Meet Dee Cucinotta: Learning Specialist

The Difference a Learning Specialist Makes

Why a Special Education Music Teacher? Why not a music teacher with “experience” teaching students with disabilities? Teachers who haven’t taken coursework on disabilities are using only piano pedagogy and what general information they might have on the disability. Their primary tool is patience, hoping different musical approaches might work. Sometimes, this can do more harm than good, resulting in frustration and even turning children off to music. A Special Education Music teacher’s approach combines both piano pedagogy and the most current knowledge about the disability (including medications or the lack of them) and how it affects learning to play the piano. This involves hand eye coordination, executive function, fine motor skills, sensory integration and more. Sound progress is made with less frustration and more independence, increasing both ability and self-confidence!

Dee creates an optimal learning environment for the unique and varying needs of each student. She strives to create an atmosphere where each student feels personally safe, listened to and valued and has a deep commitment to nurturing students’ social-emotional learning. A personalized learning program is developed and implemented for each child based on the student’s diagnosis and evaluations, strengths and weaknesses. These programs encompass learning to play the piano, while also addressing issues of anxiety, perfection, distractibility as well as learning disabilities, developmental delays, weak fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and executive functioning deficits. Each learning program addresses attention to task, visual sequencing, musical literacy, fine motor skills, balance and posture through musical instruction and repertoire. The immediate and consistent trust that she gains from parents and her ability to work collaboratively with other professionals allows each student, regardless of skill level, to develop as a musician and grow as a student and individual.

The attention Dee gives to the students’ individual needs as they learn provides great opportunity for growth. As part of that process, our studio offers all students the opportunity to perform at our Spring Recital, as well as join and perform with other members of the Creative Harmonies performance group (previous performances include The Autism Society Gala, at Proctor’s Theatre, Puzzles Bakery and Cafe, Teresian House and more). For students with sensory and other issues that cannot play in front of large audiences, we hold an in-studio Summer Recital and an online Holiday Recital.  Students are provided with thorough performance preparation, as well as taught how to build performance repertoire.  

A background in music is not required to enroll for lessons at Creative Harmonies. They only need to be able to identify their numbers 1-5 and letters A-G.

About Dee

Dee Cucinotta is an award-winning piano instructor, active community participant, and one of the very first music instructors within NY’s Capital District to offer specialized piano lessons backed by education and experience to individuals with disabilities. She holds a BA in Music and an MS in Special Education, and was the recipient of the 2016 Steinway & Sons Top Teacher Award.

Dee has taught private piano lessons since 2003 and continues to teach students of all ages, abilities and skill levels. Her education supports expert piano instruction for individuals who may benefit from additional attention, including students with Down Syndrome, Autism, ADD/ADHD, TBI, SPD, learning disabilities and students with anxiety, focusing, fine motor skill and executive functioning deficits. She is also sensitive to the diverse needs of all students, and welcomes those with communicative, sensory, behavioral, or physical challenges.

For almost 20 years, Dee has been a highly-recommended instructor with a reputation as an exceptional music educator, with students demonstrating proficiency in musicality, technique, and theory in their performance settings. She is known for her unique approach to lessons, teaching the whole individual and treating music as not only a skill for performance, but also as an activity for lifelong enjoyment and fulfillment. Before relocating to NY’s Capital District, Dee worked both as an aide and Special Education Music teacher for BOCES on Long Island, NY, teaching children with emotional and behavioral disorders, developmental delays, learning disabilities, Autism, ADHD, ADD, PDD and Down Syndrome.  She was also a Special Education teacher for the New York City Board of Education and taught children with learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

Dee has received multiple awards for her excellence in teaching and community outreach:

  • Steinway & Sons Top Teacher Award 2016
  • The Arc of Rensselaer County Community Partners Award 2010

Professional Associations include:

  • CEC (Council for Exceptional Children)
  • MTNA (Music Teachers National Association)
  • NYSMTA (New York State Music Teachers Association)

Dee is the parent of two adult children, one of which is diagnosed with ADHD.

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