Music Helping to Make Sense of Sound

This was a very hectic week, with many cancellations and rescheduling of appointments due to Memorial Day, Baccalaureate Mass, graduation, state volleyball playoffs, and an elementary school fire. In the middle of the week, I began to think about what I was going to write about for this blog. I wasn’t even sure what day it was! Towards the end of the week, I got a text from a parent of a nonverbal client stating, ” ‘Josh’ was watching Madagascar 3 and there was a girl singing in French. ‘Josh’ is singing along with it!” “Josh” and I have been working on producing vowel and consonant sounds with fairly good success. It is carrying over well. Without the music, he is able to point to items and frequently say the vowel or beginning consonant sound. I have heard pop-out words over the years, but now “Josh” is able to consciously produce portions of words. My reply to the text, “Wow! Amazing! Hope this means I don’t have to learn the French alphabet.”

What is my point? Did I plan, or ever have any idea about the French? Certainly not. I don’t know anything about French. Is it immediately functional, useful? No, he is not in France. No one speaks French in his surroundings, at least not to my knowledge. So why mention this?

It is a strength. It demonstrates that this previously silent boy can hear and produce meaningful sounds. It proves there is motivation to do so (especially when accompanied by music). Is this a case of anything goes? Yes, it is. Anything the boy can give and develop is another puzzle piece to take beyond to the next step. is this little guy following steps in a procedure? Yes. He is following his steps and is making progress. It is my job to fit those puzzle pieces into the pattern and help him to put them together in a logical order. Do I know exactly what I will get? No, but I know the direction in which we’re going, and I can see that each piece given is a step in that direction.

Why else mention this detail? When we expect these children, who process the world differently than typically developing children do, to demonstrate that they can do these things in the same order as their typically developing peers, we set them up for failure. We say, ” No, they can’t do it. They don’t know it.” Who is it exactly that does not know, does not understand? Do those of us with typically developing children know where it is all going, where its leading? As a mother of three, two of whom have graduated from high school, I can say the path is similar. The puzzle pieces through toddler, elementary, and high school years do not all by themselves make much sense. When all the pieces are put in a timeline, they make perfect sense. The same can be said concerning a piece of music. If one takes a single note at a time, can we see or hear where it is going? No, it all has to come together. It needs to go in a direction. For example, the church choir I play for sometimes really dislikes what they hear, especially when they stop and listen to two parts that have adjacent notes. They do not like the clash they hear. Notes are a part of a chord, a chord part of a progression, leading to one of numerous phrases that make up the conversation we call the song. When they hear the piece in its entirety, up to tempo in context, all harmonies and chords working together to give it its pleasant sweet sound, they then come to love the piece.

Another example, when learning a beautiful tune that changed the meter from 3/4 to 4/4 and then back to 3/4, there was a great lack or clarity amongst the group. It appeared to them that the direction changed, but all they needed was to keep the pulse continuous in order to keep the flow of the conversation to secure clarity. However, when they group slowed the tempo and began to break it down to learn, they could not hear the pulse, the direction, the flow. In stopping the song in time, the story became confusing and erratic. They needed to hear the whole of it to feel on board again.

The beauty that we are able to appreciate comes as the patterns are put together vertically and horizontally. The composition doesn’t make much sense until you hear it in logical sequential order. No two pieces, songs, or children are exactly alike, but they do make sense. Sometimes, when we look at the pieces, we need to be able to stand back and see the pattern to understand how the piece fits,. Music is a kaleidoscope of patterns, Our brains love patterns that repeat. Our brains are sometimes more flexible than our personalities. Within the musical framework, this nonverbal child’s brain was able to not only focus on or make sense of the sound, but then also learn how to put it together and produce it in a new way. Pitch, tempo, meter, individual sounds, and sentences, all put together in a new way, all within a musical context or framework, a kaleidoscope of patterns.

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC

One Comment


I love the example of generalization – singing in French wasn’t your goal, but it’s such a great example of how his skills are being used outside of the music therapy session. Thank you for sharing!


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