Making a Difference: Samantha Nahra, Dyslexia, and Music Learning

Making a Difference: Samantha Nahra, Dyslexia, and Music Learning

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Read on to get to know soprano Samantha Nahra, learn about dyslexia, discover how to best support yourself or other dyslexic musicians, and see how Nahra is using her platform to make a difference.







Samantha Nahra—opera singer, teaching artist, content creator, jewelry maker, and more—has been making a difference by using her platform to share information about dyslexia. Nahra’s knowledge, tips, and advice can help us all to better support ourselves and other musicians with all types of learning styles.

Nahra currently serves as the assistant education director, marketing associate, and teaching artist for Opera On Tap. She views this position as a chance to further her education by taking every opportunity to research new learning techniques and ways to improve the experience for all students. Currently, with Opera On Tap’s Playground Opera program, she is teaching the opera La Cenerentola (Rossini) to students in Ukraine, Macedonia, and Guatemala as part of a six-week program where they learn about the opera itself, the composer, the opera industry, behind-the-scenes functions, and different “Cinderella” stories from around the world. During the process, they learn two pieces in Italian and a dance. Then, their individual performances are recorded and put into a video with professional opera singers. In addition to teaching, Nahra helps write curriculum for the Opera On Tap education program. 

While working on the curriculum for Hänsel und Gretel (Humperdinck), Nahra had a unique opportunity to advocate for neurodivergent learning. The script and materials were typed in dyslexic font, and various dyslexic learning techniques were implemented by using a multisensory approach. In instructional videos, the teaching artist is filmed close up, so the students are able to mimic the mouth movement instead of relying only on the sounds. Dyslexic font is helpful because it has a slightly heavier bottom to the letters. The letters also have a somewhat different shape to prevent turning, mirroring, or overlapping, and they have longer sticks, which allows for easier differentiation. The dyslexic font is free and can be downloaded online by visiting 

Highlighting or using a different colored pencil for each line of music also can make it more easily distinguishable. Printing materials on brightly colored paper instead of white is helpful too. For memorization, it can be helpful to draw a figure to represent the word or phrase. Pointing instead of only using stage directions is helpful to eliminate the confusion of left and right. Another helpful step is to support the use of Google Translate. The option to speak the text is incredibly helpful, especially for those with dyslexia. 

Remember that certain things might have benefits that perhaps a neurotypical brain doesn’t see right away. These are small things we can easily implement in our own education practices to make sure we are supporting all students. Plus, these approaches can be beneficial to neurotypical learners as well! 

In Nahra’s own teaching, she asks questions to make sure the particular technique is working for each student. Since each person is different, she adapts her approach until she finds the right fit. Another pillar of Nahra’s education style is trauma-informed voice care. She ends every lesson with self-hugging and positive affirmations, and then the students release negative energy as they let go of the hug. This practice is valuable for both the student and the teacher.

 It is clear that there are ways to support dyslexic learners—but what exactly is dyslexia? Too often we are taught not to ask questions or to look away because it is “rude,” but Nahra says this creates a veil of misinformation. If your mind doesn’t know the truth about something, it can fill in the blanks—often incorrectly. 

Dyslexia is defined as a “neurobiological language-based matter where the brain processes written and spoken information differently.” Because of this, dyslexics may have trouble decoding words (the ability to apply your knowledge of letter–sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correct pronunciation of written words) and difficulty with phonological awareness (recognizing sound in spoken language). It is important to note that dyslexia exists on a spectrum, and what affects some may not affect others. Nahra points out that phonological awareness affects singers specifically because when singing in different languages, you can hear someone say a word and think you are saying it back correctly, but you’re not.

Decoding words often affects reading, which has nothing to do with sight but is a difference in the brain processing. Difficulty telling left from right is another commonality of those with dyslexia. Spelling errors might be common as someone with dyslexia can have all the correct letters, but they might be arranged incorrectly or some letters are omitted. Dyslexics can also mix up time by confusing “tomorrow” and “yesterday,” and struggle with short-term memory and word recall. 

On the other hand, there are a number of strengths that come with having dyslexia! These include seeing things holistically, amazing pattern recognition, great peripheral vision, high levels of creativity, and seeing outside of the box. Nahra cautions people not to loosely self-diagnose with dyslexia. Comments like “I think I have that too,” or “I think I have that a little bit” can minimize someone’s experience. It is important to note that one in five people do have dyslexia, and it is often undiagnosed. It is important to get tested if you are able to—but if not, try implementing the aforementioned techniques to see if they help!

Another impact of the veil of misinformation is the belief that dyslexia is something to be fixed. Nahra was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and recalls an experience with a vocal coach who told her she would never make it as a singer if she didn’t fix her dyslexia. Not only was this an uncompassionate comment, but it was completely uninformed. Dyslexia is not something that can be fixed and it cannot be overcome. Being dyslexic is just as synonymous to a person as their hair being brown. 

In Nahra’s experience as a singer, she doesn’t learn music as fast as her colleagues—but once she learns it, she maintains it. She estimates that for every hour a neurotypical singer works in the practice room, she works double to triple that amount. It wasn’t until Susan Caldwell, a coach at Mannes College The New School for Music, pointed it out to her that she realized everyone makes language mistakes! Until then, she had believed she was making these mistakes due only to her dyslexia and that it was something that needed to be fixed. Caldwell encouraged Nahra to research dyslexia and find helpful techniques that they could implement in their coaching sessions. This was a mind-blowing moment for Nahra. Caldwell was the first coach to ever alter their approach for her learning style.

Nahra uses her platform as a content creator to create awareness of and representation for those with dyslexia. She got her start just before the onset of the COVID pandemic as a social media manager. In a course with Christin Byrdsong, she learned about the concept of “artivism.” Byrdsong explained that everyone has something to say, and that any form of art is a form of activism. 

What was Nahra’s message? She shares her experience with dyslexia and fights the lack of representation for neurodivergent learners that she noticed when she was younger. This propelled her to start making dyslexia-centered content on her social media platforms using #dyslexicthursdays to help eliminate the stigma around dyslexia. 


Samantha Nahra can be found on Instagram @dramaticallyzwischen and on TikTok 

@zwischensam. She is also active on YouTube where she hosts a cooking show and has produced two operas along with composer Philip Wharton, a fellow dyslexic. Nahra’s most recent project is a collaboration with Mark Tempesta, also a neurodivergent, to form a nonprofit, The Neurodivergent Music Project, with a goal of collecting music written by neurodivergent composers. Although still in the very early stages, the inaugural concert will premier four song cycles with texts by dyslexic librettists.

Alec Arnett

Alec Arnett is a baritone, writer, and conductor currently based in Ohio. He holds degrees in vocal performance and music history and literature from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. He is a 2022 CS Music Certified Artist and was a semi-finalist in the 2021 Orpheus Vocal Competition. Alec can be contacted via email at