Ode to Joy (#479)

“And here’s a new song—-‘Ode to Joy.'”
Charlie’s piano teacher put the new sheets into the binder with Charlie’s piano music and I laughed: “A real piece of music.” Indeed, a picture of Beethoven was velcroed to the section containing the music for “Ode to Joy.”

“I wahn mehwahn!” said Charlie, whose devouring of a watermelon he had selected at the grocery store had been interrupted when the piano teacher appeared. He finished munching some pieces Veronica cut up for him, washed his sticky fingers as requested, and ran down stairs. “E, E, F, G. G, F, E, D. C, C, D, E. E, D, D.” Charlie read the notes and played what was, indeed, “Ode to Joy,” with a wrong note here and there that he quickly corrected—-not bad for his time ever sight-reading music.

Back in the days before Charlie could talk, Jim and I read about how some autistic children sing before they can talk. In the case of Charlie—who can just read some sight words (considerable progress for a boy who could not read any words, period, a year ago)—I am thinking that he is learning to read music before reading words.

We have been trying to teach Charlie to read for the past four years. Just today, in talking to his teacher, I noted that Jim and I want to keep academic standards very high for Charlie, while acknowledging that his “progress” in some, or many areas—reading, writing, mathematics, more—might be very gradual.

And watching Charlie read sheet music and play the piano in full possession and pride in his ability, I am wondering if these piano lessons might be offering a clue we’ve been searching so long for, a clue to boost Charlie’s efforts to learn to read.

I will be listening.

Joy, thy magic power re-unites.

15 Responses to “Ode to Joy (#479)”
  1. zilari says:

    Well, one thing I did read recently was that musical training in children could help with learning to discriminate between syllables in speech sounds. I thought that was rather interesting.

    However, there’s also the importance of learning music for the joy of learning music, not necessarily because it carries anything else with it. While it can, it certainly doesn’t need to in order to be worthwhile.

  2. Kristina, I truly hope this is the clue you have been yearning for. We are all stimulated by various things, and perhaps the stimulation of music is the connection Charlie’s wonderful brain needs. As someone who has taught beginning reading to students, I can tell you there is research out there, and there is a connection. Music helps kids to develop what some call “rhythmic intelligence” which helps them to recognize rhythm in language, which are important skills in learning how to read and developing fluency as young readers.

    Also, Sam was one of those who sang long before he began speaking at 3. It wasn’t really singing, more like humming. But the cool thing was he would repeat every song he heard after hearing it once in perfect tune. Music is the only one true thing that still consistantly calms him when upset. If I sing a direction to him, he responds instantly, but if I speak it, he doesn’t even look at me or act like he’s heard me. Music is magic! Can’t wait to hear more.

  3. Wow, sight reading! I’m impressed. Patrick found middle C yesterday and I’m so proud. LOL We meet them where they are right?

  4. Ennis says:

    What’s odd to me is that he’s learning music by reading letters, which is the same thing one would do to read words. Maybe it’s the difference between reading individual letters and reading whole words that makes progress in music easier? Or maybe he’s just more interested in music than language?

  5. Ennis, I think you are on to something—music and sounds are things Charlie truly enjoys. Words, less so. And if his love of one might help him with the other, this would be great—-and if learning to play the piano is simply learning to play the piano, and liking this, I am all for that too!

  6. Liz says:

    Personally, I’ve been wondering if Charlie’s barrier to reading progress has to do with two things:

    1. his failure to twig to the alphabetic principle — the idea that those squiggles on the page represent something–a sound. And the squiggles K E Y put together represent a sound with meaning — that rectangular thing on the piano.

    2. the representations he has in his mind for speech. We’re talking here about the difference between receptive language and expressive language. It seems he has difficulty articulating the final /t/ in /want/. The question is, is it merely an articulation difficulty (expressive language) or is it possible that his brain just doesn’t process the final /t/ as being essential to the word /want/? Or a combination of the two?

    I don’t know how to find out the difference, without stressing Charlie out.

    But as to the music piece: here in music, he sees a squiggle and knows that it goes with a particular key on the piano.

    So Charlie’s learned a metaprinciple — to go from an abstraction (the names of the letters or the musical notation) to an action, an action that has meaning.

    I wish I lived closer. I’d come over and hang around, listening to what Charlie said, and make some “Just Charlie” books, with utterances that Charlie had said and done, keyed to the graphemes & phonemes he had mastered in his reading program.

    And I’d make sentences that were Charlie’s telegraphic utterences, and expand them.

  7. “Rhythmic intelligence”—-the metaprinciple Charlie has figured out with the piano….I’m thinking away…..

  8. Daisy says:

    I’ve heard of many autistic people with perfect pitch. My Amigo’s first violin teacher was certain he had it. His cello teacher never let him play out of tune, saying, “You know the difference.” Does Charlie have it, too?

  9. I think Charlie does—he sings in tune to any song, immediately. Can’t substantiate that but he is very alert to changes in tone of voice.

  10. Ennis says:

    Maybe he’d have an easier type with Chinese. I’m serious. That’s only one character per word, so he’d never have to string letters together. And it’s a tonal language, and he’s got perfect pitch.

    I don’t know if either you or Jim speak Chinese though. You’re an ABC, right?

  11. Ennis says:

    should be easier “time” not “type”. That’s an interesting slip of the finger on my part.

    btw, this reminds me of that famous autistic kid who had good written speech but poor spoken speech. Maybe Charlie will be better at hitting keys to express himself than at vocalizing it.

  12. I read somewhere (maybe) about autism in cultures whose language is tonal. I do think that a tonal language would have fewer pronunciation challenges for Charlie—-pragmatically, English does have to be the language of instruction. On the other hand, I often find myself saying short phrases of a rather melodic nature that, now that I think about it, recall the non-word interjections of Chinese.

    Yes, I’m an ABC—3rd generation on both sides. I learned Mandarin in college.

  13. Ennis says:

    Maybe you should just impose a tonal structure on English, singing everything 🙂 It would sound something more like African english (listen to the way your father-in-law’s nurse speaks – Akan speakers do interesting things to standard english), but he would remember things better.

    I know, I’m being silly, speculating about highly abstract matters when you have some very concrete things to attend to.

    The general gist of what I’m musing about is that if he’s more attracted to music than plain speech, then maybe it would pay to musicalize more of his world … sing songs to go with activities or actions, etc.

  14. gretchen says:

    I played violin through 10th grade- Ode to Joy has always been a favorite. I will be humming it on the way home today!

  15. Julia says:

    Catherine struggles with individual words (it was a big deal that I got her to say “fish” before every fish stick but the first this evening) but she knows songs and sings them enthusiastically. If I can’t figure out the words, I can at least recognize the tune, most of the time — she’s learned a couple at school that I don’t know.

    And after her daddy had sung “Amazing Grace” a good number of times around her, he just started humming one evening and stopped — and she started singing where he’d left off, doing her best with the words.

    (She also quotes from videos a lot.)

    I wonder what’ll happen if her daddy starts singing “Ode to Joy” a lot? 🙂 He’s very fond of it….

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