Skip to Content

Improvisation for Children with Special Needs

“Play Who You Are” Workshops with KidsAbility

Improvised music offers children and youth with special needs the opportunity to experience the fun of music and creativity. We believe that everyone has the ability to be expressive with music, and because it is a flexible, responsive, and very personal form of music-making, improvisation is especially adaptive to the needs and abilities of each individual. With improvisation, there are no “wrong notes,” just creative interactions. At this page, you’ll find a number of resources that will help you to incorporate improvisation into your work!

This page profiles the “Play Who You Are” workshops. These workshops are the result of a partnership between the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice project (ICASP), The Guelph Jazz Festival, and KidsAbility. Located in south central Ontario, KidsAbility serves over 4000 young people, providing outpatient rehabilitation services and programs for children and teens with developmental disabilities and delays, physical disabilities, and communication difficulties.

”Play Who You Are” brings professional improvisers together with youth to engage the participants in playful musical experiences that emphasize fun and creativity. In the videos on this page you will find examples of two different approaches to the workshops: with artists Rich Marsella and Matana Roberts in 2008, and Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer in 2009. You can also read a short reflective essay written by Rob Jackson on his experiences working as a summer student intern with KidsAbility and “Play Who You Are”.


KidsAbility 2009 Workshop Profile

Learning to Play Who You Are

Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace