Rhythm and blue

13th June 2008 at 01:00
Using different colours for each note can make learning music easier. Dominic Dufton on this, and other benefits, for autistic pupils

Using different colours for each note can make learning music easier. Dominic Dufton on this, and other benefits, for autistic pupils

Music is a great way to encourage pupils with autism to interact with others. Playing an instrument develops skills such as taking turns, listening and responding to others, concentration and hand-eye co- ordination. The power of music is that it develops motivation, persistence and determination; pupils seem to lose their autism when they are absorbed and involved in making music.

Over the past decade, I have developed a method of learning instruments that uses colours. Even the most challenging pupils can use it.

I teach pupils to associate each note with a different colour and the music is displayed on a whiteboard using Microsoft PowerPoint. As each colour appears, I encourage pupils to play the note on the keyboard labelled with the same colour. Flashcards are used to prompt the less able while, for the more able, the notes are also labelled with letters and numbers. Most melodic and percussive instruments can be taught using this method.

I transcribe pupils' compositions using the same system. The pupils I work with often find the slightest change hard to cope with, so they need time to get used to the musical instruments and equipment.

Much of the learning takes place when pupils make music together. Each class at Southlands School, which is for boys with Asperger syndrome, now has its own rock band with guitarists, drummer and lead vocalist. Pupils assess their own performance by videoing music sessions.

Two pupils from Southlands School regularly play during assemblies at Hill House School, which caters for pupils who have moderate to severe autism and challenging behaviour. For the Southlands pupils, this is a lesson in using their talents to help others. The Hill House pupils contribute on percussion and vocals, although several also have individual keyboard and singing lessons.

Teaching always has to be at the pupils' pace, never at yours. You might have great ideas, but they won't work without a gradual approach.

Dominic Dufton is the music specialist at Southlands School and Hill House School in Lymington, Hampshire.

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