After Two Years, Autistic Student Still Not Recognizing Notes

by Christy

I have taught an autistic student for 2 years. He has progressed marvelously, but can't seem to get past the 3rd level. He can not recognize his notes still and seems to have a problem seeing the lines/spaces even when we have blown up the staff. Is there a series that teaches by ear or any other suggestions I can try?

Hi, Christy,
I apologize for not replying to your question earlier this week, but aside from the usual busy-ness of life and teaching, I just don't have a good answer for you! That is, I don't know of a useful method that teaches by ear for a child as far along as you've taken your student.

UPDATE, December 2013:

There is a note-reading course by Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys that is supposed to accomplish in 10 weeks what takes ordinary methods TWO YEARS to reach, at least in terms of note-reading. I am very intrigued with this course, called "67 Fun Songs Primer", not to be confused with "67 Fun Songs."

The book is available as a physical book, or a digital file. So far I'm very pleased with it, and the way my students are looking at notes a new way. Except for students well into Intermediate level playing, I'm making them all go through these pages.

Go to Jon's site to read what others have said...


Some teachers will start the child in a different method, same level, so they can have the fun of new songs.

There is a method called Simply Music, which STARTS with playing by ear, and gradually adds in notation (writing it yourself) and then reading it, but the problem with Simply Music (I've looked into it!) is that you can't just buy the method; it is a FRANCHISE for which you pay over $1,000, and then for each student that you teach using the method, you pay Simply Music $2 a lesson. And you must return all materials if you ever stop using the course.

What about experimenting on your own? Use Left Hand chords and Right Hand melodies for some Fake Book-style playing. Does he understand basic chords? Try some songs that he knows and likes.

If he can imitate you, then you can do some rote teaching. (Though surely you've done lots of this with him already.) If you have a laptop computer close by or some other recording device, you can record songs for him and burn a CD for him (yes, very time-consuming!) or email a file to his folks. I'd record each hand separately as well as together.

I've often wondered how blind students learn how to play piano... somehow they do. Their hearing must be more acute for lack of sight, of course; how is your autistic student's ability to mimic or recall melodies and rhythms?

His parents are probably very pleased that you keep seeking solutions and ideas to help him progress... even if it is slow right now, he will still move ahead with your reinforcement.

I wouldn't drop the note-reading entirely, though; but maybe mix in a little more WRITING of notes onto staff paper, by him. Perhaps start by having him just copy an easy piece, or even just a measure or two, from one of his books, that he knows well. See if he can transfer the printed page onto his own hand-written page, and then read his own writing. Just a thought - I haven't ever tried it with a student myself, though I keep thinking of doing something like it to encourage more composing on the part of my students.

Good luck, and I'd like to hear how it goes, and if you find some helpful materials!


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Use behavioral techniques to teach notes and rhythm
by: autism pundit

There is a very structured form of teaching children with autism that will save you hundreds of hours. The techniques are from the field of behaviorism and they are called: Discrete Trial Training, and Discrimination Training. If you use these techniques with flash cards, your student will be reading music in much less time than any other method (there is over 25 years of science behind these methods when it comes to children with autism). Here's a great on this method.
<10 minute video>
You simply need to apply this method to notes. If you run into trouble, any behavioral therapist should be able to help.

Good luck!

Autism Video: Girl Communicates Through the Computer
by: Sally

I have been checking your blog periodically just because we have a piano and four girls who play but have never had lessons. You have some good tips, and I thank you.
Your posts on teaching people with autism prompted me to send you this video link. So amazing! I wonder how this info could help you teach them.

Medical Mysteries


Thank you for this link, Sally. The video is so moving. What a shock for the parents after all those years to realize their mute daughter could understand everything they were saying. All those therapists -- all that money. And in the end, what worked best was "tough love." Lots to think about for us teachers.

Carly has her own website, though it doesn't look as though she's added to it since November 2009. There are lots of links on her site, including some interviews. I read a very interesting interview with Carly's parents.

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