What do piano lessons have to do with Broadband Processing?
My oldest son is in first grade and started taking piano lessons about 8 weeks ago. This is his first experience with playing the piano so everything is new to him. So far he has been exposed to rhythm / beat counts for each note, note names, using the right and left hand, where to place his hands on the keyboard, dynamics (loud, medium, and soft), and keeping his eyes on the music to look at the notes. Today the teacher added the “staff” into the mix so he now has to look at where the notes are placed on the staff in order to know what they are.
As I watched his teacher work with him and introduce this new lesson, the concept of “broadband processing” came to mind. From the very first lesson the teacher has carefully scaffolded for my son so he is able to integrate the new concept for each week with what came before it. Whenever they start a new song she has him first focus on the notes and where to place his hands, then she adds in the rhythm / beats, then the dynamics, etc. She never expects him to look at a new song and integrate all the components at once on the first try. He needs time to process each component separately and get practice with it before he can be expected to sit down and put it all together. Once he has played the piano for longer – learned about all the elements and done lots of practicing – he will be able to tackle a new piece of music and pull many components together seamlessly. I remember this being my experience with the piano as well. I took lessons for 14 years and the more I practiced the more I was able to process multiple elements of the technique and musicality at once when learning a new piece of music. But with more complicated pieces I needed to separate out the elements and practice one at a time before bringing them all together to sound like it was supposed to.
This is the essence of broadband processing – being able to pull multiple elements together at the same time into something that makes sense as a whole. The ability to process information along multiple channels at once is essential for functioning in the real world. In order to fully understand communication and information around us we have to be able to take in the words that we hear, the tone of voice, the volume, the context, the intonation, the gestures and facial expressions we see, physical distance, previous experiences, etc. in order to generate meaning from the communication of others. We also need to pull together those elements in order to communicate in meaningful ways with others. But – this is a complex process, and one that we take for granted because it is so easy for us! Young children have so many hours of practice with each of these elements as they grow in their early years – by the time they learn to talk they are already quite proficient at broadband communication. They have been able to learn about and practice each of these elements as part of the natural developmental process from birth on up!
In order to help children on the spectrum learn to process in broadband ways we need to take some notes from my son’s piano teacher – start slowly with one element and add new components one at a time once competence has been established. Just as I would never expect him, at this point in his piano career, to play a piece of music perfectly the first time with the right notes, rhythm, volume, and hand position, I should not expect a child on the spectrum to be automatically able to process all aspects of information / communication together at the same time without lots of scaffolding and practice. Watching the piano lesson today was a good reminder about the importance of slowing down, adding in and spotlighting one element at a time, and continually practicing in order to build competence with broadband processing of many elements at once.
Since I won’t be posting again until next Tuesday, I wish all of you a very happy holiday!
Until next week,