Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Sally Daunt, Chairwoman of the Music Committee of the British Dyslexia Association.
We had been corresponding about dyslexia and choral groups and Sally had asked about how dyslexic strengths can manifest themselves in choral groups where singers had to fit into tightly controlled schedules of music, extensive sight reading, and music performances which could have limited opportunities for musical interpretation.
From my discussion with Sally:
“Many dyslexic musicians have difficulty with sight reading – and perhaps cathedral choirs might consider whether an absolute requirement is necessary in the audition process. Some who have difficulty with sight reading might be able to pick music up quite quickly having heard a version once. In theater companies, some accommodations are made by letting auditioners take home a part a night before, for instance, rather than having an on-spot sight reading determine an audition.
Neither Brock nor I have studied musicians in-depth, but when we’ve come across talented musicians, some have perfect pitch, some have remarkable voices and interpretations of music. In a choral context, this could be when they sing solos or duets, I would imagine. Dyslexic students may have strengths in emotional sensitivity (there was at least one study from UCSF) which could translate to music.
Strengths in the context that you mention could be in terms of an ability to work well with others, a good ear for singing in cooperation with other singers, and personal traits of strong emotional EQ, camaraderie, and leadership.
Listening to music does involve both hemispheres of the brain, but the right hemisphere seems to be especially important for melody and emotional aspects of music, which I would think would be important for choirs. It is true that lyrics are more commonly processed on the left, but if I had the choice of listening to someone with a strong melodic sense and emotional musicality vs. someone who knew all the lyrics, I would definitely choose the right hemispheric strengths.
Hopefully, this is helpful. It is a fascinating area. There are some dyslexic musicians who really live their music all the time – they may have powerful images with music and set their lives to music, and express themselves more directly in music. They definitely are wonderful to listen to.”
Here is my interview with Sally. Due to bandwidth problems, my web camera is off.
We spoke on a wide range of subjects – from the high incidence of dyslexia in one study of orchestral musicians, to issues that can affect sight reading, rhythm, and musical intervals. Sally’s interview with Anna Devin can be seen below. Opera singing has the demands of singing in foreign languages.
In the video below, Anna shared some of her observations about how she could learn more efficiently – learning music while moving was helpful to her, as was marking up a score in sections and using colored highlights to get the shape of music. She likes to sing in harmony with a pianist early in the process. Anna shares how she uses spider diagrams to break down the learning of text.
Sally also shared with me a story about an orchestral musician who was practicing in this era of COVID with social distancing and found that she had a much harder time knowing where she was in the music. It reminded me of how my daughter told me she could sometimes say her Bible verses if she was tested at the same time with another student. She told me she would ‘guess’ at the next words she was going to say even she wasn’t sure of the words.
This sensitivity or social perception would probably be helpful in all sorts of group activities – whether in musical groups or other groups.
Do check out my interview with Sally to hear more. She also shared the wide variety of resources that the Music Committee of the BDA has posted online and where we’ve put down links below.
It is possible to ask for accommodations for dyslexic students in music school. Some examples include, the option to use musical software like flat.io to color, option to mark up a score with a colored highlighter, or a little extra time for sight reading exams.
Thanks to the British Dyslexia Music Committee for these wonderful resources on Dyslexia and Music: