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Scott Price

USC Piano Professor is Learning from His Students

The students might have poor eyesight. Talking may be difficult. And loud noises upset tehm. Scott Price knows learning music is hard, but he is honored to give piano lessons to children with special needs.

A professor of piano pedagogy in USC’s School of Music, Scott didn’t set out to teach piano to students who have to deal with problems like hearing or vision impairments, Down Syndrome, ADHD or autism. Really, he sort of backed into the role.

Years ago, a young family with a daughter who had severe autism came to Scott for help. She was born four months prematurely, was blind from birth and was severely mentally disabled. But she showed an astounding knack for music, so her parents sought out a piano teacher, unsure if she could even take piano lessons.

They were referred to Scott, who figured, “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.” And none of their lives were ever the same.

His students learn to tap into skills they would never know about without the encouragement of a professional. And in turn, the kids are teaching Scott an awful lot. “With these students,” he explains, “you really have to know the basic literal specifics of everything you need to teach because you have to break everything down into step-by-step details at a level that is foreign to the traditional piano teaching model. Then you build the students back up in the process — that’s what this kind of teaching is all about.”

Scott says that teaching children with special needs can improve teaching in general.

“Here are kids who would normally be overlooked who are redefining many of the things we thought we knew about piano pedagogy, how we teach piano. It’s really a magical thing.”

“If we listen to their ‘voices,’ they can show us what isn’t really important and often counterproductive in traditional teaching because they force you to go back to the drawing board completely,” Scott says. “And they show us — they teach us — how to be truly authentic in our communication of our craft.”

Thanks to the work of Scott and a few of his peers, music educators across the nation have started to take notice. The Music Teachers National Association, for example, is devoting a daylong session to teaching kids with special needs this year, and Scott is helping to lead that discussion.

That’s just one more step that Scott is taking to try to gain more support so he can help more students, in order to “involve more people who’ve gone underserved and neglected when they really don’t have to be,” Scott says.

Don’t shower Scott with praise, though. He insists that he doesn’t want or deserve it. “Whenever we’re doing fundraising or anything, I always ask myself, ‘Are you doing this for some kind of reward? Are you doing this to advance your own career? Or are you doing this for the students?’”

For some it might be easy to cross that line and go for individual accolades. But Scott is constantly reminded of his piano students with special needs, and he is humbled by them. And while the lessons can be difficult, the beautiful music makes it all worthwhile.

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