Hitting A High Note

Accomplished composer overcomes dyslexia

Give Darryl S. Duncan three simple words such as “funky,” “mid-tempo,” and “urban,” and he’ll compose a full musical score. The 43-year-old composer, songwriter, and producer is gifted enough to take a client’s instruction and create a melody in his head.

Yet, something he does with so much ease becomes difficult when he has to write it down. Duncan suffers from dyslexia, a disease that causes his mind to switch up letters and words. Musical notes also move around on paper, preventing him from reading or writing music.

Early on, Duncan had a tough time convincing teachers that his problem was real. At age 8, his organ instructor assumed that he wasn’t practicing and advised his parents to discontinue the lessons because he was uninterested. “Nothing was further from the truth,” says Duncan.

The lessons stopped, but Duncan did not. In high school, he was able to master most instruments. But when he enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, dyslexia continued to prevented his teachers from recognizing his talent. Duncan persevered and, after a year in college, his musical ingenuity and hard work won him a position as a staff songwriter at Warner Brothers and A&M records, where he penned songs for Earth, Wind, and Fire and Jeffrey Osborne.

Now an entrepreneur, Duncan is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based GameBeat Studios (www.gamebeatstudios.com), which provides original music, sound effects, voiceovers, and related services for the marketing, television, and motion picture industries. GameBeat’s customers include Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and Toyota.

When asked to create a specific musical piece, Duncan hears the complete idea for a song in his head and fleshes it out afterward. He found that using a digital recorder, dubbed his “lick saver,” helped him save his musical concepts before he forgot them. “My lick saver is my right arm. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without it,” he confides.

Duncan’s biggest fear as an adult was that he wouldn’t be able to keep his dyslexia a secret. But employees and business owners with dyslexia shouldn’t be embarrassed, advises Ralph Gardner, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Special Education Section of the Ohio State University College of Education.

“Identify your strengths and challenges so that you can articulate to your company what type of support you need,” Gardner says. A comprehensive assessment done by a qualified professional will help determine a person’s particular dyslexic needs.

Gardner adds that dyslexics need a systematic and redundant way of learning and remembering new things. For example, reading long documents at the office can deter comprehension, but periodic breaks to work on other projects can ease concentration difficulties. The International Dyslexia Association suggests dyslexics carry calculators, dictionaries, word processors, and/or voice recognition software that can assist with reading, writing, and comprehension.

Dyslexics can supplement reading with audio books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (www.rfbd.org). Newspapers such as News For You (www.news-for-you.com), published by ProLiteracy Worldwide, provide daily news and current events for individuals with limited reading ability. In addition, America’s Literacy Directory (www.literacydirectory.org) provides

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  • Kent Nelson

    I don’t know Marcia Wade Talbot, but her writing style is clear and truly idiomatic of a magazine format. She is to be commended on including a lot of information in such a concise manner. Since the article came out, I have had the opportunity to meet Mr. Duncan. He is an extremely talented yet down to earth person. One comment or correction: When Ms. Talbot wrote the piece, possibly Mr. Duncan was specializing in “urban” music. Today he has blossomed into all areas of music writing as his company and cliental have expanded into jingles and advertising. He has emerged as a very versatile composer of all genres. Thanks for a great insight into this man.

  • Marcia

    Thanks! I appreciate that. Keep checking back to our site for great news and resources on entrepreneurship, careers and personal finance.