Having a child with Down syndrome, Part XIX: Music

Copyright © 2011, Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

Music is a big part of my life.  It always has been.  My mother was a very accomplished pianist and saw to it that our house was filled with music.  She also insisted that both my brothers and I took piano lessons.  While I play to a certain degree of incompetence, it is certainly not my instrument.  Since Alice was born, we’ve made sure that there were simple percussion instruments and simple wind instruments and we’ve done guitar and singing and some music classes.

This year, with Alice entering second grade, looked like the right time to start doing more formal lessons with her.  When you need to do this, where do you start?  In my case, I chose to start where I started.  The music teacher in my grade school use the Kodaly method for teaching music in first grade and this seemed like a good place to start.  Like many things, I play to my strengths – I have a very strong memory and can recall a fair amount of the lessons that were presented at the start.

The method works like this – children are started with simple vocabulary and symbology: a quarter note and a quarter rest to start.  The quarter note is called ‘ta’ and the the quarter rest ‘rest’.  Each is presented with a gesture – ta a clap, rest your hands falling out to the side.  Alternately, you can use simple percussion instruments: sticks, sandpaper blocks, bells, triangle, etc.  Notes are written on plain paper – no lines – and the children play them with direction to start even rhythm.  Then children pick the canned patterns themselves and direct or pick who will direct.

I am at this stage now with Alice and it is fun.  Fun for her because she likes the praise, likes the activity, likes to direct and so on.  Fun for me because I love music.  More so because I can see what this is bringing her.  Alice had a stroke when she was born.  It continues to affect her right side.  Many of the things we do to develop that side are, quite frankly, nagging. The same way that every other parent has to constantly repeat ‘cover your cough’, ‘magic word’, etc., we have to say ‘napkin hand’, ‘use two hands’ and ‘other hand’.  This is different.  She wants to use both hands to clap.

I also see her reading and processing visually.  When I play the music, she has to listen and see if I did it right.  Saying ‘rest’ makes her use her ‘r’ sound (which really needs this).  She is developing sequencing.  She is developing timing.  She is learning to love music.  How could I not be having fun seeing all this?  This is totally awesome.  Soon, I will be adding in half notes, half rests, eighth notes and eighth rests and at that point I will start having Alice compose the measures that we read.  Do you know what that is?  Math.  It’s not even math wrapped up in a candy coat because the music isn’t candy – it’s the substance.  Math becomes the candy coat that comes along for the ride.

Kodaly?  Totally knew what he was doing.  I’m sold.  I should probably also look at the Orff method as well and round out my personal education and see what other goodies I can steal.