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GUEST POST: Music Lessons for Autistic Spectrum Students: Part 2

In Boston

Music Lessons for Students on the Autism Spectrum
In The Boston Conservatory Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum (, we have been providing private musical instrument lessons to children and adults (age 9 and up) on the autism spectrum for five years. Our young students have studied piano, voice, violin, string bass, trumpet, guitar, and electric bass with trained graduate students in Music Education here at the Conservatory. Thanks to a team of consultants and trainers, the graduate students receive ongoing support and a great deal of training to work with these individuals. Over the last five years, we have had 15-25 students in the program in a given year. Enrollment has been between 22 and 25 students for the last few years.

The lessons take place on Saturday mornings here in Boston. The first semester of lessons begins on the first Saturday in October and runs until early December. We start up in early February for our second semester of lessons, which goes until early May. Each semester includes 9 private instrument lessons (weekly), 9 weekly check-ins via phone or Skype, and a final recital in May. All of our students perform about 5 minutes of music at the recital, which is held in our largest recital hall here on campus.

Unlike other music programs for this population, which tend to be music therapy programs, this is a music lessons program. Our main goal is to improve the students’ musical skills and to foster their love of music. Whether they continue with music as fans and casual players, or as music majors in college, the important thing from our perspective is that they grow as musicians and continue to enjoy having music as a part of their lives.

The program’s tuition is $1000 per semester. Financial aid is available for families who qualify, and there is a financial aid application on our website. Interested families should print out and submit all three forms on the website:
-          The application form
-          The intake questionnaire
-          The financial aid application (if applicable)
These materials should be sent directly to me at or to my mailing address, which is
Rhoda Bernard
Director, Boston Conservatory Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum
The Boston Conservatory
31 Hemenway Street
Boston, MA 02115
Once the application materials have been received, the family is contacted for the next steps of the application process.

Any questions about the program or about our application process can be directed to me via email at or via phone at 617-912-9104.

(IF THERE ARE ANY OTHER PROGRAMS OF THIS SORT IN OTHER CITIES, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT OR EMAIL ME. I want to get the word out to as many parents and students as possible.)
What We’ve Learned About Autism and Music
Over these last several years, we have learned a great deal about music teaching and learning with this particular population. Some lessons include:
"90-95% of our population has perfect pitch"
-          Perfect pitch occurs much more frequently in our population of students on the autism spectrum than in the general population. A full ninety to ninety-five percent of our students in this program have perfect pitch, while the incidence of perfect pitch in the general population is less than one in 10,000. This has brought with it both rewards (ease of teaching students by rote, strong musical memory skills, etc.) and challenges (difficulties convincing students of the value of learning to read and write musical notation).
-          Learning journeys are less smooth and harder to predict in our population of students on the autism spectrum. There are often long periods of plateaus, as well as instances of backtracking in the learning trajectories of the students in this program. Yet after those moments, often these students make significant progress very quickly. It can be challenging to teach students whose learning looks so different from one’s own. It is difficult to empathize with those students’ learning experiences.
-          Forging effective and productive student-teacher relationships is possible and very rewarding. Many people would assume that it is extremely difficult to nurture a teaching-learning relationship with students on the autism spectrum because of their social challenges. However, we have found that our young students become very close with their instructors, who in many cases end up being like another family member. We encourage long-term student-teacher connections by making it possible for alumni from our program to continue teaching in this program long after graduation. As we all know, effective student-teacher relationships are vital to good teaching and learning.

What We Plan to Learn Going Forward
Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous donor, we now have funding to support two forms of research on this program:
-          A program evaluation of the entire program as a whole, which will help us identify areas of strength and challenges on a programmatic level, to improve our work and think critically about what we do and how we do it.
"(We are conducting) systematic, quantitative and qualitative research."
-          Systematic quantitative and qualitative research into the musical skill development of our students, which will help us to understand how our instruction contributes to their growth as musicians. We hope to study musical skill development in pitch, musical memory, and rhythm, as well as expressiveness (dynamics, phrasing). The research instruments are currently under development and will be piloted this academic year.

We Have So Much to Learn!
Though we have learned a great deal about music, teaching, learning, and autism, there is so much more for us to explore! Last year, thanks to the support of an anonymous donor, we held our first annual conference on Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum. This gathering of 60 educators, musicians, music educators, and special educators began a conversation that we plan to continue every year. Next year’s conference is already in the planning stages and will take place May 9 and 10, 2014. Stay tuned for more information.

Our website ( includes three videos that share some of what we have already learned, as well as our ongoing questions. We plan to continue to share our learning journey on the website.

Until next time,


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