Adaptive vs Traditional

Traditional education methods expect that students adapt to a set curriculum. If a student cannot show understanding or grasp the curriculum then he or she is not considered as “successful” when measured against his or her peers. The curriculum does not change for the individual student therefore the student is expected to practice harder and study more in order to overcome personal challenges and reach an expected status quo of “success.”

Adaptive education flips traditional instruction on its head and views education from a different perspective and attitude, focusing on the individual first. The teaching methods, curriculum, goals, and measurement of progression are all specific to the individual student. Adaptive music and dance classes see individual differences as resources to enhance creativity, not as problems to overcome.

Adaptive music at NMTS means inclusion, community and finding individual success.

“(Adaptive music) is when you first look at the person that you’re working with and you look at what they want to do musically…then we find ways to make that possible and it might be in non-traditional ways,” says NMTS music therapist, Jodi McLaren.

“So if somebody has a physical limitation or cognitive limitation, how do we adapt to make it work..and it’s basically like instead of creating a program and hoping everybody fits into that, you cater your program to who you’re working with, which seems to make perfect sense,” says McLaren.

According to McLaren, there is still emphasis on an outcome; however, “the client comes first.”

To our individual participants adaptive music literally means the world to them.


Becca Shipley with her slide guitar

Take for example, Becca Shipley, who says without NMTS, “I wouldn’t know what to do with my life.”

“People look at me and they think that, ‘Oh she’s in a wheelchair, she can’t get up to play’,” says Shipley.

Jodi McLaren, Shipley’s music instructor, explains, “If you don’t adapt then maybe some people are being left out, or maybe you just say, ‘Oh, you can’t play the guitar’ so that’s the end of the story because it’s not done in a traditional way; instead of, let’s find a new way to play the guitar, let’s play a different kind of guitar.”

_MG_3652And McLaren chose to do the later with Shipley when she expressed interest in playing guitar.

“At first we tried holding it in the traditional way and just based on her physical mobility it wasn’t working very well,” says McLaren.

Instead of stopping there and simply saying that Shipley could never play the guitar, McLaren adapted. They switched to the dulcimer because it could be played laying flat.

“That worked really well but it still wasn’t quite like the guitar sound and we talked about slide guitar,” says McLaren.

Seeing this as an opportunity to enhance creativity, McLaren reached out to the community for a slide guitar. When Larry Duffrin (a long time NMTS supporter) heard, he built a custom slide guitar for Shipley, going as far as engraving a whale in the the neck of the guitar because that is Shipley’s favorite animal.

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Larry with the slide guitar he built for Becca

“With her ability and with that set-up, she can now play guitar, which is awesome,” says McLaren.

Adaptive music has empowered Shipley to overcome discouragement and prejudice. Shipley has her own personal goal set out to eventually, “jam with the band one day.” In the mean time she is practicing a lot, staying positive and always smiling, “I don’t give up on life or anything like that because I come here all the time,” says Shipley. 


Amy and Jenny are best friends and love music information together

Adaptive music in a group setting

“In the classes we’re doing a lot of singing together and sometimes we’ll do drumming together and it’s all just at whatever level people can do, and I feel like we all try to bring each other up. Everybody rallies and is like ‘You can do it! Here try it again, try it like this.’ It [Music] connects the room,” says McClaren.

“We have a lot of strengths to go on,” says Jenny, a participant in the weekly exploring music class. “Music is just so connecting in general and then we just involve ourselves at what ever level we can.”

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