Could it be that Auspies can teach Auspies music better?

by Dave Draper
(Bloomington Illinois)

I'm 60. A business owner; a sign maker artist and self taught musician; many artists swing both ways between the two areas.

I have never been diagnosed with AS but I have good reason to believe I have a form of it.

As a child, my piano teacher was extremely frustrated with me. I also played the sax in high school band... I gave my band teacher fits.

I could do things the other kids could not. I didn't need notes on a sheet of paper to understand what needed to be played. My frustration was I would become distracted easily, miss notes, and improvise to show off...which one can't do playing in a group.

I can compose music easily and play complicated arrangements, but not in front of an audience. I can easily transpose from playing a song in B flat up to C then up to D and even E flat. Music to me is a form of therapy.

A child learns to speak first at a very early age and has no clue of the written language. In my opinion, playing the piano should be learned completely free of notation, especially for kids with AS. Notation can be taught later.

Frustrated with my classically trained piano teacher, who could not understand me and vice-versa, I taught myself.

First was to learn the family of chords that harmonize in any given key. Learning the diatonic scale of every key and then finding solfeggio (do re me fa sol la ti) of every key based on the given diatonic scale.

This is like learning your ABC's or how to count. Once its learned (which takes 5 minutes) you stick it in the back of your head and use it when needed.

Once solfeggio is understood completely, (do is major, re and me are minor, fa and sol are major, la is minor and ti is diminished....then the triad chords of solfeggio can be fingered. Once you have the triad chords have music.

The next thing one learns is a simple 3 chord song: Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly. Then a four chord song: Heart and Soul.

There must be 100,000 four chord songs out there. Most of them sound the same. C, Am, F, then G ( I, vi IV then V if you want to transpose the song to any key) By the way the 1,6,4,5 chord combination is the song "Heart and Soul" and 99,000+ others. It sure beats playing "Mary had a Little Lamb."

This process takes a week to learn, but took me years to figure out teaching myself. I have not come across one classically trained pianist who has a clue how this works, let alone teach it. How long does it take to teach a kid, any kid, 4 chords?

I realize you would be out of business in a month if you taught music this way. Some would rather drag the process out over years.

I hated looking at sheet music then translating that into finger movements on the keyboard. Somewhere the connection in my brain would not allow that. It still doesn't. I have to study the sheet music, then make my own arrangement.

I'm sure there are many kids with AS that could learn music they way I taught myself. But can a classical trained pianist teach it? Now that's the question.


Very interesting letter. You're right that there is more than one way to skin a cat; I won't disagree with you when it comes to playing by ear with an understanding of chords.

But you are quite mistaken if you assume that classically-trained pianists don't have this music theory in their toolkit. Unless their education ended at high school, the classical musician spends 2 years minimum in college making this stuff second nature. How many classically-trained musicians have you met?

With my students, part of every lesson is spent playing around with chords in some fashion. I agree that learning the major scale by ear, initially, as "Do, re, mi," is more intuitive and fun than by scale degrees. That's how I like to teach it. My students learn to transpose, and they learn "Heart & Soul" -- and also Mary Had a Little Lamb! They also compose music. But every teacher has their own style and preferences.

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Teaching kids by ear
by: Gill

I very much like your page about teaching autistic kids, what you are saying really makes a lot of sense. I don't agree with the above article that piano tutors just teach the dots and nothing else.

I teach songwriting to all my kids and the basics of harmony. I think years and years ago it was different but that was a time when tutors used to smack peoples hands with a ruler too!


Yes! Sometimes I tease kids, "Don't worry, I'm not going to whack your fingers with a ruler today!" :)

Gill, your approach to teaching is inspirational. I would like to hear more about how you teach songwriting.

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