Posted by: Marie | December 28, 2009

(212) Little moments – Part 1 of 2

Post #212
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, August 8, 2009]

After another week of working to keep myself calm while waiting for the aforementioned large sum of money to arrive, it finally arrived last night.


I was getting rather worried that it was not going to arrive at all – that I would have to figure out a way to get by without it. That would have been a huge challenge because my grocery money was getting low, as was my supply of groceries. I was getting ready to ask for help with foodstuff from family and friends.

But, I didn’t have to do that. Today, I’m writing checks and preparing to catch up on the keeping of my promises . . . and the buying of groceries. It is amazing how grateful I am feeling right now for a carton of fresh soymilk. Maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn – to remain grateful for the pleasurable manifestations that have been made obvious to me.


This morning, I had another piano lesson with my six-year-old autistic student, Matt. We continued working on rhythm notation, which we started a couple of weeks ago.

His Life by Martin Chen

Matt’s innate ability to embody and express rhythm is amazing. I can clap a relatively complex four-measure rhythm and he can repeat it back flawlessly – and he does it while simultaneously transfixed by a light fixture or the ceiling fan.

His auditory skills are his strongest. So, the true test comes within a visual context. Given the challenge he has in filtering visual stimuli, I thought it would be difficult to teach him to read rhythm notation.

Two weeks ago, we started by drawing pictures of the various note values . . . one beat, two beats, three beats, four beats. It took him all of five minutes to get that down (we think he has a photographic memory). I used visually-simplistic flashcards to test his comprehension – he clapped the rhythms, first try, with very few minor mistakes. Amazing.

I tested his comprehension with a music lesson book, which is much more visually confusing. I asked him to pick out examples of the various note values – no problem. About then, he started losing interest in the study of rhythm, so we moved on to chords for the conclusion of his lesson (chords are his favorite part of the lesson).

Last week, we reviewed our earlier lesson on rhythm notation. He repeated back to me everything I had taught him, including the drawing of the notes on paper. Okay, I guess he got it, LOL! So, we practiced clapping rhythms using flashcards. Then, we practiced clapping some rhythms using the simplest songs in the lesson book – no problem.

While I had the lesson book open, he noticed the different rests and the eighth notes. He wanted to know what they were. Rests are fairly easy to explain – he caught onto those within a couple of minutes. However, eighth notes are something else – that involves fractions since each eighth note is worth ½ beat.

I tried to explain the difference between a whole apple and a half of an apple – and I tried to relate that back to the notes. While he really enjoyed pretending to “cut” my “apple” in half (knife = his hand in a karate-chop position, apple = my two fists held together), I’m quite sure he wasn’t able to relate that back to the note fractions.

So, I just told him that we clap the eighth notes twice as fast – and I held his hands in my hands while I clapped the rhythm so he could feel it physically. That worked. His notation vocabulary doubled in that lesson. Wow.

Today, I didn’t even use the flashcards. I went right to the more complex songs in the lesson book. I asked him to clap a song where the melody meanders from the right hand to the left hand and back up again . . with rests scattered all along in the opposing clefs. The song had a number of eighth notes. I thought it might be a challenge . . . but, no . . . I helped him the first time and he followed the notation without help the second time. Amazing.


When I first started with Matt, I thought he had learned to read tonal notation (indicates which note should be played based on where the notehead sits on the staff) in the first lesson. I used color-coding back then.

Subsequently, I discovered that he was “reading” by color only, not by location. So, I had to drop the color-coding and use black only. With that change, we had to start over with the learning to read tonal notation – and it has taken more than one lesson, LOL.

I have found the most effective way for him to learn the notation is for us to sit at the breakfast bar in the kitchen and review the notes on the staff . . . we draw horizontal lines through the “line” noteheads and vertical lines through the “space” noteheads because . . . well, because it makes visual sense . . . try it and you’ll see.

I hadn’t noticed that until I started working with Matt. I was struggling to find a way to explain “line” and “space” when I saw how the flow of the staff lines was completed by drawing horizontal and vertical lines through the noteheads. When I showed him, he understood it immediately. (How nice to find someone who “gets” my “language”!)

Anyway, we don’t need to be at the piano for him to learn the identity of each of the notes because of his perfect pitch. The piano actually distracts. By humming the pitches while drawing the horizontal and vertical lines and writing the letter names of the notes, the association is much stronger. So, we sit at the kitchen counter and hum to each other. (I don’t have perfect pitch, but I have good relative pitch. Once he gives me Middle C, I can hang with him – and, he corrects me if I get off-pitch.)

While I can carry a tune and I have a serviceable singing voice, I am not a “singer”. And, my voice is in the low alto / high tenor range. Today, when Matt and I got to the “F” at the top of the treble clef, my voice started disintegrating and screeching. He thought that was hilarious! He got to giggling, which caused me to start giggling . . . we were all but rolling on the floor because it got to be just too funny. I bet he won’t ever forget that note! LOL

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

Quotes 123_1

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