Music Education with Soundbrenner Pulse: Professor Kimberly McCord talks about the Soundbrenner Pulse for
students with learning disabilities
“The Pulse is one of the most perfect music assistive technology devices I have used. I have used it on blind musicians, musicians with cerebral palsy, and others with specified learning disabilities.” – Kimberly McCord
This month, we had the opportunity to speak with Kimberly McCord, a professor emeritus in Music Education from Illinois State University, and founder of the National Association for Music Education Special Research Interest Group on Children with Exceptionalities.
In recent years, Kimberly demonstrated different devices, including the Soundbrenner Pulse, to teachers and therapists to help students with disabilities learn music. Kimberly generously shared her research with us on general music methods and music education for students with learning disability, as well as her personal experience with Soundbrenner Pulse as a Music Assistive Technology.
Q: What are the common challenges of teaching music to students with disabilities?
A: We want everyone to read music and learn the same way. Unfortunately, much of what traditional music teachers teach is inaccessible to all learners, including musicians with disabilities who need accommodations and adaptations to access the curriculum.
I am hopeful that the profession is changing. Although some teachers are now embracing inclusion, I still see more flexibility in music teaching in Europe than in the U.S.
”Much of what traditional music teachers teach is inaccessible to all learners, including musicians with disabilities who need accommodations and adaptations to access the curriculum.”
Q: Tell us about the time you used the Soundbrenner Pulse to teach Special Education and Music.
A: A music centre in Helsinki, Finland, called Resonaari, developed the Figurenotes approach. Figurenotes is a way to teach people with disabilities to read adapted music and play adapted rock band instruments using a color/shape based system. I brought the same approach to the U.S. and began teaching rock bands of teenagers, elderly women and musicians with disabilities at Illinois State University. With the assistance of special and music education university students, it became incredibly successful.
Michael is one of the musicians with disability, who is both intellectually and hearing-impaired, but was really passionate about learning the drums. I paired a deaf education major with a music education major to work on teaching Michael.
As you can imagine, it was very hard for him to play in tempo with the others. The students tried everything, from tapping the beat on his shoulders, playing another set of drums facing toward him, having him play with his shoes off to feel the vibrations of the bass better. Nothing worked until he started wearing the Soundbrenner Pulse, and he instantly started playing in perfect time with the others.
“Nothing worked until he started wearing the Soundbrenner Pulse, and he instantly started playing in perfect time with the others.”
Q: Could you please describe how you use the Soundbrenner Pulse in your classes?
A: I mostly teach music education university students. I also present at conferences. For example, I often show videos of Michael when I discuss assistive technology and deafness. In addition, I pass around Soundbrenner Pulses for the students to experience them.
Q: What are the most important learnings you’ve gained from your research on disabilities, music education and Soundbrenner Pulse?
A: We have a term called Assistive Technology, sometimes I call it Music Assistive Technology (MAT) if the device is primarily developed for musicians.
For example, the Soundbrenner Pulse is a music assistive device. It helps Michael access the curriculum, like playing drums with others, in a seamless way.
The Pulse is one of the most perfect music assistive technology devices I have used. I have used it on blind musicians, musicians with cerebral palsy, and others with specified learning disabilities. Using MAT helps me to include all persons in what we are learning.
Q: Do you normally teach with a metronome? If so, what are the benefits? What are the challenges?
A: I think hearing a metronome interferes with musicality. Although, I do like it as MAT. It makes it possible for some musicians with learning disabilities to perform with others.
When we used the Soundbrenner Pulse with Michael and the teachers, many of the teachers found it distracting. I will have a new group this fall and I plan to introduce it to the teachers on the first rehearsal and hope they get used to it.
Q: How did your students react to the Pulse?
A: For the most part, they are fascinated by them. Many bought them for their students. Deaf education students borrowed mine to present to their classes at the university about the Soundbrenner Pulse. People in education have been very positive. It definitely helps some musicians with disabilities to play music with others.
Q: Do you think the Pulse is more effective than a traditional metronome?
A: Definitely. A traditional metronome only engages one sense. For people with disability it helps to reach multiple senses or learning modes.
“For people with disability it helps to reach multiple senses or learning modes.”
Each person has one learning mode that is dominant, either aural, visual or kinesthetic. In conclusion, if we teach toward all three learning modes at the same time, we capture more students than through one.
Q: What do you think is the best environment to use and teach with the Pulse?
A: 1-on-1 lessons at first and then integrate with others.
Q: What are your performance benchmarks or performance benchmarks of your young teachers for their students?
A: Those objectives are secondary to what Markku Kaikkonen refers to as the “Big Smile”, or the sign of pure joy when someone is immersed in making music. I tell my young teachers to look for the big smile. That will tell you that your teaching or coaching is working. Therefore, if musicians are smiling then you have met every objective you can think of.
“I tell my young teachers to look for the big smile and that will tell you that your teaching or coaching is working.”
Kimberly McCord is a professor emeritus in Music Education from Illinois State University. She was a board member of the International Society for Music Education, an organization affiliated with the International Music Council and UNESCO. In addition, she also founded and was the first chair of the National Association for Music Education Special Research Interest Group on Children with Exceptionalities. Finally, she is currently teaching at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and New York University.
Designed to help make music-learning easier, Soundbrenner Pulse helps students and aspiring musicians to stay focused on what truly matters: their music. Interested in integrating the Soundbrenner Pulse into your classroom? Click here to see our Educational Discount.
Got a question about the Soundbrenner Pulse? Reach out to us at [email protected], we’re happy to help!