Autism, music improvisation and the MindHarp®

After years of ignorance, fear and prejudice regarding autism, neuroscience has begun to really demystify this complex issue, returning us all to a place where our humanity transcends our fears towards those who are ‘different’. It is now understood by most of us that people with autism are as unique and sensitive as all humans… Often much more so. Sometimes expressing levels of musical, artistic, mathematical etc talents that actually boggle the imagination.

The MindHarp and its relevance for people with autism

One of the leading ideas behind the MindHarp® is that anyone, with no prior musical experience or knowledge of any kind, will immediately and actively engage with music. One simply taps a button and you are making music by yourself, or with other MindHarp® players.

The other powerful part of the MindHarp® is that it is a tool for improvising. Simply put from the moment you start tapping the buttons on the MindHarp®, music is spontaneously created. There is no right or wrong notes, no correct musical way to play the MindHarp®, it is simply about being in the ‘flow’ or in the ‘zone’. These are the mindful states we are in when we are at peace with ourselves and non judgemental to those around us. Great for our well-being, great for our body and mind health in general…

So how is all of that relates to Autism? Music improvisation is a vital part of engagement for autistic people, and offers a powerful outlet for expressing emotions, that has long term positive outcomes for all.

Having access to these spaces on a regular basis is vital for the well being of all, for autistic people it can be the difference between finding their way in a complicated social world or losing themselves in it.

Following is the opening paragraph from an amazing article talking about music therapy, autism and some extraordinary people, published by NYU- New York University– in 2016. There is of course a link to the full article and other interesting references.


What can music do for? Rethinking autism through music therapy

‘Half a century ago in England, the Philadelphia-born musician Paul Nordoff—a conservatory-trained pianist who’d composed music for Martha Graham ballets and taught at Bard College—sat down to play for an unlikely audience: a little boy named Johnny who was thought to be unreachable. Apparently cut off from the world by what today we would call autism spectrum disorder, Johnny lived at the Sunfield School, a residence for children with special learning and behavioral needs, where his teachers struggled to connect with him.

He didn’t speak, respond when addressed, show any interest in communicating with other people, or express emotion of any kind—except, his caretakers said, for when he was in bed at night and could sometimes be heard making whimpering sounds. But when Nordoff began to play—first the pleasant, carefree tones of the dreamlike pentatonic scale, and then, eventually, more plaintive, dissonant sounds, something changed. Nordoff improvised, altering his tempo to reflect the boy’s movements around the room—and Johnny noticed that when he shifted what he was doing, the music changed to match. Suddenly, the pair were communicating with each other in a dialogue through music. By the end of the session, Johnny wept openly. He was alive, he was animated. The staff of the school were thrilled…’

For the full Full article

A more science based article

Music improves social communication and auditory–motor connectivity in children with autism

‘…..This study provides the first evidence that 8–12 weeks of individual music intervention can indeed improve social communication and functional brain connectivity, lending support to further investigations of neurobiologically motivated models of music interventions in autism….’

Music in the lives of two children with autism : a case study Elizabeth Ron Fang San Jose State University 2009

In this article/thesis Elizabeth Ron Fang tries to answer the following questions

  1. How do the parents use music with the child?
  2. In what ways does music help the child?
  3. Why does music help?
  4. What is the role of music in the child’s life?
  5. What is the importance of music to the parents and child?
  6. What is it like to live with autism (experience living with autism)?

How Music Can Be Used To Help Autistic People

An excerpt from an article by Annabelle Short from the website: The Art of Autism

‘…..One 2004 study looked at the effects that music had on children and teens with autism. It found that using music in the lives of autistic children and teens helped in the following ways:

● Increased focus and attention
● Increased communication and communication attempts
● Reduction of anxiety
● Improved coordination
● Generally improved social behaviours

‘….What the original study didn’t consider, though, was the effect of music on autistic adults. Subsequent studies have been conducted in the time since and it has been found that music can also help autistic adults. At the very least, official studies and therapists alike have found music to be an important therapeutic tool as music is a good way to get an autistic person’s attention when they are struggling to focus….’