For the past 25 years, I have been creating fun songs which are simple to play and have used them to teach guitar. A little over one year ago I began applying my teaching methods with an eleven year old child of autism. To my amazement, he has blossomed and his success has changed my life. I have decided to commit my skills to help this growing and underserved autism community.
Music naturally connects the senses with emotion. It can provide a form of expression for those with verbal communication difficulties. Playing a musical piece promotes self-gratification and group awareness. Here are some real-life examples of how I have employed aspects of music to benefit three students, each on the autism spectrum. (Names are changed for their privacy).
Music to Improve Attention and Focus
At first “Sally”, a nine year old, could not sit still. She would continually squirm around her chair, hang upside-down, hold her blanket and touch her toes. With a guitar in her lap, she was given a point of focus that she can hold and feel its vibrations. Even though she does not know musical notes, she was able identify the sounds made by the low and high pitched strings on the guitar. Using this natural awareness, she was able to play LoLoHi, a song I created for beginning players. Its two note pattern was reinforced by the beat and lyrics. Soon she is able to repeat the pattern and maintain attention through the whole song.
Sally loves her dog and in another lesson we created a rhyming song about the pup. While thumping a beat on a drum she began anticipating the words and rhymes, responding to the musical cues she helped create. The structure of the song has her focused from its beginning to end. At first her enjoyment of singing and playing could only be done exclusively. Trying to accomplish both, her mind would drift from the instrument to the lyric sheet and back, causing her to freeze up. Continuing our lesson process, her focus and attention grew and in less than three months she is singing while playing on guitar, drum or keyboard. She has earned the title “Sally the Rocker” and this makes her smile.
Music to Improve Social Integration
“Joey”, a thirteen year old, wants to be the bass player in a heavy metal band. But his behavior patterns included a lack of eye contact and awareness of others. To him, playing his instrument was a like an individual game of Guitar Hero. I am not a “metal head”, so we had to learn the songs together for which he liked. This created a musical conversation between us. “How does the song begin and end? When do we make the changes? Is it fast or slow?” At first this communication was uncomfortable and our music dysfunctional. Over time, he understood that connecting with others is imperative to achieving his goal. Our songs became fluid, more like the bands he hears on his I-pod. Now at lessons, it’s Joey’s job to look at me, count out the time and cue the song changes. He has become the leader of our little band.
Music to Improve Fine Motor Skills
“Rico” is an energetic child that is usually happy. Often his movements consist of jumping and snapping of fingers. His parents and I decided the larger spacing of the bass guitar would be easier for his fine motor impairment. After building confidence with simple open note songs, it became time to advance to proper fingering techniques. “I can’t do it” was the initial response said with frustration. Then, it happened. Just to hear the two correct notes, Bum Bam. Then three notes, Bum Bam Bum. What fun it was to play these together to a rocking beat. Rico thinks it is even more fun to play things fast. He became self- motivated to play this pattern faster and faster. Thus requiring his mind, hands and fingers to all coordinate together. Rico still enjoys bass but his fine motor ability is greatly advanced. He now enjoys forming chords and picking leads on his own acoustic guitar.
Music to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem
Music is the ultimate self-esteem builder. The proper placement of even a single note can join and inspire people of all backgrounds and abilities. Providing confidence is the greatest attribute I can promote to a child of autism in hopes this can translate to other aspects of their life.
Sally has found her voice. She has learned singing out her words makes her and those she loves happy. Joey believes he is closer to his dream of being in a band. He is developing a feel for his songs, knowing when he can improvise and when he must play in lock step with his band members. Rico has moved past the “I can’t do it” mentality and is challenging himself to work through the more difficult motions. The success of his efforts makes him happy and he often quotes from a favorite TV show, “I am a really useful engine.”
These stories reveal just part of the overall of the growth I have seen in each child. Of course, I can’t take all the credit. I owe my success to the children’s desire to play and to their parents, who believe that music can open doorways often locked by traditional learning methods. My goal is to use my musical tools to open the doors, in hopes it can lead to a more fulfilling life for these children. I invite you to check out my website RockonMusicSchool.com to hear my songs, read my testimonials and view a video of a sample lesson. I am always happy to speak with anyone interested in the benefits of teaching children to create music. David Meyers. Owner – RockonMusicSchool. 914 489 0520
David Meyers has written over 100 songs, many of which are designed specifically for music learning. His unique brand of teaching includes Dave’s Ten Terrific Tunes which often can be played on the first day. David currently provides teaching services in client’s homes in the Westchester/Putnam area and at the Pied Piper Youth Theatre in Stormville, NY. He is also a Music Recreation Specialist for SPARC Spirit programs at the Eastchester Middle School. Come meet David on June 4th at the Autism Speaks Westchester/Fairfield area Walk in White Plains.