Since my son was tiny, he was drawn to music in some way. Trying to do all the right things with my first baby, I would play classical music whenever we were in the car, because apparently that was supposed to help connect new neural pathways in the brain and increase intelligence. But when he was about 15 months old I rebelled and bought a Wiggles CD (Cold Spaghetti Western). As soon as I put it on, he lit up and was delighted in it; bouncing and kicking his legs to the beat. Poor child, I must have been boring him senseless with all that classical music.
The Wiggles soon became his everything, with toys and clothes, dvds and cds (though, that sounds like they were my thing!!). I even took him to their concert when he was two, where he stood and cried when it ended and they said goodbye. In particular, he was interested in watching the musical instruments being played in the band. Whilst watching the trumpet player on DVD intensely, he suddenly rushed off to find the elephant shaped watering can we had and proceeded to play it like a trumpet.
His keen interested in drums soon emerged after visiting his uncle who is a drummer. My son would rush off to ‘play’ his drums and be entertained for ages on them, not wanting to do anything else. So, at age 7 we started him with drum lessons at school. Despite advice around us to give him piano lessons first to make sure he develops a sound theory understanding first. However, I knew if he was going to persist with any musical training I had to hook into his keen interest and not potentially destroy that passion with dry old theory on an instrument that didn’t interest him.
He picked it up quickly and seems to have a natural ability. Eight years later and he’s still playing them. We tried to add to his musical repertoire, plus help with the theory side of things by enrolling him into piano lessons. He had been teaching himself quite complex pieces on piano, but the lessons of course were theory based, so he was having to play single finger tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which was utterly boring to him at age 12.
As a kid I learnt piano, so have the basics. He would ask me to play the piece he was learning. He would watch, ask me to play it again, maybe more slowly or in small sections. Then he’d sit down and start to play. Basically, he was dodging having to learn to read the music. His brain worked much better in observing than playing. For his school music concert, he said he had to occasionally look up at his sheet music to appear to be reading it, when in fact he couldn’t, it was all just memorised.
Over the last two years, however, we have had to insist he continues with his drumming lessons; to persist just a little longer. Not sure why, perhaps it was the music performance class at school that he didn’t like. But what ever it was, he wouldn’t practice nor was he enthused about performing etc, yet somehow he knew what he had to do on stage and would get in right.
This term’s music class seems to have turned things around. He went into it basically kicking and screaming, stating he hated me for forcing him to do it. I just kept telling him, “just ’til the end of the year, then if it really isn’t for you, then you can move on from it”. A month in and he is drumming like mad again. I’m contemplating sending apology letters to our neighbours (even though the closest ones are about 200 meters away). He will play for 5 hours straight with maybe two food breaks in between! He now has blisters on a regular basis on his fingers from playing so much and we’ve needed to replace his drumsticks that couldn’t cope and splintered into frayed stumps.
Seeing such intensity in his interests that gears him up to get involved, practice, learn etc and in return do well amazes me. He still can’t read music, doesn’t understand the rules of bars etc, but can play beat perfect. At the last performance his class had to do, one of the band’s drummer was away. So he was asked to play for them. He’d never played the song before, so he had them play it for him, he practiced twice with them, then got up and performed on stage with them!!
I think it’s an aspie thing, not just the intense interest and focus, but the flat out refusal to be involved or try to learn if there’s any inkling of a doubt or lack of interest. It can be so damn frustrating. His lack of interest in learning the theory is starting to make it difficult for his music, mostly that the other class or band members laugh at him when he questions what something is. But he’s still able to get away with his style of learning; listening and watching.
I am in awe of my son’s talents and am so pleased he is again enjoying them.