As a musician in one of my many professions, I have taken a strong interest in the arrival - and subsequent development of - music making apps for various devices.
There are plenty of posts out there about various educational tools within music education, including those with special needs etc, but in this blog I am going to focus on different areas, mainly, creating music in ways to engage the user, whether to help them discover their musical genius, or even to help relax. Let's dive in !
So this is not always about the dreamy pan pipe stuff you may hear at a massage therapist (!), it also encompasses the idea of creating soundscapes that are both gentle and ever evolving. The legendary ambient musician (and renowned producer, and ex member of Roxy Music) Brian Eno, has always pushed forward the boundaries of ambient music. Together with Peter Chilvers they created Bloom, which is hypnotic both visually and aurally, with the user simply tapping around the screen to create visual "rings" that also trigger a sound. The beauty is that the patterns never play the same way twice. This may push an ASD person somewhat especially if they are used to rigid patterns. However, the visual is beautiful and I found it to be incredibly calming. Iphone and iPad only but the Android version is in development.
If you want to explore what Brian and Peter have further developed, visit thier website Generative Music I highly recommend it.
Video link to hear another one of their apps - Trope - in use youtu.be/HI1raqxrUdk
VISUAL MUSIC MAKING WITH BLOCKS
Yes that's right, it can be done, and done incredibly well. The unit that has held my attention the most is Reactable. Developed in Barcelona, this interactive system uses a series of physical blocks placed on a table with a screen top. Depending on where and how you place the blocks it sets off rhythms, loops, music and more. It's a game changer in the electronic world, but at 4,000 plus euro, it's out of our league!
Fear not, there is a version available for iOS and Android. Called Reactable Mobile, you simply use your fingers and move the virtual blocks around to create music.
There is also a mid version called Rotor, which is for iPad and you can order mini controller blocks to perform in a near identical fashion to the full Reactable.
You can see demos on the website link, but to show it in use, here is a video of Coldplay using it in their live show. Run by the drummer Will, it forms a backbone to the track "Midnight"
ITS A GROOVY THING
This used to be a standalone piece of software that schools and individuals used to gain an introduction to the world of music and composition. Now Groovy is an app and cloud edition. Using colourful images as musical building blocks, you can create a piece of music from scratch along a background as a timeline without having any notation abilities. I found that my kids became hooked on this very quickly, and loved learning via the tests and information in the various modules. It didn't matter that the music may not have sounded traditional in any sense (!) they were thrilled to be creating music via a visual means.
BEAM ME UP
The post wouldn't be complete without a little plug for one of our products. Beamz is a fantastic way to just use your hands to trigger music in the air. You can hook it up via bluetooth or MIDI to trigger music loops with the supplied programs or simply use it as a controller for your favourite MIDI app. Highly engaging for all ages, I've loved playing with this device, it gets addictive - see it in our store section under Music Technology.
In the end there are hundreds and hundreds of apps out there. This is just touching on a couple of ones that I have found to be very engaging with my own kids, and have seen similar results with others. While not neccessaarily following the normal lines of therapy, I am a firm believer in researching and finding out what is right for you. Sometimes it is a combination of research on blogs like this and advice from professionals.
More Music Musings to come !
Stimming Away – a view from a parent
Recently I posted a list of signs that your child may be experiencing sensory overload and one of the factors listed is stimming.
For those who may not be full aware of what stimming is, this link to Wikipedia is a helpful start - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stimming
From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed more stimming in my daughter than I cared to remember! But it also got me thinking about where there are multiple crossovers into other ASD related symptoms, and how the lines can be so easily blurred.
In the early days one of my child’s non stop stims was to check the undersides of her shoes to make sure nothing was on it. This always happened when walking anywhere so of course that would lead to others colliding with her and creating a bit of a traffic jam, especially at the supermarket. Over time, and with the introduction of medication this has faded somewhat, though it does it pop up from time to time which causes more amusement than anything – not just from me but also from her. She knows she’s doing it, and just shrugs her shoulders and says “well Dad, I AM Aspie” :D
There was a lot of talk at the time about discouraging stimming but I found the opposite approach was a better pathway for my situation. It is clearly a release of some sort, a source of comfort in repetition when the outside world is getting a little too full on, and ultimately, it’s not hurting anyone, so why stamp it out? Seems I’m not the only one to think this - https://kirstenlindsmith.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/stimming-101-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-stim/
Where the lines blurred however posed more of an interesting challenge.
Vocal Fry is in its own way, a form of stimming for some ASD people. Read the definition here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_fry_register
Someone brilliantly described it this week on the radio as sounding like bacon frying (bad pun) in the pan. Not far off it!! In my case, my daughter made the same sort of raspy, grunty type noises when under pressure, so it became a vocal stim. It got to the point where it was so loud that it sounded like a grunt crossed with a laugh – in fact, if you remember the 1980s MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead, their laugh (if you could call it that) sounded EXACTLY the same – listen to the lower one of the two laughs in this clip and you will hear pretty much what I heard for two years - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDqsgbtpDLk
Sadly though, there was one other type of what I would call stimming that affected her badly, and continues to do so. Trichotillomania is the involuntary pulling out of hair, and is triggered – like all the above examples – by anxiety. In this instance, it started when she transitioned into high school, and reached a serious peak following the breakup of my marriage. While the definition - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichotillomania - mentions broken hairs may be seen, my daughter became extreme in that she pulled the hair out at the follicle and then ate the follicle – because she liked that sensation. She also ended up pulling out all her pubic hair and many leg hairs.
It’s shattering as a parent to see this, a child going from having wonderful shoulder length hair, to looking like she is undergoing heavy chemo treatment. Fortunately the school was excellent and encouraged her to wear a hat so others would not single her out – in fact the other students have been awesome about it.
This was a turning point – how to stop it? In the end she developed a way to solve it but putting on heavy duty bandaids across all fingers which prevented her from pulling the hair.
Now her hair is growing again – but it’s short, curly and very dense!!! Nothing like the long locks she had. Not to worry, I’m proud she found a way for herself that works, and this is and important step moving forward in life.
There are hundreds of types of stims out there, mine is just from experience, and while some may challenge my daughters as stims, I believe they fall into this category but feel free to add your own ..