Teaching an autistic with perfect pitch

by Ana Dragu
(Bistrita, Romania)

Hello, I found your site looking for advice about teaching piano to an autistic child with perfect pitch.


I am talking about my son who is now almost 6 years old and is able to recognize, from the other room, every note that I play, even chords,(he deconstructs the chord and never fails to tell exactly the notes composing them).

He is an auditory learner, that is, he listens to a song and then tries to reproduce it. He gets frustrated when he can't, because he tries to attack complicated pieces, sometimes too complicated for his little fingers such as fur elise, or la valse d'amelie or the music from 9 crimes by damien rice, etc. Our biggest problem is that we are not able to find a piano teacher for him yet (we are Romanian living in Romania) and he rarely accepts when I show him "how to play".

He already knows all the notes, the major and minor chords on the keyboard, but he can't read them from paper.

On the other hand, I founded an Association for autistic children in our city (Bistrita) and my son is not the only kid with perfect pitch or who loves music, so your advice would be precious, as the music teachers in this town are not very willing to accept autistics as students.


Thank you

Ana

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Autism and Perfect Pitch
by: HennyK.com

Autism and perfect pitch are the reason why my non-verbal clients make glorious music when taught in the classical tradition. They are not imitating, it is not a behavior. They are originating from their brilliant minds.

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David the autistic boy with perfect pitch!
by: Andrea

OMG........My son....he is the same!!!!!!! I can't believe it. Names every note of a chord. He can even tell you what note you're speaking in. He is high functioning on the autistic spectrum. He has been taking piano lessons for a year. But he plays like your son from memory.....

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Student with Autism Can't Change Pitch When Singing
by: Chris

Hello, I'm trying to teach an autistic child (11 years) how to change pitch in his voice. This little boy can communicate easily with anyone, he loves to sing, and can memorize a whole song with the rhythm very fast.

He has a pretty good voice, I'm just finding difficulties with how to communicate to him to use different pitch while singing. When I ask him to go higher, he just sings louder with the same pitch, and sometimes he changes pitch without noticing...

Thanks for your help :)

Dana:

Hi, Chris,

It isn't terribly uncommon for kids not to be able to locate pitch without some training. I have had a couple of voice students (who did not have autism) who simply did not know how to match pitch, though in both cases they had been singing in church for years.

Here is what I did with them (and I hope it will help with your student): rather than use verbal direction ("Up -- higher -- down -- lower!") I sang pitches along with them, like vocalises, very slowly. The whole time, my hand gestures indicated rising or falling, or locking in a note.

Sirens (slow) are pretty effective, mostly humming (so it's not so loud we can't hear each other)... with these, as I change pitch, the students lag behind just a bit, and then I will hold my voice still, waiting for them to catch up, all the while my hand is indicating up or down.

When they match, I tell them "Good! You're matching my pitch! Can you tell?" At first they may not always know. They have to learn to listen... for some reason their brain has not ever processed sound in such a manner that they could duplicate it. I don't understand it, since both of these kids were always around music.

Then, the challenge is, can they sing a MELODY on pitch? This was very hard for my male student... each melody had to be learned note-by-note and the intervals memorized. He was not able to continue beyond a month with lessons, so I don't know what kind of progress we would eventually have made.

My female student overcame her note "wandering" in just a couple of weeks, has a very pretty voice, and is still with me several years later. She does sing a bit sharp sometimes if she is not focussing. She has to listen carefully.

It is interesting that your student excels at rhythm -- that is usually much more difficult than matching pitch, in my experience.

Hopefully you will find an approach that works -- I'd like to know if you do!

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Autistic Student Perhaps Wants to Play by Ear
by: Anonymous

One idea may be to pair up up a music teacher, with a special education teacher, or a tutor. This way, the two of you can work together to assist the boy. Or better yet, if you can find a special education major or teacher/tutor with some musical knowledge.

Another option could be a class at a music school.

Keep in mind however, there are some instruments that people cannot play, due to deformities, body types, facial/dental characteristics or body size and that these people would be more sucessful on different instruments.

Also, you must find out if he is willing to learn and put in time and effort into reading music and doing some theory work, or if he just wants to play by ear as a hobby. The way you described it, with him not accepting your help, it seems like he just wants it as a hobby. If he decides he wants to be serious later down the road, it's never too late.

However, if he won't accept your help, I would suggest my first idea, or assume that he just wants to play by ear, as a hobby. Whatever he wants to do seriously, you should support him and what he really wants. Also, remember to never give up if he really wants to learn something.

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I am also teaching an autistic boy with perfect pitch
by: Patricia

I am presently teaching an autistic boy age 7. It has been a challenge as he too has perfect pitch and can play all the chords and tell you exactly which ones you play when he's not looking. This to me is just amazing!

I really didn't know where to start on his instruction. He has musicality and surely talent. He tries to compose his own music, and surprisingly writes the stems of the notes in the right direction. He plays up and down the piano harmonizing keys.

He knows how to read music but can't co-ordinate his two hands. I started to think how can I help him. He obviously knows a lot of things, but does he know how to construct scales, chords. Is it just because he has perfect pitch that he just knows?

I never had the opportunity to teach someone like him. I feel blessed. So I started by letting him write his own music on my staff board, then we put in the time signature, then the bars and started to explain what they were and meant. He liked that.

I think of instructing instead of teaching. I don't focus on what he doesn't know but what he knows, and work with that.

Today we will learn a little about rhythm. You have to break it all down into very direct order and a consistent order. Each week has to be some of the week before so that his brain can organize it.

Those are just my thoughts. Like I said, I never have taught an autistic child before but I sure am honored to be the one to watch him grow. He is doing very well, and when he leaves I feel that he's happy.

Put away the traditional music books for a while and focus on what inspires them and work from there. Through this you'll hit on what they need to know to create the music that is inside them. At least it's working with this individual.

Good luck, find an understanding teacher. Please update us on how your child is doing.

Take Care

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