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Using Food to Teach Rhythm to Special Needs Students

United Sound partnered with Finale, a music notation software company, to create notes using images of food to help special-needs students understand rhythm. 

United Sound is a nonprofit that provides musical performance experiences for students with special needs through peer mentorship.

United Sound has found a unique way to take the abstract concept of rhythm and make it concrete to students with special needs. Each page in United Sound method books is divided into two parts. The top of the page features a traditional staff, like one would find in any musical notation, but with the traditional notes removed and replaced with images of foods.

A cake represents a quarter note. Donuts, which can be eaten faster, represent eighth notes. A bowl of soup signifies a half note because it takes much longer to eat it.

“Everything is also spatial, so … the half note is literally twice as long as the quarter note,” says Julie Duty, founder of United Sound. “Because a longer note is [spatially] longer, suddenly for a beginner, this makes perfect sense as opposed to having to decode that this dot is different from [that] dot.”


Below this “tasty” music notation, the United Sound method books also show the song or musical passage in traditional notation, so that teachers can transition their students to traditional musical notation at a pace that’s comfortable for each person.

Finale, the music notation software, has written United Sound’s font into its product and offers it is as a free download here.

Read about how Parkway Central Middle School‘s band members work with students with special needs in Case Study: Peers Support Peers at a United Sound Chapter in Missouri.

This article originally appeared in the 2019 V3 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.

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