Teaching Piano to an Autistic Seven-Year-Old Who Plays by Ear

by Darlene

I thought my 7 yr. old little Autistic piano student was progressing really well. I started with teaching her the number method. She learned all the songs so fast and memorized them.

Now I have just started trying to teach her the lines and spaces, and once she hears a few notes or plays the entire piece she doesn't need to read the music any more.

She does not like me teaching her the lines and spaces and I lose her attention. I would love to get any suggestions on how I can get her to focus long enough to learn the lines or spaces. Perhaps she is too young to begin reading music. She is sooo smart and retains everything. If anyone has some ideas please send it my way. Darlene: dardie_leelee@yahoo.com


I hope some others will send you ideas! My own suggestions would include:

If she can change activities often without getting distressed or distracted, move away from the piano and draw lines and spaces on a board. Find a way to turn it into a game. (This takes some imagination for me!)

Start with 2 flashcards, then 3, then 4, etc., (have a look at my Giant Flashcards on the Music Education Tools page) and let her "Whack!" the one you name ("Which note is higher up the ladder/staff?").

Look at my Wormies and Snakes sheetmusic. They don't sound like music, so they are hard to memorize. If she does memorize them, turn them upside down and have her play the "new" Wormie or Snake.

Just relax and take it slow. She doesn't have to read overnight; every student is different.

Have you looked around at other pages on this site regarding autistic kids? There's a lot of good suggestions offered here. One book I've acquired recently that slow readers are having success with is called "The Perfect Start for Notereading," by Kevin and Julia Olson. There are pages and pages with the same 2 notes over and over, then 3 notes, then 4 notes, etc., with CD accompaniment and cute lyrics. It's pretty cute, and I use it as a supplement.

But have a look at what Dave says below regarding the use of chords. This should really be the primary part of the lesson with a student who isn't reading yet. Chords are fun and easy to use, and make kids feel like real piano players. Hunt around my early Beginning Piano songs for tips on how to use them.

Good luck!

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Melodies to Notation
by: Trixie Hennig

Hi there! I teach a variety of learners in my studio, too! I love coming into a lesson and never really knowing where we will end up. I enjoy the challenge of adaptation!

It is so much fun allowing students to learn to play melodies by ear as well as teaching them to recognize notation. I have written a book titled Hearitability (hearitability.com), where both skills are integrated. Students notate the songs they learn by ear, separating the pitches from the rhythm and starting with just a two-line staff. It is great for learning as the students manipulate sticky dots (circle stickers) for notes and you can play what they've written until it sounds like it should. Students get involved in the notational process, making reading music much more meaningful. There are sample pages on the website and you can order a physical copy or download a digital copy. Enjoy!


Thanks, I'm going to go look at it!

Teach Her How to play chords
by: Dave

This little one sounds like me, 50 years ago.

Looking at sheet music, then translating the notation to finger movements is mentally exhausting for "kids" like us, not to mention painful.

I had to teach myself music.

I learned four chords. C, Am, F, and G and found all the songs that had those 4 chords. Because I
intently looked at how my fingers touched the keys and moved to the next chord, I taught myself how to transpose. It would be years later when I learned about Roman Numerals: I ii iii IV V vi vii

What I discovered was C to Am involved moving my pinky finger up from G to A (G-C-E or C/G to A-C-E
Then it became apparent I could do this in any Key
(E flat to Cm ...move one finger)

I got so excited I memorized all the scales,
learned with out any help that do re me fa sol la ti are the base notes for the family of chords that harmonize in any give key...so I could transpose from the key of C to D without effort.

Can you do that? [Dana says: You're kidding, right?]

I WANTED to learn, and in my own way. I don't
know what will trip the trigger for this young one. But if and when it happens, she will spend hours upon hours teaching herself how to play without using sheet music...the later she may teach herself enough about notation to at least follow the melody line.

We tend to get locked into something and figure it out if we are interested enough.

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