Exploring the application of the sounds of intent music-developmental framework for children on the autism spectrum with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties in relation to piano pedagogy

  • Wei Sam Soo

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This mixed methods study explores the potential use of the piano as a medium to promote musical skills in children with autism spectrum condition (ASC) who have severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties. The thinking behind the research is underpinned by the Sounds of Intent (SoI) framework of musical development. The aims of the research are to develop and evaluate new approaches to piano pedagogy that are suitable for children with ASC from the earliest stage of musical development (Sounds of Intent, Level 2). The new approaches involve re-conceptualising the piano as a multisensory resource that can engage children with ASC in a number of different proto-musical and musical ways. The two major advantages of this reconceptualisation are that with appropriate pedagogy: a) it promotes inclusion in music education, since all children, irrespective of their level of musical development, can engage with the same resource in different ways, and b) it fosters progress in musical development, since the single resource has immense flexibility in the way it can be used, from advancing an understanding of ‘cause and effect’ to permitting the creation and production of complex abstract narratives in sound over time. Fourteen children and young people with ASC participated in the research, drawn from two special schools in London that use SoI. Each participant took part in 13 music sessions with the researcher, who acted as the teacher, over the course of 6 months. Each session lasted 5–30 minutes, depending on the participant’s interest and willingness to cooperate. The sessions were recorded using two video cameras. A mixed methods approach was applied whereby participants’ levels of engagement with each strategy were measured quantitatively using a simple binary measure of ‘on task’ and ‘off task’ and then subject to detailed interpretative phenomenological analyses. The results revealed that the engagement of the children was affected by several factors: the cognitive functioning of the children, their levels of interest in the sounds and music that the piano could produce, the teaching quality and their willingness to interact with the teacher. The most effective strategies were those that were aligned with children’s levels of musical development, were adapted to their preferred learning styles, and were often multimodal in design (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic). The study shows that the piano can be used as a learning resource for children on the autism spectrum with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties to promote the development of musical skills and abilities, and to foster wider learning and development.
Date of Award3 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorAdam Ockelford (Supervisor) & Susana Castro (Supervisor)

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