Friday, February 15, 2008

Bigger is Better! The Unique Powers of Drums, Guitars, Rainsticks and Other Large Musical Instruments In Therapy.

This week I made the observation that one of my clients responds more significantly to large instruments. He seems to prefer a large gathering drum, the guitar and a Q-chord placed in his lap. He is not the only client that enjoys these instruments, but it prompted me to detail the specific qualities that large instruments have that make them so powerful for some clients. Teachers and parents can benefit from understanding the qualities that make these instruments unique. Here are three ways large instruments can sometimes be so effective:

1. They are cool! Many large instruments are visually attractive. My large gathering drums and African drums have tropical patterns and colors that are appealing to children. The larger ocean drums come with colorful fish panoramas and provide focus of attention on the moving beads inside. There also seems to be something fun about getting to play the biggest instrument out of a group when given a choice.

2. Accessibility. Large instruments offer height and large playing surfaces that are often easier for children to approach. They do not require children to hold on to them in order to make a musical sound. This is especially true for children who do not have fine motor skills and have difficulty holding on to small shakers or handles. A large drum head, for example, is a perfect place for these children to play without worrying about hand strength and grasping. I also love that a Tubano drum is just the right height for younger children to stand next to and play. When they get older, the Tubano is easily played from a sitting position and can stand up straight on the floor - no tilting necessary! The Q-chord is the king of accessibility since it can sit on a tray table for wheelchair access or on a lap. The strum-plate on the Q-chord is also very easy to manipulate and does not require fine motor skill to activate.

3. Vibration. Large acoustic instruments provide much more in the way of sensory feedback. The gathering drum provides wonderfully low and rich vibrations. The drum can be placed on the floor or shared between two people on their laps so that the vibrations can permeate through the legs. The guitar is similar, but also provides the melodic elements so that the vibrations change with the high and low pitch. Many of my clients who are sensory defensive will reach out and strum the guitar as one of the few objects they seek out in their environment.

There are many other kinds of large instruments that can be effective during music activities when working with children who have disabilities. Pianos and keyboards are not as easily transported, but they offer all three aspects in that they are very unique, accessible and full of aural and tactile stimuli. I have also used large rain-sticks. For the best effect, try to find a rain-stick that sounds for as long as possible.

Sometimes it just makes sense to use a BIG instrument!

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