Continued from: A Lesson Plan for Children with Autism
Our lesson was about 30 minutes long. Reviewing what we have already learned, I let Mano put together the clarinet by herself without much prompting from me. However, it took her about ten minutes to figure out everything in an organized manner; what goes where when.
She quickly realized that a larger section of the clarinet cannot fit into a smaller end. Previously, she would try to fit these two incompatible pieces together. Mano did begin by putting the reed in her mouth, something that I taught her during the first lesson.
Squeaky sounds still bother her so I tried to move along the lesson to playing on the entire instrument. The book she is using in school is what we are using, though I am dissatisfied with this method book because it begins on a difficult note, “G”. This is played with no fingers covering any the holes so it begins with a balancing act since the only parts of the body that are holding the clarinet is the left thumb and the mouth. Mano had trouble balancing the clarinet and would hold on to other keys to compensate, pretty usual for many beginners. A fair note to begin would be first line “E” where the thumb and first finger of the right hand are covering holes, along with the left thumb and mouth.
As Mano is slowly learning English and is fighting some speech issues, teaching her yet another vocabulary (the language of music) presents some challenges. I have found myself translating technical terms into Portuguese for her and that seems to work.
Explaining the concept of time to newcomers is always a challenge since one cannot touch or taste it. It is an abstract aspect of music which is heard and felt. To demonstrate the difference between a whole note and a quarter note (1/4 the time period of a whole note) took a little imagination. I found myself rarely sitting down because my explaining entailed lots of movement on my part. For instance I would walk faster for a quarter note and slower for a whole note. Next time, I will have Mano demonstrate this with me. She has a problem with the word quarter since nothing like that sound exists in her native language.
After about 20 minutes, Mano showed that she was tired and was losing focus and concentration. We played through one page of her school method book.
Two observations: I had to slow myself in presenting too much information. When there was too much to learn she seemed confused and complained how difficult everything was. When I concentrated on one thing at a time, that seem to work better.
Mano can be quite amazing at times. When we were talking about rhythm, she interrupted me by singing something. At first I wasn’t able to decipher what she was singing. Then finally after her “boom boom boom boom”, I realized that amazingly she was singing the opening to the music heard in the Kubrick’s 1968 film, “2001 Space Odyssey” which comes from the German composer, Richard Strauss. What 13-year-old knows that?
To sum up, Mano is making progress. She is making a sound on the clarinet. Her embouchure (mouth formation) is improving, and she is slowly learning to use her tongue (“tah”) rather than her throat (“cah”) when producing a note. It is slow going at times and occasionally she loses interest and then returns to the task at hand. Though repetition of directions is usually the way to teach beginners, I need to move on when I see she is getting frustrated. Things do not have to be perfect; passable is definitely the norm for me to accept. I myself must stop comparing her in my mind to a student without autism. I find myself making up pedagogical strategies as I go long to fit Mano’s strengths and weaknesses.