Level 5, Proactive: performs, improvises and/or composes short and simple pieces of music, which may increase in complexity over time
People play or sing short and simple pieces, and may improvise or compose new ones. The pieces that are performed may increase in length and complexity over time, as the necessary technical skills develop. At first, tuning and/or timing may approximate to available cultural models, fidelity to which may increase with practice.
People have a grasp of short pieces of music as entities and can produce or reproduce these through one or more modes of performance.
Resources designed for particular groups are available as follows:
P.5.A performs short and simple pieces of music, potentially of growing length and complexity, increasingly 'in time' and (where relevant) 'in tune'
Individuals reproduce short and simple pieces, either vocally or using instruments. These may be of increasing length and complexity over time, as the necessary technical skills develop, which will also enable tuning and/or timing to become more accurate and conform more closely to available cultural models.
Encourage the performance of pieces through introducing and modelling appropriate repertoire, and through music-making in groups (see I.5). Some people may find it motivating to sing or play to an audience (informally or in more formal settings); for others, making music may be a private affair, only every undertaken at home. Some may wish to have their efforts as assessed, and to receive recognition through taking examinations; Sounds of Intent Level 5 corresponds to a range of accomplishment spanning ‘Initial’ to Grade 5 in the UK public music examination system. Some people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, may be content to play or sing the same piece for weeks, months or even years. Others may relish the challenge of the new. Some may enjoy getting every detail of pieces right, and fret if their efforts don‘t match an imagined model, while others may be less concerned with fidelity to the composer’s intentions. Some may show an interest in learning music notation, and may become highly proficient in its use. Others may prefer learning by ear. Either way, absolute pitch (a normally very rare ability that around 5–10% of those on the autism spectrum have), will confer an enormous advantage, since it enables learners to build up detailed cognitive representations of pieces without the need for recourse to external sounds.
The long-term mental images of notes that absolute pitch provides can populate the long-term memory of pieces too, and greatly facilitates the learning and retention of music. Some learners at Sounds of Intent Level 5 may start to develop a knowledge of music theory and its associated terminology, enabling them to label inter alia pitches, chords and note lengths, and to discuss concepts such as ‘major’ and ‘minor’. The crucial thing for practitioners in working with those on the autism spectrum and who have learning difficulties is to adopt a person-centred approach, particularly in the initial stages of the teacher-pupil relationship. Begin by finding out about a new pupil’s interests (from parents, carers or teachers if necessary), and be content observe them in action for a while, and to be directed by their preferences. Gradually, once a relationship of trust is established, you may be able to take the lead, to a greater or lesser extent. Ultimately, if they are to enjoy making music for and with others (see I.5), then they may need to learn to accept compromise, even if they never grow to delight in it. Indeed, music can provide an excellent medium for the these personal qualities to be developed and exercised.
Michael has moderate learning difficulties. He also has absolute pitch and enjoys playing the piano. Here he is practising for his ABRSM Preparatory Test.
Michael plays through Boating Lake, which uses both hands, with concentration, watching his hands carefully. There are no errors in terms of the notes played, though some slight hesitations in timing. There is little or no dynamic variety.
Michael can successfully perform a simple piece on the piano from memory.
Other videos of Michael
To see Michael playing a piece he has composed, go to P.5.C.
To see him improvising with his music therapist, go to I.5.D.
Liam has moderate learning difficulties. He has a special affinity for music, and enjoys accompanying himself on the omnichord as he sings. Here he is with his teacher at school.
Liam sings the first part of Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, accompanying himself with the correct chords (and at the same pitch as the original song). The intonation of his singing is variable, and the words largely come across as a stream of approximations to the vowel sounds of the original.
Liam has internalised the melody and chords of the opening part of Don’t Stop Me Now and can reproduce them. The inaccuracies in his vocal intonation are almost certainly due to physical issues rather than perceptual, since his reproduction of the chords suggests that he has absolute pitch. It appears that the words of the song have been processed purely as different qualities of sound rather than in any symbolic way.
Other video of Liam
To see Liam accompanying his teacher singing, go to I.5.B (d) (4th video).
P.5.B improvises on familiar pieces of music, varying the original material in simple ways
Individuals vary short and simple pieces of music with which they are familiar in performance, by changing one feature of rhythm or melody through the addition, removal or alteration of material.
Although it is often not taught by instrumental and vocal tutors working in the Western classical tradition (with the notable exception of church organists), improvisation – making up music as it is played or sung – is a natural part of engaging in musical activity that anyone can do. To teach improvisation at Sounds of Intent Level 5, start by encouraging learners to play by ear (if they don’t already do so). Next, try simple rhythmic modifications. One approach to this is to think of a song melody and change certain of the lyrics – as many children’s songs and action songs do. There are also a number of examples in the Tuning In set https://ambertrust.org/amberplus/app/music-resources/. A further stage is to add extra melody notes between those that are already present – for example, filling in the gaps between leaps, or moving away from and then back to the original note. As an example, consider the openings to Twinkle, Twinkle and the theme to the TV series 'Eastenders'. Can you hear how the latter can be heard as an elaboration of the former (or the former a simplification of the latter)? Finally, take a tune with a simple chordal accompaniment, break down each of the harmonies into its constituent pitches, and use these are the basis for creating new melodies that use the original rhythmic structure, and then evolve from that starting point to incorporate new rhythmic ideas. Can the person you are working with do the same?
Freddie is on the autism spectrum and has limited expressive language. He spends a good deal of time listening to excerpts of recorded music that he chooses, and will play them over and over again. He has absolute pitch. Here he is with his piano teacher having one of his weekly lessons. At this stage, Freddie prefers to touch the keys and sing the notes they would have sounded, rather than press them down.
He also likes his teacher to hold his hands as he plays.
Here, Freddie, helped by his teacher, is playing Twinkle, Twinkle in different keys. Instead of singing the notes, he unexpectedly starts to improvise an elaborated version of the melody, without words.
Freddie intuitively understands the Western major tonal system, and can improvise a melody over a series of familiar harmonies.
Other videos of Freddie
To see Freddie singing a chromatic scale, go to I.3.D (c) (3rd video). To see him doing five-finger exercises on the piano, go to P.4.B (b) (2nd video).
P.5.C creates short and simple pieces of music, potentially of increasing length, complexity and coherence, whose general characteristics may be intended to convey particular moods or feelings, and which may be linked to external associations
Individuals compose short and simple pieces of music, which may increase in length and complexity over time, and become increasingly musically coherent. The general characteristics of the pieces may be intended to convey particular emotions, and the pieces may be associated with certain activities or events.
Teach by example, creating short and simple new pieces with a specific feel or emotional intent, or for a particular purpose, such as a ‘going home’ song, for example, or a song to celebrate an anniversary or success. Assist learners in suggesting ideas for pieces, showing them how to build up a melody by repeating, varying or linking dissimilar motifs (as at Sounds of Intent Level 4) within a given harmonic and/or metrical framework, and using the designs of well-known songs and other pieces within the learner’s culture. Record what is created for future reference and enjoyment.
Michael has moderate learning difficulties. He also has absolute pitch and enjoys playing the piano. Here he is playing, from memory, a melody, with variations, that he previously composed for the piano over a given series of harmonies in D minor. Only one variation is shown in the video.
Michael’s melody, and the variation, fits with the harmonies, conforming to the norms of Western minor tonality. He maintains his part while being accompanied by his music therapist (cf. I.5.B).
Michael’s composition shows that he has an intuitive understanding of Western minor tonality. While the tune and variation were intially improvised, the fact that they are now crystallised in his memory (and in the mind of the music therapist, who wrote them down) means that the piece can reasonably be regarded as a composition (see P.5.B).
Other videos of Michael
To see Michael playing a piece from the piano repertoire for beginners, go to the video in P.5.A . To see him improvising with his music therapist, go to the video in I.5.D.
P.5.D develops the technique to produce short and simple pieces of music, potentially evolving to meet the needs of material of growing complexity and length
Individuals have the physical capacity to perform short and simple pieces through singing, playing or managing technology. Their technique may evolve to enable them to produce material of increasing complexity and length.
Promote the acquisition and development of technique through modelling what is required, through verbal instruction and/or through physical assistance – potentially fading support and guidance as a learner’s skills develop. Learners, particular those on the autism spectrum, may be self taught and/or may resist doing something someone in the way that doesn’t immediately come naturally to them. A learner may have physical constraints on what they are able to do. Hence, you may need to be flexible and imaginative in helping someone develop their capacity to play an instrument or sing. Rather than feeling inhibited by established ways of doing things, think creatively about what is important to enable a learner to play music of the type they enjoy. Consider arranging or adapting pieces to make them suitable for those with particular physical needs or abilities. The choice of instrument is particularly important (though a learner’s motivations and interests may be an overriding factor). Bear in mind that some instruments, like the keyboard, can be played with either hand (rather than both). Other instruments can be modified to be played with one hand. And with digital technology – which essentially works as a series of switches operated by gestures or other physical movements that can linked to any sounds – anything is theoretically possible.
Romy, who is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal, is having one of her bi-weekly lessons with her piano teacher. She has absolute pitch. Romy’s father is present (and filming the session). The teacher is helping Romy work on her technique – in particular using her thumb. Romy was self-taught from an early age, and, by default, plays almost entirely using the middle three fingers of her right. The teacher’s hope is that, while she may not understand why acquiring a more conventional technique may be to her advantage (in enabling her to play more complex pieces and with greater fluency), Romy will gradually internalise the motor patterns he is teaching her, and then introduce them without thinking into her playing (which she does entirely by ear). Romy has little tolerance of being asked or guided to do things, and for her to cooperate at all in working together on tasks is a major step forward. She will indicate if she does not want to do something by stopping immediately and, typically, vocalising loudly.
With the teacher physically guiding her and singing which finger to use, Romy plays a C major scale ascending. Her concentration and tolerance of co-working this way lasts for one iteration of the scale, before she breaks away and starts to play something else.
Romy is willing to engage with the teacher in improving her technique for a limited time on a task that she understands, enjoys and knows is time-limited.
Other videos of Romy
To see Romy reacting in a sensory way to the sound of the piano, go to R.2.D (b) (2nd video). To see her playing a pattern on the piano, go to P.3.A (b) (2nd video). To see her recognising a motif being repeated, go to R.4.B. To see her responding to different motifs being juxtaposed, go to R.4.C. To see her linking motifs by varying them, go to P.4.B (c) (3rd video). To see her reproducing a motif with which is is familiar, go to P.4.A (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a motif for someone else to copy, go to I.4.A. To see her juxtaposing different motifs, go to I.4.C (a) (1st video). To see her choosing songs, go to R.5.A. To see her learning the fingering for a scale on the piano, go to P.5.D (a) (1st video). To see her playing a Bach prelude, go to P.5.D (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, sharing a common part, go to I.5.A (d) (4th video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, each with a different part, go to I.5.B. (b). To see her showing a mature response to music, go to R.6.A (b) (2nd video).
Romy, who is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal, is having one of her bi-weekly lessons with her piano teacher. She has absolute pitch. Having been taught through physical guidance the finger patterns of all the major scales with her in the right hand, the teacher is no encouraging her to play them indepedently. A game has been established, which the music teacher introduced to motivate Romy to play all 12 scales (rising in semitones from C). At the end of the 13th scale (which is back in C, an octave higher than the original), Romy has come to expect the opening phrase of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. By delaying its onset, Romy enjoys the game all the more! In the session shown, her father and three visitors are in the room, who are observing and join in the singing.
Romy plays the scales, largely with standard fingerings. She clearly anticipates the Hallelujah Chorus, and enjoys both the delay and its eventual arrival. She is comfortable with the high level of volume in the room, which, given her sensitivity to sound, shows how far she has come since her early music sessions (see R.2.D (b) (2nd video)). After two cycles of scales, she shortens the process by starting on B – which leaves only that scale and one other (on C), in order to get the reward of the 'Hallelujah'.
Some standard fingering patterns are evident in Romy’s playing (at least in the context of the scales in which they were learnt – observation of her fingering in playing pieces that use similar patterns of notes would be required in order to determine the extent to which the conventional patterns have become embedded). Beyond this, her recognition of the simple chromatic structure of the starting notes of the scales, and its culimation in the opening of the Hallelujah Chorus, is evident from Romy’s commencement on B. Her musical wit and intelligence shine through too.
Other videos of Romy
To see Romy reacting in a sensory way to the sound of the piano, go to R.2.D (b) (2nd video). To see her playing a pattern on the piano, go to P.3.A (b) (2nd video). To see her recognising a motif being repeated, go to R.4.B. To see her responding to different motifs being juxtaposed, go to R.4.C. To see her linking motifs by varying them, go to
P.4.B (c) (3rd video). To see her reproducing a motif with which is is familiar, go to P.4.A (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a motif for someone else to copy, go to I.4.A. To see her juxtaposing different motifs, go to I.4.C (a) (1st video). To see her choosing songs, go to R.5.A. To see her learning the fingering for a scale on the piano, go to P.5.D (a) (1st video). To see her playing a Bach prelude, go to P.5.D (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, sharing a common part, go to I.5.A (d) (4th video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, each with a different part, go to I.5.B. (b). To see her showing a mature response to music, go to R.6.A (b) (2nd video).
Romy is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal. Nonetheless, she has absolute pitch. Here, she is having one of her bi-weekly lessons with her piano teacher. Her father and a visitor are present in the room. Romy is learning Bach’s first prelude from the '48'. Her teacher had tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce Romy to the prelude over a period of three or four years, but she would never let him progress much beyond the first bar. The experience appeared to be too overwhelming for her, inducing a very strong emotional response. (Indeed, for a time, the arpeggiated chord of G7 alone was capable of reducing her to tears.) Both Romy’s father and her teacher had the sense that, were Romy to engage with the prelude by learning to play it herself (which would mean that the locus of control resided in her), she would not only have a rich and pleasurable aesthetic experience, her evolving capacity of emotional self-regulation would also be strengthened. The issue was how to get over the threshold of acute anxiety that the sound of the first few notes engendered. Her teacher tried playing the prelude in a different key (a strategy that had been effective in similar situations in the past), but to no avail. He then attempted to reduce the affective impact by producing a rendition based on Glenn Gould’s quirky interpretation of the piece, whose slow tempo and separated notes in the right hand leave one with a sense of emotional detachment. Romy quickly came to tolerate this version, and then became obsessed with it, even showing herself willing to be helped to learn to play the prelude (a willingness that was quite exceptional for her). Hence her teacher took her through the piece from the beginning, adding an extra bar each lesson (which were each labelled with a number). Every time Romy played up to and including the new bar, she had the option of an ‘iPad break’ (which she sometimes, though by no means always, would take.) There were two key elements to the teaching: prompting the transition from one harmony to another through sounding the correct notes or moving her hand over them, and encouraging her to use her thumb in the right hand, through verbal and physical prompts. The teacher named the chords as they were played in the belief that Romy was capable of learning the harmonic labels, which would potentially assist future learning and playing in a group.
Romy plays the piece up to and including bar 15 with some physical prompting and support and verbal encouragement. Romy’s vocalising and movements suggest she takes pleasure in her playing, and she enjoys the interaction with her teacher, with eye contact and smiles.
Romy has a sense of the piece as a whole, and, at the time of the video, can remember the chord changes of the first 15 bars. She is developing the technique (with support) to play the prelude with conventional fingering patterns.
Other videos of Romy
To see Romy reacting in a sensory way to the sound of the piano, go to R.2.D (b) (2nd video). To see her playing a pattern on the piano, go to [P.3.A (b) (2nd video). To see her recognising a motif being repeated, go to R.4.B. To see her responding to different motifs being juxtaposed, go to R.4.C. To see her linking motifs by varying them, go to
P.4.B (c) (3rd video). To see her reproducing a motif with which is is familiar, go to [P.4.A (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a motif for someone else to copy, go to I.4.A] To see her juxtaposing different motifs, go to I.4.C (a) (1st video). To see her choosing songs, go to R.5.A. To see her learning the fingering for a scale on the piano, go to P.5.D (a) (1st video). To see her playing a number of scales on the keyboard, go to P.5.D (b) (2nd video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, sharing a common part, go to I.5.A (d) (4th video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, each with a different part, go to I.5.B. (b). To see her showing a mature response to music, go to R.6.A (b) (2nd video).
Six levels: performs or improvises pieces solo at the level of ‘Initial’ (pass, merit or distinction) or Grade 1 (pass, merit or distinction) in the UK public music examination system, or composes pieces of equivalent length and complexity
Alice is 16. She has moderate learning difficulties and is on the autism spectrum. She has been playing the electric guitar for about a year, and for the last few weeks has started working through the Rockschool Grade 1. Although Alice is too shy to want to play in front of other people at this stage, her teacher believes she would get a ‘merit’ were she to take the exam.
Neil is seven. He is blind and is on the autism spectrum. He taught himself to play the keyboard, and can manage simple pieces that he has heard, using both hands, with the tune in the right hand and chords in the left. The music teacher at school thinks that pieces are around Grade 1 in difficulty.
Six levels: performs or improvises pieces solo at the level of Grade 2 (pass, merit or distinction) or Grade 3 (pass, merit or distinction) in the UK public music examination system, or composes pieces of equivalent length and complexity
Zeeshan is 10. He has moderate learning difficulties. He likes to create pieces on the guitar using loop pedals. He builds up a basic framework of two or three chords and then improvises on them. The textures he creates and simple but pleasing and around the level of Grade 2 in the Rockschool system.
Georgie is 17. She has moderate learning difficulties, but enjoys playing the piano. She has had lessons for a number of years, and has made gradual but progress. She is now trying a couple of pieces from the Trinity College London Grade 3 book. She sometimes finds coordinating both hands at the same time difficult, but she persists, playing pieces at speeds she can manage, and she is proud of what she has been able to achieve.
Six levels: performs or improvises pieces solo at the level of Grade 4 (pass, merit or distinction) or Grade 5 (pass, merit or distinction) in the UK public music examination system, or composes pieces of equivalent length and complexity
Maisie is 14. She has moderate learning difficulties, a hearing loss and weakness down her left hand side. As a little girl, she loved the sound of the trumpet, and when she was 10, her parents decided to find her a teacher to see how she would get on. Maisie is doing well, and has recently performed in a school concert, playing one of the pieces from the ABRSM Grade 5 syllabus.
Victor is in his twenties. He is on the autism spectrum and has moderate learning difficulties. He likes to improvise on the keyboard, usually basing what he does on songs he knows. He tends to use standard chord figuration in the left hand, and add notes to the melodies – sometimes departing from them quite substantially. The results are straightforward but persuasive, with a sense of musical coherence and a clear structure.