Teaching Music to Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: How Music Teacher Educators Can Learn From One Pre-Service Music Teacher's Experiences


David A. Stringham, James Madison University


Kelly A. Parkes, Teachers College, Columbia University


Shelby E. Hall, James Madison University



Individuals preparing to enter the music education profession need to develop a strong base of knowledge and skills in order to be successful. In the recent past, this base has expanded to include three topics about which music teacher educators may not have been trained themselves: music technology, teaching music to students with special needs, and teaching music to adults beyond K-12 contexts. These knowledge bases are increasingly important as access to technologies becomes more ubiquitous, schools and communities endeavor to develop more inclusive environments in which persons with disabilities are welcomed, and older adults represent the fastest-growing segment of the American population. Researchers have examined each of these topics in recent studies to better understand pre-service and in-service teachers’ readiness to engage in these areas.


While most music teacher education programs provide instruction in teaching music using technology, pedagogical and content knowledge domains related to technology were rated less developed than non-technology domains (Bauer & Dammers, 2016). Several recent publications have sought to fill this gap (e.g., Bauer, 2014; Dorfman, 2013). Studies of music teachers teaching students with special needs suggest that teachers reported a statistically significant increase in competence when including students with special needs in a music classroom; however, they did not indicate an increase in competence with regard to developing assessments or monitoring student progress (Hammel & Gerrity, 2012). Hansen, Bernstorf, and Stuber (2014) contend that documenting music learning through assessments can support individualization and improve student learning. Researchers who have examined teaching adult learners beyond K-12 settings illustrate that engaging with this population offers important, practical benefits to pre-service music teachers (Lane, 2012). These experiences help reveal older adults as dedicated and engaged musicians and collaborators (Rohwer, 2016).


We propose to share findings from a two-year study that intersects these three areas of knowledge: a pre-service music educator’s experiences teaching music to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities using music technology. This pre-service teacher facilitated weekly music sessions at a local day support center for approximately 15 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While we have shared findings related to this pre-service teacher’s experiences assessing individuals’ music achievement (Parkes & Stringham, 2017a) and experiences teaching with music technology (Parkes and Stringham, 2017b), with this presentation we propose to share a narrative of this pre-service music teacher’s experiences. This narrative inquiry (Clandinin, 2013) will include voices of the preservice music teacher, as well as two music teacher educators who were primary researchers for this study. Data sources include lesson plans, reflections, and assessment documents completed by the pre-service teacher, three interviews conducted with the pre-service music teacher by one music teacher educator, and conversations and email exchanges among the pre-service teacher and the two music teacher educators conducting this study.




Bauer, W. I. (2014). Music learning today: Digital pedagogy for creating, performing, and responding to music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bauer, W. I., & Dammers, R. J. (2016). Technology in music teacher education: A national survey. Research Perspectives in Music Education, 18(1), 2–15.

Clandinin, D. J. (2013). Engaging in narrative inquiry. New York: Routledge.

Dorfman, J. (2013). Theory and practice of technology-based music instruction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hammel, A. M., & Gerrity, K. W. (2012). The effect of instruction on teacher perceptions of competence when including students with special needs in music classrooms. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 31(1), 6–13.

Hansen, D., Bernstorf, E., & Stuber, G. M. (2014) The music and literacy connection (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lane, J. S. (2012). Engaging preservice music teachers with adult amateur musicians. International Journal of Community Music, 5(3), 317–322.

Parkes, K. A. & Stringham, D. A. (2017a, April). Assessing music learning among adult music learners with special needs. Paper presentation at the The Sixth International Symposium on Assessment in Music Education- Context Matters, Birmingham, UK.

Parkes, K. A. & Stringham, D. A.(2017b, April). Pre-service music educators’ experiences teaching adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities using technology. Paper presentation at the Tenth International Research in Music Education Conference, Bath, UK

Rohwer, D. (2016). A narrative investigation of adult music engagement. International Journal of Music Education. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0255761416667466