A recent study, conducted by Kent Peter Nelson and Ryan Hourigan, examines the perceptions of dyslexic musicians whose dyslexia affects their music learning.

5 Professional Musicians Subjects in Research Examining Dyslexia and Music Learning

People with dyslexia often experience difficulties with decoding written symbols, phonemic awareness, physical coordination, and handwriting. While these characteristics of dyslexia often affect performance in reading and writing, how often do they play a role in music education? Famous musicians like Cher and John Lennon have spoken about the comfort music was to them when their academics were struggling because of dyslexia. Some musicians claim that dyslexia has affected their musical learning abilities as well as their academics.

Researchers met with and interviewed musicians in their respective regions of the country (ranging from the West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast) to reflect on their experience with dyslexia and its effect on their musical lives. Participants commented on their early years as  student musicians and the difficulties that arose because of their dyslexia. Over half of the participants stated that their dyslexia affected their note reading ability, one even compared reading sheet music to reading another language. This ‘note-blindness’ caused difficulties with rhythm and memorization too. The study noted that a very low percentage of music teachers have received instruction on teaching students with disabilities during their undergraduate college career, suggesting that many music teachers may not have received the proper preparation to instruct students who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities.

"One [musician]
even compared
reading sheet
music to reading
another language."

Participants were then asked to comment on learning strategies that were effective in their music learning. Common responses were multi-sensory learning, isolating musical components, and small group or one-on-one instruction—all common strategies used in the academic world to accommodate students with learning disabilities. All of the participants noted that private lessons were an important part of their musical education, and some had to change private instructors often because their teacher’s instruction style did not work well with the student’s dyslexia. Self-awareness and self-acceptance were stressed in every participant’s interview, recognizing how dyslexia also contributed positively to their lives. One participant commented that dyslexia enabled him “to visualize the tangible in his mind and to consider enigmas and arguments from multiple perspectives.”

Read more about these dyslexic musicians' stories and their advice to student musicians with learning disabilities here, and check out some famous musicians’ success stories featured here on DyslexiaHelp.