Level 5, Reactive: attends to whole pieces of music, anticipating prominent structural features and responding to general characteristics
People attend to pieces as a whole – potentially of increasing length and complexity. They may recognise prominent structural features, such as the choruses of songs, for example, and they may respond to general characteristics such as mode, groove and texture. They may develop preferences for particular pieces.
Perceptually and cognitively, the person concerned recognises pieces of music as entities in terms of a sequence of related groups of events and a framework of pitch and time upon which events are ‘hung’.
Resources designed for particular groups are available as follows:
R.5.A attends to whole pieces of music, becoming familiar with an increasing number and developing preferences
Individuals attend to pieces of music as complete entities, concentrating throughout. Further evidence of their knowledge of a piece and their engagement with it may be gleaned proactively (P.5.A) or interactively (I.5.A).They may become familiar with an increasing number of different pieces, potentially of increasing length and complexity, and develop preferences.
Give children, young people and adults the opportunity to hear and listen to a range of short and simple pieces, with features of sound that they are known to like (certain instruments or voices, or a particular feel, for example). Be sure to label the pieces verbally or through other means, so they can be referred to in future choice-making. Seek to extend people's experience of music through exposure to a wide repertoire, potentially of growing length and complexity. Consider using the Soundabout Music Tracks: Songs https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/tuning-into-music/level-5-songs/, which comprise simplified versions of the Tuning In songs https://ambertrust.org/amberplus/app/music-resources/, whose lyrics are rooted in everyday activities and language.
Romy is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal. Despite this, she has absolute pitch, and she responds very strongly to music. Here, she is having one of her twice-weekly lessons with her piano teacher. Her father is present, as ever. The teacher’s musical aims are to widen the repertoire of pieces that Romy is prepared to engage with, to encourage her to play whole pieces rather than fragments of them, and to develop her technique (by using the thumb in her right hand and to play with her left hand as well). The teacher’s main aim beyond music is for Romy to be more willing to tolerate other people’s ideas and wishes. Romy and her teacher have an established way of working, whereby either party will suggest the next piece by playing the first few notes of it. In Romy’s case, she will either accede to such a request by joining in, or she may start to play a different tune instead – a counter-suggestion. Sometimes, she will play the tune proposed by the teacher, but in a different key. Through this means, she can join the musical conversation but still keep a large element of control as to its content and direction. When Romy initiates a piece, the teacher usually goes along with her idea by supplying an accompaniment. Sometimes, however, he deliberately tries a different piece instead, to help strengthen Romy’s sense of ‘give and take’ in the musical dialogue (an effect which it is hoped will transfer to everyday situations). If Romy’s musical ideas are ignored or countered, she will typically reiterate them more loudly, and reinforce them through vocalising or, as a last resort, physically intervening. Romy’s choices are almost always rooted in what has gone before, through melodies sharing a common opening interval, for example, or even a particular pitch. Romy’s music lessons are judged to be crucial for her well-being: they are the one area in her life where she can contribute to an interaction with fellow human beings on equal terms, and she relishes the chance to engage in a sophisticated way with another person, sharing and exploring a wide range of emotions and ideas, all through the medium of music. The five-minute video shown here is part of a much longer session of around two hours – the typical length of Romy’s lessons.
Romy plays a slightly modified version of the opening phrase of O Little Town of Bethlehem in A. Her teacher responds by playing the (original) phrase, and the next one, with harmonies. Romy signals her approval and pleasure through flapping her hands and smiling. There is a pause. The teacher offers the opening line of Lord of the Dance in G. Romy cuts across the end of the phrase with a slower version of the interval that opens the song (D rising to G). She repeats it. The teacher is aware that Romy is not referring to Lord of the Dance (since the tempo is too slow), but offers it back to Romy anyway, to elicit a fuller response from her. Romy vocalises to tell him to stop and offers a counter-suggestion that also uses an interval rising to G – Rockin’ All Over the World. The teacher picks up on the suggestion. And so the session continues. In the course of four-and-a-half minutes that follow, Romy chooses the following pieces: Tonight from West Side Story in G, O Little Town of Bethlehem in A, Cockles and Mussels in E, Sailing in G, the Goodbye Song in G from Tuning In (to convey symbolic meaning for Romy, the song has to be in E flat – hence, here, she treats it purely as a piece of abstract music), O Little Town of Bethlehem in D, Cockles and Mussels in D, and a passage made up of motifs from Beethoven’s violin concerto in D, F and C.
Although this session is clearly interactive in nature, it is important too for the insights it offers into Romy’s capacity to process, remember and respond to music. Indeed, the music that non-verbal children like Romy produce may be the only way for other people to explore the contents of the black box that is her musical mind. Romy’s habit of using a motif to stand for a whole piece (rather like the figure of speech known as ‘synecdoche’), shows that she understands how short fragments of music combine to form longer musical narratives. Moreover, she enjoys toying with what in literature would be called ‘intertextuality’ – recognising the similarities between motifs from different pieces, and using them to sustain the musical interaction in a coherent way as it unfolds. This implies the Romy is familiar with a number of pieces (that happen to be in the broad tradition of Western tonal music).
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 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 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) (2nd video). To see her showing a mature response to music, go to R.6.A (b) (2nd video).
R.5.B recognises and anticipates prominent structural features (such as the choruses of songs)
Individuals recognise and anticipate the choruses of songs, for example, or a pause in each verse of a strophic song, even when the words are not present.
Expose people to music with simple, repetitive structures that facilitate recognition and anticipation. Community songs from different cultures are often a good place to start – designed to be learnt easily just by listening and joining in, and often with accompanying actions or a simple iterative storyline. To make sure the person you are working with is following the structure through the music rather than the words, try instrumental versions to see whether recognition and anticipation are still present. The Soundabout Music Tracks: Songs https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/tuning-into-music/level-5-songs/ offer material that can be assimilated easily.
Jaydip is on the autism spectrum and is visually impaired. William has moderate learning difficulties and visual impairment. They are on a summer vacation scheme organised by their school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. In this session, they are working on the structure of songs, using an instrumental version of Sound and Silence from the Tuning In set. The song has a distinct structure, with a faster section followed by one that is slower, punctuated by a short period of silence.
Jaydip and William join in the performance, playing a simple beat on their drums. They anticipate the structural changes in the song (without the lyrics, which would signal these).
This shows that Jaydip and William can recognise and anticipate prominent structural features in relatively simple pieces of music.
Other videos of Jaydip and William
To see Jaydip playing a beat that initially gets quicker, and then louder, go to P.3.C (a) (1st video).To see Jaydip copying a rhythm played by William, go to P.3.B (b) (2nd video). To see William making a pattern through repeated pitches, go to P.3.A (a) (1st video). To see him producing a regular beat, go to P.3.B (b) (2nd video). To see him playing a rhythmic motif, go to P.4.A (a) (1st video).
R.5.C responds to general characteristics of pieces (such as mode, groove and texture)
Individuals respond differentially to the general characteristics of pieces, such as major/minor modes (in the Western tradition), different metres (such as three or four time), different ‘feels’ or grooves (such as swing or rap) and different textures (brought about through the use of particular combinations of instruments or voices).
Give people the opportunity to hear pieces with differing general characteristics in different contexts. Try moving and dancing to the music so its feel is embodied. If possible, discuss, for example, how quiet, slow music may be perceived as peaceful, whereas loud, quick music may be felt to be exciting; how Western music in the minor mode may be regarded as ‘sad’ and music in the major mode, ‘happy’.
Ronan is blind and, at the time of the video recording, had very little speech. However, he has absolute pitch and started to teach himself to play the piano before he was two. He’s had regular lessons since he was around two years and six months. Ronan is very much a self-directed learner, though he enjoys playing with other people, on his own terms. He learns entirely by ear, and has been having a good deal of physical guidance to nudge his technique towards a way of playing that will be enable him to play the kind of music he may wish to tackle as he gets older.
Ronan begins by improvising a melody over an Alberti bass in C minor. His teacher encourages him to change harmony by adding a new bass line and further broken chords high up on the keyboard. Ronan introduces a chromatic motif, which is taken up by his teacher, who uses it to move the melody up the keyboard to a climax, at which point he introduces a loud, repeated chord pattern. Ronan joins him with his right hand, further developing the chromatic motif.
Throughout, Ronan has a sense of mode and metre, to which his improvisations conform. He also uses motifs coherently to give the music a session of movement, towards and away from the point of climax. His capacity to understand and produce music is very advanced for his age, and far outstrips his ability to conceptualise what he is doing or to communicate about it in words. In the case of children like Ronan, making music may well be the only way of telling how he thinks about it – a central principle of the field of study known as ‘applied musicology’.
R.5.D responds to pieces through connotations brought about by their association with objects, people, activities or occasions in the external world
Individuals respond to a piece or pieces as a consequence of their association with other things. For example, a ‘goodbye’ song may result in sadness, or a theme tune to an online series may induce excitement at the thought of the programme to follow.
As well as building on the connections that certain pieces of music may already have in a person’s mind, some people on the autism spectrum with limited language may find it helpful to be introduced to songs and other pieces that can be used systematically to facilitate understanding, anticipation and communication. There are many examples that can be used as starting points in Soundabout Music Tracks: Songs https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/tuning-into-music/level-5-songs/. Here, tunes are associated through everyday language with activities, people and places, and the music itself can come to acquire symbolic meaning. Other possibilities include using music in the environment to indicate what is about to happen. For example, a particular piece can be played discreetly five minutes or so before it is time to go to school or the day centre, and – even non-consciously – may ease the transition.
Shivan is profoundly autistic and blind. He has no expressive language. He loves music, however. In the video, it is the end of one of his weekly music sessions with his piano teacher. His one-to-one support worker is also present.
The teacher sings and plays the Goodbye song from Tuning In. Shivan teaches for the teacher’s hand, which he holds. At the end of the song, he raises his arms and rocks a little – a gesture that is known to indicate an emotional response in Shivan. The teacher repeats the song, and Shivan again seeks to make physical contact, and his response at the end is even greater.
Shivan recognises the Goodbye song, and its symbolic meaning, and responds to it emotionally.
Other videos of Shivan
To see Shivan reacting to sounds getting louder, go to R.2.B (b) (2nd video).
To see him making patterns on the keyboard, go to younger boy imitating a simple vocal pattern, go to I.3.D (a) (1st video). To see him singing a whole song, go to I.5.A (a) (1st video).
Any one of the following: (a) anticipates prominent structural features of short pieces (played and not sung); (b) recognises or responds to at least two different metres or grooves (such as three and four time, rap or rock), shown for example, through moving to the music in different ways; (c) recognises or responds in different ways to different modes (such as major and minor keys)
Helen is in her forties. She has moderate learning difficulties. She loves to dance to music, and has a good feel for a number of different grooves, from rock to disco, from reggae to hip hop.
Ariel is five. He has moderate learning difficulties. He loves children’s action songs, and knows what to do, even when the teacher plays them on the keyboard without singing – he can follow the simple musical structures.
Any two of the following: (a) anticipates prominent structural features of short pieces (played and not sung); (b) recognises or responds to at least two different metres or grooves (such as three and four time, rap or rock), shown for example, through moving to the music in different ways; (c) recognises or responds in different ways to different modes (such as major and minor keys)
Chiko is 13. He has moderate learning difficulties and is on the autism spectrum. He communicates largely by pointing at symbols on a board. His music teacher at school has been showing the class between different scales (major and minor) and the effects each has on the different emotions that pieces can engender. By pointing at a happy face or a sad face, Chiko can show that he can reliably tell what mode a piece is in. He can also indicate whether a piece is in 3 or 4 time by conducting to the beat.
Estelle is 18. She has severe learning difficulties and is on the autism spectrum. She is non-verbal. But she loves drawing when she hears music. As a piece is played, she draws a line that matches the ups and downs of the melody, and she will choose different colours according to the mode of the music: bright reds and yellows for major keys, and blues and greens for pieces in minor keys.
All three of the following: (a) anticipates prominent structural features of short pieces (played and not sung); (b) recognises or responds to at least two different metres or grooves (such as three and four time, rap or rock), shown for example, through moving to the music in different ways; (c) recognises or responds in different ways to different modes (such as major and minor keys)
Eamon is 14. He is on the autism spectrum. He loves traditional Irish dancing, and has learnt some simple routines that show he understands the structure and feel of the music – both the metre and the key.
Paul is 12. He is on the autism spectrum and has severe learning difficulties. He is learning the piano, and can play short pieces, hands together. He loves to improvise too. Although Paul can’t explain to his piano teacher his understanding of music using words, she knows that he has a grasp of simple structures, and metres and modes, since he can elaborate on melodies in simple ways while the left hand continues and accompaniment, and he can switch some tunes from major to minor and vice versa.