Colored or yellow overlays for dyslexic piano students - Does it work?

Yellow overlays for dyslexic piano students?

Do you know the name Cappy Kennedy Cory? Cappy wrote music for the Noona Piano Method a while ago, but she’s been a dear email friend of mine for quite some time. She emailed me last year to tell me how she’s been using yellow overlays for dyslexic piano students with excellent results.

I was fascinated by what she had to say and wanted to do a little research on the topic. But mostly, I wanted to get this idea out there in front of you to try and to see what your experience is. I know a number of teachers have used these and I’m curious what your experience is with them. But whether or not it’s scientifically proven to work, it’s an inexpensive thing to try with students who struggle to read.

But let’s dig a little deeper

Yellow overlays for dyslexic piano students?

I don’t claim to have read all the research out there, so if you have a link to more helpful research than I cite, please leave your link and a summary in the comments! The more information we have, the better.

But it appears that the National Institute of Health posted a study and abstract about using colored overlays with people who have Dyslexia AND “the so-called Meares-Irlen syndrome.” Children with this syndrome experience eyestrain and/or visual distortions in color, shape, or movement illusions while reading.

How does it work in theory?

The idea here is that if visual stress is the result of the relation between the visual features of black ink writing on white paper, then changing this relation might result in a reduction of the symptoms associated with visual stress. See this article.

So some teachers and researchers have sought to change this relationship of black text on white paper by altering the color of the paper so as to minimize the visual stress.

Enter yellow overlays (and other colors too)!

So you can easily change the relationship of black text on white paper by using a colored overlay. Here’s an example of what the music looks like with these yellow overlays (Please note: I do not get any affiliate kickback for these overlays. I just want you to know where you can get them if you are interested.):

I have had several teachers tell me that other colors work too with different kinds of dyslexia. So if you are one of those teachers who have experience with different colors, please comment and tell everyone about it!

This story speaks volumes:

Now here’s an interesting anecdote. Cappy told me that when she put the music yellow overlay on top of the music for one of her students, this is what the student said:

Oh, the lines aren’t wiggling and I can tell what line or space the notes are on!

Wow. Can you imagine trying to read music if the lines are wiggling and you can’t tell what line or space the notes are on? Cappy said that she talked to the student further and the student explained even more:

The black lines are more prominent with yellow and black than they are with white paper and black.  They stick out, so I can figure out what line or space the notes are on.

So what does the research conclude?

So back to the research. The research seems to say that the results of the studies on overlays and dyslexia are inconclusive. Here’s a great summary provided by this article by Catherine M Suttle PhD, John G Lawrenson PhD, and Miriam L Conway PhD.

Of the four systematic reviews identified in this overview, three conclude that evidence is not sufficient to recommend the use of coloured overlays and lenses for reading difficulty. One systematic review acknowledged limitations to research quality in this area, but concluded that despite these the available evidence suggests that coloured overlays or lenses can alleviate symptoms in people with visual stress. The authors noted that the quality of evidence was lower than would be needed for medical interventions, but ‘coloured filters are a safer form of intervention’.’

Can it still work for my students?

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. There are still a number of teachers that say this works. And it will cost you less than $15 to try it! So my thought is: Even if the research is inconclusive, if it only costs $15 to try to help struggling students, I’m willing to do it! It won’t hurt them one bit, so what do you have to lose?

Where do I get colored overlays?

You can get the yellow overlays on Amazon here. Keep in mind that other colors work better for some students (and then for others, this does not help at all). So, be sure to try other colors if yellow does not work but you still think there might be something about the student’s tracking that this could help.

So what do you think?

Have you ever used blue, green, or yellow colored overlays for dyslexic piano students (or any color)? I’d love to know what your experience is, good or bad. The more information and experience we share with each other, the more other teachers will be able to benefit. Please leave your thoughts and experiences below in the comments.

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