Musical instruments linked to child development

Students at Panya Wuthikorn School in Chatuchak in Bangkok play music with re-designed instruments.

A Srinakharinwirot University lecturer has received PhD research funding after discovering Thai musical instruments promote the development of children with intellectual disabilities.

Tepika Rodsakan, a lecturer at Faculty of Fine Arts' Music Department, is doing a PhD degree at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts. The research funding was from the National Research Council of Thailand.

Tepika said the inspiration for her novel approach to learning came from organising activities for special needs children at Panya Wuthikorn School.

During the activities, she found the children had limited knowledge of how to use Thai and foreign musical instruments and that they were too big.

Tepika tried to get the kids play normal instruments like the flute, but they had trouble playing them as the instruments have seven finger holes.

So, she re-designed a flute - made it smaller and simpler to play - by having just two holes representing three notes.

Tepika also created a cut-down version of the 22-bar xylophone to be a five-bar xylophone, which also used colours as a symbol for notes - such as red representing "doh" and green representing "fah".

She then created a set of musical instruments for the children with intellectual disabilities and hopes the invention will help the children better access music because it promotes their development.

"The musical instruments combo that I created is developed from Thai musical instruments, which I have learnt," she said.

Tepika said the combo, designed for a band of up to 18 members, comprised string, wind and percussion instruments and used a button-pressing method.

The instruments are of vibrant colour to appeal to children and improve muscle strength and coordination while aiding overall development.

She first tried the instruments on children aged 8-10 and learned that kids liked them, playing on them for long periods.

"I didn't think they would keep playing the music instruments for long," she said.

"I thought they would just play them for 20 minutes at best, but I found that they could keep at them for an hour, although they would not stay on the same instrument, but shift from one instrument to another throughout the one-hour period."

Tepika also composed four new Thai songs for the children to play together in a band or solo. The songs use repetitious notes so the kids can remember them.

Tepika's PhD research will focus on children with an IQ of between 50-70 and aged 8-10.

She said the kids' mental capacity was the equivalent of four to five-year-olds.

Tepika hopes her method will be used for all children with intellectual disabilities. She believes Thai music is not used enough to promote a child's development, particularly with special needs children.