My daughter is 11 years old and has autism. She has significant language delays and great difficulty focusing, but she loves music and seems to have a great ear for music. It seemed natural that learning to play an instrument would be a source of pleasure and benefit to her. Unfortunately, her neurological disorder made learning to play very difficult for her. We made several attempts with different teachers, including teachers who had training and experience working with children with autism, but our daughter made almost no progress and showed little interest; the teachers had difficulty just getting her to sit at the piano for more than 2 minutes at a time. Then, we decided to try out Lee Stockner who promised a very different approach. I had very minimal expectations, given what I had already seen. But, somehow, in the very first lesson, my daughter was able to play a song. Within four lessons, she had accomplished significantly more than she had done in dozens of lessons with other teachers. Now, several months later, she is able to sit easily for 15 minutes at a time and play songs with chords, and she shows clear enjoyment and pleasure in the activity. Her focus is actually improving with each lesson. The progress is extraordinary, and learning to play using the Music Box Method seems to be helping her to develop neurological connections that will help her in all areas of her life.
I have watched the lessons and observed Lee Stockner’s approach to try to understand why it works where other methods fail. One thing most people don’t consider about learning to play the piano is the complexity of the mental processes involved. There has to be a continuous communication and feedback loop between the eyes (seeing the notes on the page) and hands (playing the notes on the instrument) and the ear (hearing the music). For someone with autism, those different brain functions don’t always work so well together. Lee Stockner has provided the right kind of scaffolding, in the form of color-coded rings matched up to the notes on the page and letters on the keys, to help bridge gaps between the different neurological channels for a student with autism. The student doesn’t have to struggle so much to make the connection between the eyes and hands, and is immediately reinforced by the coherent, recognizable music that she is able to make. In his lessons, Lee adds in an ABA-style token system leading to sensory breaks to doubly reinforce the process and to allow students to get the physical movement and input they need after their brains have worked hard at the keyboard. This combination of elements is nothing short of brilliant and ground-breaking. With the Music Box Method, I am convinced that any student with neurological processing difficulties can experience the pleasure and benefits of playing piano.