Music Therapy & The Classroom: A Case Study

Music educator Kelsey Skiles enlisted our experts to help her make changes that allowed multiple students in her classroom to better access the curriculum and create music.

Making It Work For Every Student

As a teacher, Kelsey Skiles’s top priority is ensuring that each of her lessons is adaptable for high and low learners, even those with severe disabilities far out of reach for other educators. In charge of over 500 students, Kelsey was talented in doing this through scaffolded lessons, student choice, and varying levels of difficulty within activities, but she called on our team for extra support when she wanted to adapt her lessons for a student that needs help with movement.

Rooney Ranch Elementary

Sara, Kelsey’s student, faced various challenges in the classroom. Sara was unable to speak, had difficulty holding mallets, shakers, and drums, and was forced to leave the room when she felt overstimulated by activities. Kelsey wanted to discover ways to help Sara engage more and better learn in the music class environment.

“As a music educator, I wasn’t aware of how to best help students with severe special needs.” Kelsey shared prior to our consult. Fortunately for Kelsey and her students, Rooney Ranch Elementary is a school where techniques like evidence-based music therapy are supported by the administration and parents.

Simple Adaptations Go A Long Way

Two of our therapists joined Kelsey and Sara to observe Kelsey while she was teaching. They were able to provide Kelsey with recommendations that would support Sara without taking instructional time away from other students in the class. For example, our therapists recommended adaptive resources, such as handles for xylophone mallets, to address Sara’s limited physical mobility. They also guided Kelsey to write in note names for Sara or to point to bars to decrease Sara’s processing time. To help Sara stay engaged and get the most from class time, they introduced the practical and empowering solution of Sara covering her ears when she felt overstimulated, rather than leaving the room..

“The consult was a total game changer,” explained Kelsey. “A lot of the techniques I used with Sara were able to cross-over with other students with less severe limitations. By tweaking a few small things in my room, multiple students have been able to better access the curriculum and create music.”

Joyful Participation

Sara’s engagement and learning progressively increased during her weekly lessons, but it was at a final end of year concert where the impact of Kelsey’s evolved teaching was most apparent. “After the show, Sara’s mom told me that she was blown away!” Kelsey shared. Sara, typically nervous to perform, danced and played drums and the xylophone during the concert, sticking with her group and performing for the entire show. Her hard work and Kelsey’s collaborative efforts with our therapists had truly paid off.


“Having this consultation changed the the way I teach. Having small adaptation ideas handed to me was amazing. I was able to start implementing them right away, which got the ball rolling in my head for other ways to help all my students succeed.” — Kelsey Skiles, Educator at Rooney Ranch Elementary