There is a place in the classroom for every student, regardless of learning differences. And when that classroom involves musical instruments, Ball State's Ryan Hourigan is passionate about helping educators achieve this ideal.

Hourigan, a music educator and interim associate director of Ball State's School of Music, is coauthor of Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach (2011). The text focuses on how music teachers can provide quality instruction to students with special needs without becoming apprehensive of their diagnoses.

"Teachers can get overwhelmed by it all," he says. "Between the acronyms and all the terms, it's easy for a discussion of a student's diagnosis to become its own language."

The text provides music educators with curricular strategies and covers topics from parental involvement and student anxiety to field trips and assessment strategies. Its success post-publication is proof Hourigan and coauthor Alice Hammel, an educator at James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth universities, have struck a chord with their audience. In 2011, its first year of availability, the book went into a third printing with sales around the globe. That same year, the two authors fielded no fewer than a dozen invitations to speak at conferences and workshops nationwide. With each presentation he gives, Hourigan says, the best affirmation is getting up in front of peers and "seeing there's never an empty seat."

The popularity of Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs has led the publisher to request Hourigan and Hammel to write a second text. That book, Teaching Music to Students with Autism, is expected for a fall 2012 release. Hourigan said his work helping lead Ball State's Prism Project has shaped much of his required research for both texts. A Saturday afternoon program that brings performing arts to students with special needs, the Prism Project was cocreated by Hourigan and Ball State theatre professor Michael Dahen in 2008 as an immersive learning project for students at the university.

Hourigan said his and Hammel's book is a way for educators who've never taught special needs students to focus on the goals and ideals most important to an inclusive pedagogy. As more students with special needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled classmates, it's increasingly important that teachers of all disciplines have proper knowledge to make the transition as smooth as possible.

"Our aim is to simplify things, to remind teachers not to stress, that they are music educators first and foremost," he says.