Thanks Everyone, for the help. My granddaughter is a definite handful, and it is very difficult to keep her attention in one place for very long. I keep thinking that if she gives music a chance, she'll love it. I don't care if she wants to play the tuba (well, maybe I do!), but Something! I have the dulcimers so I'm going to try to start her there. I think she can get some early success which will help keep her interest. Your suggestions will definitely help guide me in this. I'll let you all know how things go. Thanks again!
If she can count to five, then this tune might be very helpful to start with:
It's absolutely the easiest tune to play for a beginner, and can be played noter style (or fretted with one finger) on the melody string only, with the other strings brushed unfretted, as pretty harmony notes that go with the tune naturally.
Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Lorilee, my oldest grandson is also on the autism spectrum. He is 13 and in junior high school (8th grade). Early on I tried to interest him in dulcimer, but was unsuccessful. He is in the middle school band and plays percussion. His father helps him. His father is not a percussionist, but plays guitar, trumpet, and piano and has picked up some percussion from being in bands. Our grandson seems to identify with the various patterns of drumming as well as different intensities (soft to loud). I don't know if one of his stims (watching things spin) is related to his drumming or not. He is not particularly proficient in math but is very good a remembering numbers.
You could approach your granddaughter by doing some simple counting. Count the scale 0 - 7 (if in DAd) or 3 -10 (DAA). Start with one strum per note, then add a strum to each note, and so forth. You can then introduce different rhythms 3/4, 4/4, etc. I suggest she use her index finger to do the noting even if you have to lower the strings in pitch a little bit. Holding a noter can be frustrating until you master the technique. Slipping in to the middle string causing an extra rattling noise can be disturbing. Of course, you can show her how to hold the noter properly and she how she does. Take it slowly in small increments at first. Don't force it. If she shows an interest, help her to be successful at it.
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
I'm no expert on autism, but if you think math might be the key to getting your granddaughter interested in music, there are lots of places to find it.
Right hand strumming is all a matter of fractions. Does your daughter already know about note duration? If we start with a tune in 4/4 time, then a whole note gets one strum to last the whole measure, but we can cut that in half and get half notes, so you strum twice in that measure, we can cut each half note in half and get quarter notes and strum four times in a measure, we can cut those quarter notes in half and get eighth notes, in which case we strum eight times in a measure, and so forth. And we can mix and match those strums, with the understanding that all those fractions have to add up to 1 for each measure.
The left hand is all about math, too, but at least on the dulcimer we don't work with fractions but integers. If your granddaughter is going to be playing other instruments--likely if her elective is band--then I would stress not the numbers of the frets but the intervals between notes. So the root or tonic is the 1st, the next note of the scale is the 2nd, the next note is the 3rd, and so forth until you get to the octave, the 8th note.
I would have her start by playing in a drone style (she can use her fingers rather than a noter, I would think) and show her a simple melody, noting the intervals involved. You might even make a game of it, playing the first notes of a song and asking her to figure out what the interval is. Twinkle Twinkle begins with a 5th. Here Comes the Bride begins with a fourth. My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean begins with a 6th. Show her those intervals on the fretboard and see if that piques her interest.
Having said all that, you might also just put the dulcimer on her lap, show her a simple melody, and see what she does on her own. Some children with autism have the ability to very quickly learn pretty complicated pieces of music, and it might be that the mathematical patterns of music are more easily understood by people with autism than they are by the rest of us supposedly "normal" people. I think if you are attentive to your granddaughter, you might find she takes quickly to music without you having to point out the math behind it.
Dusty T., Northern California
As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
I am looking for a little advice. Here's the situation. My only grandchild is 10 going on 7. She's autistic and very ADHD. She is also very intelligent, but it is hard to get her to focus on any one thing for very long. She is verbal (loudly!), but can't really carry on a 2-way conversation very well. Also, math is her favorite subject in school.
I know there is definite connection between math and music, so you can probably see where I am going with this. I'd like to TRY to sit her down with a dulcimer and teach her some basic things. My logic tells me that noter style is probably the best way to start with her. Yes? She maybe can pick out some tunes that way and have some easy and early success.. Any suggestions for this? Also, are there any materials out there for teaching kids to play? I'm a retired HS Science teacher, but younger kids are a whole different challenge. Is it a good thing to teach her tab or just go by ear?
This kid is going to middle school next year(which scares me to death). Her one elective will be band. As it stands, I just don't see that as feasible. Maybe the dulcimer might get the love of music alive in her before then.