardmusiced.com/adapted-piano-resources. Note that this instrument only has one octave. While there is a link to a full octave one, I purposefully limited it to one octave because each pitch has a color. Multiples of the same color (octaves) would likely cause confusion for my students. In addition, our current curriculum does not yet exceed an octave.

BIAESN blog post_ color piano

A few helpful pointers:

  • Use the drop down menu at the top right to select music practice options

BIAESN blog post_ color piano (1)

  • Each practice piece is presented in Google Slides format, right above the piano. This is in an effort to ease any difficulties students may have transitioning their focus from the music notation to the piano.

BIAESN blog post_ color piano (2)

  • The Google Slide depicts one measure per slide of 4 beats. Simply tap on the slide to move to the next measure!
  • Each note is represented by a colored block. The length of the block denotes duration, and the color of the block denotes pitch. The below example instructs a quarter note “E” on beat one, a quarter note “D” on beat two, and a half note “D” on beats three and four.

BIAESN blog post_ color piano (3)

Some selections have the pitches labeled. The hope is that, if appropriate, students could fade into another form of notation.

This piano and its correlating resources do not use the Chroma-Note system. While many educators use the tool and have success with it, I found it best to stick with one pitch for “blue” and one for “red,” etc, rather than utilizing varying hues of the same color. As it is, I have found that one student occasionally struggles with differentiating the green and yellow keys, as they both have yellow tints to them. After adjusting the green on the screen and giving each slide a gray background, differentiating the notes became slightly easier. Labeling the pitches also helped.

I will be adding more practice slides in the coming weeks. My hope is that this resource can help other educators who are now tasked with teaching from home. Furthermore, I hope that this resource can serve as a reinforcement of classroom learning at home. No piano at home? No problem!

Find this strategy useful? Have strategies of your own you’d like to share? Share below!

sarah headshot
Sarah Fard is a music educator who is dedicated to promoting inclusive music education by supporting other teachers. As a guitarist, she published her curriculum via The Evolving Guitarist, offering handouts for instruction based on the Universal Design for Learning. In aiming for multiple means of representation, Sarah developed her own notation system based on extensive research on guitar notation and disabilities. It is her hope that this resource will aid in more teachers creating an inclusive guitar classroom, with adaptations best suited for the individual student. Sarah has experience in teaching inclusive music courses of many topics, and offers her expertise in workshops, consults, and courses. An avid music educator, Sarah also loves performing! She gigs regularly in the New England area under the name Savoir Faire, and started the #AGuitaristIs campaign to promote diversity in the guitar community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s