Kaegan – Nonverbal perfect pitch piano matching test

Kaegan (21) is able to demonstrate perfect pitch during his 3rd piano lesson, thanks to the piano matching test. Did you know that 97% of autistic people have perfect pitch? (Kupferstein & Walsh, 2015). One obvious clue that it was time to test him came when Kaegan was singing the notes just from reading it, even before he heard it played from the piano. Please read about the nonverbal paradigm research study and the Rancer Method book for teaching music to gifted students, titled Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism.

Source:

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2015). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures72(7-8), 390-405.

Teaching autistic piano students to self-talk and regulate the mind-body disconnect

How does the autism mind-body disconnect interfere with piano lessons?

In this video, the student is in his 20th week of instruction. He is playing his assigned piece which he has practiced and knows well. Suddenly, his body fails to comply and he appears to “fail” at the task. In my work, teaching the students about the science of movement is key to help them organize their chaotic bodies and take control of sensory dysregulation, dyspraxia, dystonia, and other motor movement issues. It is critical to help the students learn self awareness. I strive to build their self esteem as they advance in their music education but their hands cannot prove that they know how to play the material placed on front of them. Remind them that you will keep teaching, if they will stick with the plan of “talking” to their bodies. Make a “deal” and watch them flourish.

Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

I teach piano to non-verbal and autistic students every day. Most have perfect pitch and a very high degree of musical aptitude. Along with their diagnosis comes a trail of baggage from earlier teacher-student relationships. Students as young as five may display behaviors that can be interpreted as aggressive and harmful to themselves and others, behaviors that make them seem like they aren’t paying attention, or behaviors that make them appear as if they don’t understand the instructions of the task at hand. I experience ignorance and intolerance of sensory accommodations from ABA therapists and behaviorally-trained educators observing my work with the Rancer Method. Their focus is on the ABA-type treatment interventions. It is the majority and sadly not unusual.

VIDEO: Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

The distinct differences in the success of my students are directly linked to their early exposure to esteem-building teacher-student relationships, and whether ABA was a big part of their early intervention. It becomes apparent when a student has been exposed to ABA for more than 10% of their lifetime (e.g. 6 months for a five-year-old child). They become prompt dependent for minor tasks. They lose track of their inner awareness and become unable to take clues from their inside-body to self regulate. Dysregulations turn into complete brain-fry. These system shutdowns are neurological and not in their control anymore.

When a student is in a verbal loop, repeating the same word over and over, and their body is shaking, it becomes time to physically redirect the body into a different setting. I will advise the parent to turn their child on the piano bench so their back is to the piano. The loop instantly stops because he is now in a different environmental state. The student will automatically turn his body back to the piano, completely regulated, and ready to resume. It is a shame that we allow people to grow up with a mindset that they have to allow others to tell them how to function, how to be, what to work for, and when to take a break. We owe it to our students to teach them how to prevent overwhelm without physically prompting them into an environmental redirect. See this article for strategies: Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention  

Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention

me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Two nonverbal preteens played the piano yesterday. They are my tough fighters, but also spell using RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) letterboards. They frequently type their complaints about their brain-body disconnect and how embarrassing it is that they can’t show through their fingers that they know the music.

Me: “Who else sees your body like this? In what other situation?” WHEN IM OVERWHELMED

“Do you know the difference between physical, emotional, and sensory overwhelm?” NO

And then the Henny-lecture began:

“Play one line, and then go back to the sink and play with the water. That’s what your body needs in order to erase the overwhelm. I don’t want you to wait until your body crashes and then you look like a person who is embaressed of yourself. Go back to the sink to prevent overwhelm. Do we have a deal?” YES

Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

READ: Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism
A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

He then played three lines instead of 1, went to the sink. Returned. Played two more lines. Sink. Returned. Thanked me….

I teach awareness of self, so they can make choices. With other autism interventions (such as ABA), they are conditioned to be so prompt dependent, they they lose touch with internal functions. They forget to read their own body signals. In my work teaching piano to nonverbal and autistic students, I undo that damage. Each time they stim, I announce like a translator “you just did that with your fingers near your eyes because you wanted to erase the work of reading treble and bass clef together for the first time”.

As an autistic person, I live inside their sensory experience and can read them instantly. By offering these nuggets, they can learn to connect what they do with why they do it. Eventually, they can reach for those stims as preventative tools. For a list of stimming ideas, see my resources page.

Teaching V7 Chords Using Solfege for Perfect Pitch Students

First, captivate the ear-based learner who craves sound. Keep pushing the ear a bit more. Now, reinforce the sound with the note clusters on the page. You must validate the fact that V7 inversions are missing a note, because their ear will ‘go crazy’ and point out the value of chord inversions. Once you have integrated the eyes with the ears, tie it all up as ‘visual shapes’ and ‘sound shapes’. Finally, wrap up with theory work (chord labeling, etc.). Always give constant reminders of their gift, each week.

 

See more piano pedagogy videos: https://hennyk.com/piano-pedagogy-videos-how-to-teach/

Book-image

JOIN THE FAN CLUB! The Rancer Method – Teaching Piano to Gifted and Special Needs Students – FaceBook group for piano teachers and educators who are applying the Rancer Method in their practice.

 

 

 

Autism Motivation and Perfection Anxiety: Teaching to the Gift of the Perfect Pitch

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

  1. “How do we motivate autistic students in and outside of piano lessons?”
  2. “How does the gift of perfect pitch translate to other areas and skill-sets?”

More links:

 

Before You Pay for Piano Lessons: Little Johnny’s Bill of Rights

apprenticeBefore You Pay for Piano Lessons: Little Johnny’s Bill of Rights

Problems With the Genius and Apprenticeship Model in the Teacher-Centered Piano Pedagogy Traditions of a Previous Era

by: Henny Kupferstein

In music education, a teacher-centered approach regards the teacher as the lone genius—the iconic model of creativity. Under this method, students are expected to tremble with humility for the opportunity to be apprenticed under these circumstances and be chiseled into a work of art. The teacher’s annual recital is an advertisement for her studio and the student’s production only tells how talented the teacher is. Children who commit to a career in performing arts should know that a teacher-centered approach is grooming them to play as many songs as they can, with as much technical precision as possible, often at the expense of note-reading skills.

I firmly believe that all piano students deserve to know that their piano teacher has an agenda. Their agenda is driven by the tradition, and the tradition is in direct conflict with the student’s developmental goals. As parents, we want Johnny to take piano lessons because of everything we have heard about the potential of improved math scores. When this doesn’t happen after every annual recital, we struggle to grasp why the bridge has not been made between the art we see and the science we read. Little will change in little Johnny’s acquisition of academic skills if his teacher continues to focus solely on his performance in the yearly recital.

Song memorization and performance are not the the elements that create the neural pathways necessary for the student’s learning. Rather, the critical skills in translating a symbolic representation of a musical tone into reproduction on an instrument is the sensorimotor integration that forces the brain to convert an abstract concept into a concrete operation. With the added benefit of the sound produced being pleasing to the player’s ear,  the player sticks with the lessons not because of the affirmations of the teacher. Rather, the task  becomes intrinsically motivating and the player devotes him or herself to the discipline of note-reading for his or her own personal gain.

A student-centered approach is purely about the student’s acquisition of skill, both musical and nonmusical. It is entirely possible for little Johnny to take piano lessons for his entire childhood and never perform publicly, but remain proud of himself. Rightfully so—he is developing a healthy balance of reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, math fundamentals, social adaptation abilities, problem solving, emotional self regulation techniques, and time management tools. Children who commit to a lifetime of student-centered lessons should know that their teacher is solely focused on enriching the student’s development, often at the expense of them being able to show off their playing of Für Elise for their buddies.

The genius apprenticeship model psychology ingrains an onerous disposition which leaves the student feeling worthless unless they show up and continue to comply while under the teacher’s watch. While they are performing as an apprentice, they are praised for their application of their skills training. But when they are discharged from the arrangement, they lose their mentee/apprentice status and are left without much concrete applicable benefits for higher learning, as well as social and emotional regulation. Truly such people end up being anxious and sleep-deprived individuals who are disappointed with their student loans and with deeply ingrained poor practice routines, all of which may lead them to end their careers with repetitive strain injuries. The most well-adjusted career music-makers are the ones who were trained by student-centered teachers that are focused on development through a current research based approach.

The lone genius models to the student how a piece should be played, hoping the student is clever enough to imitate and play it back. Once the student’s ear is refined, the teacher looks great in the public’s eye. That antiquated pedagogy dates back to the Middle Ages, a time when teaching was a heroic endeavour and a student was expected to be interested, and simply learn by absorption. In later years, the Romantic apprenticeship model of vocational education was founded upon the concept that creativity is at least partially innate and that it cannot be wholly spontaneous—and not able to be taught or assessed.  The schools of thought in piano pedagogy are split between those who base it on the tradition from the 1500-1800’s, and those who base it on current research—which is seen as sacrilegious.

Whereas 20 years ago the lone genius was still the iconic model of creativity, today creativity is viewed increasingly as a relational, collaborative process. The popular myth of the lone genius serves “as an entree into the problematic nature of a hyperindividualistic understanding of creativity, which itself emerges out of a specific social and historical context.” Leaning towards a new worldview requires us to move away from seeing creativity as owned by the lone genius. The pedagogy that is largely in use today may have worked for Bach’s 20 children and helped establish artists across Europe all the way until Kodaly’s times. Learning styles span the spectrum, and teaching should not narrow a student into an apprenticeship contingent on performance. Today, educators need to take the lead in shaping the student’s development—you need to know well the brains you are teaching.  

Piano teachers who prefer to teach in the way they were taught should not feel lost when asked to reevaluate their approach. Accommodating a learning style only allows the student to teach you how to teach them in the best way possible.  “To teach is to learn twice over.”~ Joseph Joubert


Also read: A Dog’s Life: Pedagogical Flaws in Repetitive Piano Practice for Autistic Students