How does dyslexia effect music reading?

May 9, 2006 at 04:07 AM · How does dyslexia effect reading music ? Are there any helpful tips for teaching people with dyslexia to read music?

Replies (34)

May 9, 2006 at 04:26 AM · (: edrgorter ni gnidaer yrt - try reading in retrograde :)

May 9, 2006 at 05:08 AM · This is a more serious answer than Gennady's (I hope) Dyslexia can affect many aspects of reading including perception of relative pitch, rhythm, interpretation of symbols, ability to follow the line of music. Some students have trouble with all these things, some with only a few of these at a time. The most important thing appears to be avoiding an overload of information that cannot be processed as quickly or as efficiently by dyslexic students. They need to have opportunities to prepare rather than be hit with everything in sightreading all at once. Many things can help: here are some suggestions (courtesy of an ASTA session by Judy Bossuat)

1) Enlarge the music

2) Put corresponding colours at beginning and end of lines (ie green at end of one line and beginning of next line, then blue, then green etc) to facilitate the eye finding the next line

3) Darken the middle line of the stave, and the first ledger lines above and below

4) Rewrite the music so that all the stems go the same direction

5) Make sure that the music is written in proportional notation (ie that half notes occupy twice as much space as quarter notes) to facilitate rhythm reading.

6) Keep similar fingerings in similar passages

I'm sure there are more ideas that I have forgotten. Some people suggest having one colour at the top line of the staff and another consistently at the bottom to help the eye distinguish between notes going up and those going down. There are a number of articles and even a few books written about the subject which you could look up on the net.

May 9, 2006 at 07:29 AM · to addd to the above dyslexic musicians have great difficulty in recongnising patterns (invaluable for sight reading unfortunately)

May 9, 2006 at 02:19 PM · I know a great many professional musicians who have had very succesful careers, and they had dyslexia which never really got in the way. And practicing retrograde helped them a great deal.

It is a myth that dyslexic musicians have a great difficulty recognizing patterns. For example, we (in Seattle Symphony) had a fantastic principal oboist (now retired) who had dyslexia, it never hindered his performances. It is a matter of mind over body.

May 9, 2006 at 05:14 PM · Thank you for your clarification Gennady.

I have suffered from Dyslexia most of my life, but it really only has affected me when I read printed text in large quantities (e.g., when reading a novel). As a result, I have to read every word, deliberately, which naturally slows me down considerably (particularly frustrating when reading a thriller like "The DaVinci Code!")

On the other hand, my music reading abilities are quite strong and have NOT been affected by the Dyslexia. In fact, sight-reading is probably my strongest ability as a player. When I auditioned for the White House Marine Orchestra, after the Concerto round, the remainder of the audition was entirely sight-reading (due to the nature of our job). This included orchestral and string quartet literature. Again, this is an area in which I seem to excel, in spite of the Dyslexia.

My theory (and it is only a theory--I am NOT an expert in this area) is that reading words is more of a left-brain activity while music is inherently right-brained (although notation has mathematical qualities for sure). Perhaps there are simply different areas of the brain that are stimulated during these activities and Dyslexia only occurs in under specific conditions.

Anyone else have a theory? Any doctors or scientists out there?



May 9, 2006 at 07:20 PM · Good discussion and recommendations all. Just let me add a couple of thoughts.

First of all, this is not an intelligence problem. It is a problem of how information gets into the brain, is interpreted by the brain, and is expressed (if there is a motoric component). It is not a problem of a person's basic ability to reason. It's like a link broken in a chain, rather than something wrong with what's at the end of the chain. If the information gets to your brain in the proper orientation, your brain can process it.

Ultimately, dyslexia and learning disability and similar problems are general terms. The specifics of an individual's dyslexia can be very different from the specifics of other individuals. These problems can affect incredibly subtle and specific perceptual-motor skills that are unique in each individual. One person can have an easy time reading words but not numbers, or music but not words, or certain letters but not others. The variations are endless. I once testing a kid whose brain simply did not recognize the number 4, but could read any other single digit number. It gets that specific.

Therefore, what you have to do, as much as is humanly possible, is to figure out (or get help figuring out) what the specific deficits are. Trial and error is sometimes the only way. Sometimes a good neuropsych exam is in order; sometimes a good evaluation by an LD specialist. But once you get a line on the specifics, you can design a way of reading or learning or reading music (or whatever) that fits your particular pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Hope that helps.

Cordially, Sandy

May 9, 2006 at 09:16 PM · Sandy:

Fantastic explanation--thank you. It is really fascinating to me how these things occur--and how easily they go undetected. I was pegged as a slacker or underachiever for a very long time because, apparently I tested very high on whatever early testing is done, but then my performance was very poor--particularly where reading was required. Of course, I studied violin and piano from very early ages, so teachers (and my parents) simply were disappointed in me all the time. Finally, a caring teacher (trained in LD) had a hunch about me, and with a little help and understanding, I was able to get above average grades in my later years of high school. I still struggled a bit in college, but at least I could identify with what was going on.

Again, thanks for your accessment.


May 9, 2006 at 09:34 PM · Peter: You are most welcome. Your experience is typical for people with undetected LDs. The fact that it isn't identified properly causes all kinds of problems and misunderstandings. Glad you got a line on it, and look at the difference that makes. Way to go.


May 9, 2006 at 11:56 PM · very good points.........

I would like to add that what helps is a passion for achieving ones goals/dreams. Figuring out the cause and looking for solution(s), is ofcourse useful, but working on making ones dreams a reality should always be the priority #1. Otherwise one becomes a victim of their disorder for the rest of their lives.

BTW Bravo and way to go Peter!

May 12, 2006 at 01:29 PM · Dyslexia (litteraly Dys=difficulty lexia=reading)is frequently related to inhomogeneous brain dominance and abnormal spacial perception.

A right handed child ,normally kicks a ball with his right foot,aims with his right eye and uses his right ear to listen a soft sound. In dyslexia he would use right hand ,right foot , left eyes,right ear or any such combinations.Futhermore he often mixes up right and left hand.Since the "two brains" are differently involved, time of reaction is slow down and more energy is required; that's why tiredness gets troubles worse.

Such pupils need shorter time of intensive work.

Sticker on the bow and metronome use are specially useful here.Reading the score from right to left then diagonally from bottom to top ,changing line at each bar , then the score upside down is often useful to detect an associated bad eyes convergence and is a valuable exercice

May 24, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Big thanks to Peter, Sandy and Alain. I found this website discussion when searching for dyslexia and music. While I've never been diagnosed with dyslexia (I'm 47) I tried 3 times as a child to take piano lessons and gave up within months because I couldn't read the music (of course everyone thought I was lazy). If I have dyslexia (I think I do in specific forms) it's most pronounced with music, I've gotten by with other minor problems (people think I'm ditsy because I don't know right and left, sometimes misread symbols/signs and sometimes mix up numbers, various other stuff). I'm six weeks into cello lessons (yes I know this is but I was desperate because I am already having trouble reading the music. I realized I was reading the numbers (noting fingering in this beginning music book) not the notes. My instructor suggested I white them out and it was like I was back at square one. I relearned the notes but now that we have added two more strings it's getting harder and I'm getting confused easily and can't figure out the notes; with the sudden addition of "slurs, hooks and ties" this last week it was like my brain just stopped. I was progressing nicely and now I look at the page and am utterly confused and wondered what the heck is wrong with me. Your discussion here made me realize I can get through this but I may have to come up with coping mechanisms and elbow grease (i.e., just keep at it). I will continue my search for information but if you have any suggestions that can help me out I would appreciate it. Also any suggestions for getting over the tendonitis (elbow) and severe muscle cramps (forearm) I'm getting in my bow-arm would help. I finally have gotten over the sciatica in both legs from sitting on the edge of a chair... This must be the suffering one must do for their art! :-D Kathryn

May 24, 2006 at 02:04 AM · All this reminds me of is the time my teacher made me play a passage backwards to get it in tune.

May 24, 2006 at 04:03 AM · Keep it up Kathryn!!!



May 24, 2006 at 05:15 AM · Kathryn - have you found the Internet Cello Society yet?

Their "cello chat" forum

looks like a good place to ask about this...

May 24, 2006 at 04:55 PM · Thanks for the Cello link, I didn't know about that site. I'm still very new to the cello and the strings world so thank you for pointing that out for me. I also see this site has a link to injuries and problems so I will peruse that one too, to pick up help form my muscle woes. Thanks again to you all! Kathryn

October 23, 2007 at 05:14 PM · I am a semi-professional jazz musician (retired from a career in High Tech). I've suspected that I have dyslexia for some time now, and my experiences on improvising over chord changes seems to confirm that.

When improvising, I just look at the chords and play something approporate to each chord or set of chords. Ths problem is that I sometimes lose my place in the progression. The music we use shows just the basic melody with chord names above, and no orchestration whatever. When I play along with Band-In-A-Box I never get lost because the curson on the screen moves along with the music, so I always know exactly which chord I'm playing over. When I play just form a chart, however, without the helpful cursor, I seem to get distracted and lose my place. Has anyone had this problem. Comments, solutions, etc., gratefully accepted. It may come down to seeing my physician and going through the full medical route to a specialist, and possibly getting a prescription.

: I'm actually a guitarist, but this issue is exactly the same for all musicians, so I hope no-one on this discussion is offended. I came to this like by Googling "dyslexia", and I appreciate the work you all are doing to help people with this problem.

Many thanks, Frank

October 24, 2007 at 03:28 AM · I invoke Karen Allendoerfer, our resident neuroscientist!

Karen.... where are you?

October 24, 2007 at 07:47 PM · The juxteposition of materials having to do with art, this is called then dyslexia. I believe that if it has gone so far that it is being studied with the neurotic behavior that attends such beliefs (that a juxteposition of materials which are favorable to each other when allowed to commune without disruption should be disrupted by being forced to repeat until found to adhere to a lesser harmony) – the problem is the way it is disrupted from being the friendly phenomenon of the brain it is made to be.

October 25, 2007 at 01:17 AM · I think I`ve just caught dyslexia...

October 6, 2008 at 06:10 PM · This string started some time ago, but I found it interesting/helpful. I have played music from the age of 9. I have always found reading musical notation difficult. I found out two years ago that I suffer ADD and it is likely I am dyslexic/dysgraphic. A revelation at the age of 46! Other musicians have often remarked that for someone who works on reading so much, I sightread like a 2nd year student. I am a professional guitarist/bassist who specializes in jazz. I have a great ear picking out progressions and melodies easily. I am also a teacher who has conducted band in schools and who started a jazz program at a school at which I taught.

I find I can sight sing far better than I can apply the music to my guitar. When rhythmic notations get complicated, I get the feeling of tunnel vision and lose my place easily. I jump to an incorrect line or re-read a line. It is so frustrating and embarrasing (especially being the teacher/professional!). I have found strategies that work for me and have helped me improve, but I am not a good reader. Guitarists often get grief for being poor readers, but in my case it is not for lack of trying!!! I have resigned to this situation at this point. At least I now know why...

October 6, 2008 at 07:33 PM · edargorter, surely?

October 6, 2008 at 07:34 PM · My oldest son is dyslectic. He tried to learn piano as a child: hopeless. The coordination of eyes and hands simply wouldn't come to him.

Bassoon, later: hopeless.

Singing, now: OK.

October 15, 2008 at 10:14 PM · I am a survivor of learning to play music with dyslexia!

I did it!

It IS possible. It's highly confusing though.

It surprisingly took me years to accurately play rhythms.

At first I learned suzuki by ear.

That was how I played. I couldn't read the notes,

but gradually I learned that the third line on the staff was a 3rd finger on the d string. Then the last line of the staff was a first finger on the e string....

*I learned visually, and then connected it to my other senses- my hearing the note. I also gained good relative pitch through this process.

I connected over a few years to understanding the correlation to note names, and then half-steps, and whole-steps.

But- nevertheless, it took me a long long long time to fully understand music. BUT- dyslexia did make music in one way easier for me than other people.

Dyslexics think in much more abstract ways than the majority of the population.

We have to use all the parts of our brain- all of our senses, it has to be very 'hard-core' I guess.

We think of things differently, and this provides very interesting ideas, and musical interpretations.

Musically, music has been very easy for me, and very natural to interpret, and make music beautiful. All my scales are musical- I can't;really physically I cannot play something 'straight,' it just comes out with some sort of phrasing- half the time I don't realize I'm doing it at all. It comes

remarkably natural.

Dyslexics are given a beautiful and highly unique gift than few others have, but with this unique gift(s) come many curses. Few people can understand us, or relate to us, and this genetic disease is often misunderstood as only a reading disorder.

That's not true at all. Yes it makes reading harder, but it makes other things easier too though. The right brain is much stronger, and artistic.

I hated being dyslexic, but now I am glad, and even proud to be one of those who never gave up, but pushed through the hard times, to gain from the never-ending challenge a new sense of passion, persistance, patience, and pride.


October 15, 2008 at 10:50 PM · I like what you wrote, Joe! My husband is dyslexic, and too often his spelling issues cause people to disregard his intelligence (I'm also guilty of associating spelling with intelligence), when actually, he's quite a genius in many other areas.

October 27, 2008 at 03:15 PM · I am a junior high school instrumental music teacher (21 years) who also has gone back to school for my doctorate in music education. My dissertation topic is dyslexia and music with the research being qualitative interviews of successful professional musicians and music university professors who are dyslexic. Ideally I am looking for people who can articulate the strategies and skills they developed during school ensemble experiences. I can be reached at My interest in the subject comes from having students who just can't read music. With large ensembles, I really did not help them as much as I wish I could have. Thank you for any information and referals.

September 22, 2009 at 09:49 PM ·

Dyslexia sucks though! I still have so much trouble reading music .... it may sound stupid, but i get very confused for example, if you have a long repetition of 1/16 notes of the same pitch... it is so frustrating.

i find the best way to read music is to print the score big ( no, i don't have any eyes issue). helps a lot.

October 2, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·

 Thank you for the link. Dyslexia means different things to different people and sometimes various communication disorders, sensory integration issues, visual convergence issues and visual spatial issues are lumped under the broader use of the term dyslexia. I read a recent study that said dyslexia in reading manifests quite differently in different countries and the severity is based more upon the demands of the language than with a particular persons "dyslexia". So we could both have “dyslexia” but our basic language maps could make mine seem more severe than yours. Add to that the learned helplessness associated with many disabilities and you have a very debilitating situation for some people.

For example, if you speak and read Italian, and that is your first language, the degree or severity to which your "dyslexia" will manifest is usually much less than the severity of the level of dyslexia for someone who has English as a first language. I recall the study said that certain languages make more sense than others against their spoken version and that is why there seen to be many more "dyslexic" individuals in America and England than some other countries. English, an eclectic language, lacks predictable patterns as reading becomes more difficult. Things are spelled differently than they sound and the same spelling can be pronounced differently and there is no standard nomenclature as a word with a Germanic root will look and sound different than one with a Latin root even though they may use many of the same letters and sounds. Italian dyslexics it seems can overcome some of their dyslexic challenges more easily than their American counterparts, due to the limitation of how many constructs and patterns appear in their basic language and how consistently these constructs are applied.
Back to music: If music is your primary language and you are exposed to the language in a predictable way and learn to read based upon say predictable intervals, you should have an easier time than someone who tries to read jazz music from the first with no remedial patterning and inadequate primary instruction. Their "dyslexia" would seem more severe and would probably remain more severe. Therefore a language that is difficult to teach and difficult to learn with respect to sounds and letter pattersn seems to have more people labeled as "dyslexic."  than languages that are more straightforward.


October 4, 2009 at 02:23 AM ·

 This is an excellent document on Dyslexia and the pseudo science that constantly bombards this learning disability. The more I read about dyslexia ,the more confuse I get.I finally found an unbias article  that makes a lot of sense.

Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics


April 6, 2014 at 03:14 AM · I have found that people with and without dyslexia can have 'dyslexic type' problems with reading music. Personally, the only solution I found was to format my own sheets using a lot of colour.

I have recently made them available on a website in case they might be of benefit to others. Any feedback would be most welcome.

April 6, 2014 at 05:11 AM · One of my students with dyslexia went to a pharmacy and tried on several types of sunglasses until she had one that worked(grey color lens). 10 dollars later she could read music with ease.

The problem is with your sheet music is that they are in one color, so it may not work for everyone.

Colored glasses may be the best way for some, because you may have one eye that is sensitive to yellow and the other eye be sensitive to white, for example. Then there is also the problem of limited copies of dyslexia type sheet music.

April 17, 2014 at 10:07 AM · Hi Charles, I also tried tinted glasses and overlays. I wish they had worked, it would've been so much simpler! Printing on to yellow paper works best for me, but yes, it's all very individual.

May 2, 2014 at 04:17 PM · In looking at the materials on your website, I suspect that you would benefit from Music Learning Theory. Eric Bluestine's HOW CHILDREN LEARN MUSIC is a good place to start.

Also this video: (copy and paste link)

May 3, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Just a minute, dyslexia is a symptom, not a cause! The article entirely misses the point. Symptoms exist: it's for us to try to understand the causes.

It's a bit like asthma: for those who never get it, it's all in the mind. (In my case it is pollen-related, not stress-related).

I watch my students eye movements closely. Difficulty, or confusion, in music reading can come from differences between the two eyes, from astigmatism, or from poor eye-muscle coordination.

Only then will I scour the Web for the mental aspects.

May 3, 2014 at 01:38 PM · Glad to see this discussion revived after such a long time. Whatever label you use to call this collection of problems, and whatever the specific causes, they are truly invisible problems.

In addition, if they are mild and not intense, they may not even be diagnosable and may be interpreted as just the ordinary run of individual strengths and weaknesses that everybody has.

In any case, never stop trying things out until you find something that works for you.

In 1941, during the dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting a school in England, and was asked to give an impromptu speech to the students. Everyone was expecting the usual eloquent, long, Churchillian speech.

Instead, Churchill said the following:

"Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."

And he sat down. Winston Churchill is considered one of the greatest prose writers in the English language, and one of the greatest public speakers of all time. But I think this was his greatest speech.



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