Level 2, Reactive: shows an emerging awareness of sound
People – children and adults alike – react to sound. They may respond to an increasing variety of sounds to which they are exposed, and react in distinct ways to differing qualities of sound (for example, giggling at notes high up on the keyboard or showing wide-eyed amazement at the gong). They may come to recognise that what we think of as essentially the same sound can appear to be different on different occasions – for instance, varying according to the environment in which it is heard (for example, a person’s voice will sound different in a small room, a resonant hall, or outside in the open air). Individuals may start to become aware of the contexts in which certain sounds usually occur.
Sound is processed as a distinct sensory experience, within which an increasing range and diversity of auditory input may be perceived. Sound may be integrated with other sensory input to form meaningful bundles of sensory information that relate to the world around.
Resources designed for particular groups are available as follows:
R.2.A shows awareness of sounds, potentially of an increasing variety
Individuals respond to one type of sound or more, and some to an increasing variety of sounds.
As at Level 1, stimulate children, young people and adults with a wide range of auditory experiences (see R.1.A). As individuals start to react to particular sounds, systematic observation is essential, to inform the planning of future auditory experiences. Seek consistency in reaction – do they 'habituate' to particular sounds? How long does it take? How regularly do they react? Seek replication but also extension to types of sound that differ slightly to see if they too produce a response. For example, if the person you are working with reacts to a gong, will a cymbal do just as well? What about other resonant metallic sounds? Use the Soundabout Music Tracks: Sounds https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/, which comprise a series of recordings of different day-to-day and musical sounds that are extended in time to give people the best chance of taking them in. Try the other Tracks too: Patterns, Motifs and Songs https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/. Although the musical structures used in these will pass by undetected by individuals who are functioning at Sounds of Intent Level 2, there may be certain features of the music – particular sounds or chords or sequences of notes – that listeners will find attractive. Hence, consider exposing those you are working with to music in different styles and genres, ranging from ragtime to reggae, folksongs to fugues, and from symphonies to spirituals, for example; using instruments ranging from the piano to the panpipes, the drum kit to the didgeridoo, and the gamelan to the electric guitar. Try high-energy pieces with loud, rapidly-changing streams of sound, and quiet, reflective works that present slow-moving auditory landscapes. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 36]
‘R’ has profound learning difficulties, a severe visual impairment and sensorineural hearing loss. Here the teacher plays an omnichord that is placed on his lap, potentially enabling him to feel the vibration.
‘R’ moves his fingers on the strings as they are played, and, when the teacher stops playing, R reaches for his hand and brings it back to the instrument – his sign for ‘more’.
‘R’ is aware of the sounds of the omnichord and engages with them emotionally.
R.2.B makes differentiated responses to qualities of sounds that differ (eg loud/quiet) and/or change (eg get louder)
Through movement, change in posture, vocalisation or other forms of self-expression, individuals show different responses to sounds that are loud or quiet, high or low, coarse or mellow in timbre, emanating from different directions etc, and/or to change in any of these dimensions.
Provide contrasting sounds for those you are working with to experience, including some in carefully controlled contexts (such as multisensory environments), and observe any responses, tailoring what you do next to signs of interest, likes or dislikes. Make your own reactions to different sounds obvious, through a range of movements, gestures and emotional responses, positive or negative. These reactions are likely to be communicated more effectively through being close to the person you are working with, and through co-active movement. Soundabout Music Tracks: Sounds https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/, which present a variety of different sounds, offer a potential starting point on which to build. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 37]
Usman has profound learning difficulties. Here, he is working with his music therapist, who is encouraging him to show a preference for one of two handheld percussion instruments – a shaker and bells.
The therapist plays one instrument briefly then the other, and asks Usman to choose which he would like to play. He could potentially reach out for either. She continues offer him the choice for around 30 seconds before he moves his right arm to grasp the shaker.
Usman is aware of the two different sounds, can hold them in short-term memory, knows which instrument causes which sound, prefers one to the other, and can communicate this preference through a gesture.
Other videos of Usman
To see Usman expressing his feelings by vocalising, go to P.2.B. To see Usman responding vocally to singing, go to I.2.A (a).
Shivan is profoundly autistic and blind. He has no expressive language. He loves music, however. In the video, he is having one of his weekly music sessions with his piano teacher. His one-to-one support worker is also present. [DOC 126]
Shivan is seated in front of a piano, which he can play as he wishes. His music teacher is coming to the end of The Sailor’s Hornpipe, played on a second piano – a piece that Shivan is known to enjoy. The final chord is extended through repetition and an increase in volume. Having been motionless, Shivan becomes animated: rocking, vocalising and, finally, playing a note on the piano.
Shivan’s responses are taken to indicate pleasure at hearing the increase in intensity of sound.
Other videos of Shivan
To see Shivan engaging with music at Level 3 of the Sounds of Intent framework, playing simple patterns on the keyboard, go to
younger boy imitating a simple vocal pattern, go to I.3.D (a) (1st video). To see him reacting to the Goodbye song at Level 5, go to R.5.D. To see him singing a whole song, go to I.5.A (a) (1st video).
R.2.C responds to musical sounds increasingly independently of context
Individuals react consistently to similar musical sounds that are heard in different contexts.
Give the person you are working with the opportunity to hear similar sounds and music in different contexts – for example, in a range of acoustic environments, with different people, on different social occasions and at different times of the day. Observe how they react. Are responses elicited more frequently in some contexts than others? If so, try to ascertain what it is about that place or person or occasion that is important, and see if it is possible to replicate it elsewhere or with different people or on different occasions. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 38]
Nicola has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Here, she is on a summer vacation scheme organised by her school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. A violinist is playing to her. In the period immediately before this excerpt, Nicola was quite stressed, and she had taken herself out of the classroom and sat down on the floor in the corridor. The violinist was asked to play music that was quiet, slow and in the lower part of the register, as it was known that Nicola would sometimes become calm when listening to sounds with these qualities.
Nicola appears to be relaxed and at ease as the violinist plays the Brahms’ Lullaby.
Nicola responds positively to certain qualities of sound in the context of a melody, played in an environment in which she is not used to hearing music and by someone with whom she is not familiar.
R.2.D responds to musical sounds linked to other sensory input
Individuals respond to musical sounds when experienced in combination with other sensory input; and through their association with particular people, places and/or activities.
Ensure that some sounds and music are experienced systematically with other sensory stimulation such as touch, movement, light, or even scent. This may occur naturally in the case of musical instruments, for example, or may be achieved through the technology of multisensory rooms, for instance, or in discos. Start connecting particular musical sounds with significant people, locations and activities with the aim of building these associations up over time (which may occur at Sounds of Intent Level 3). Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 39]
Rudi has profound learning difficulties. Here, he is in the sensory suite, working with his class teacher. He is lying on a soft mat next to a bubble tube and near a sound system, both of which are operated by the same switch, which, when pressed, activates the bubbles and starts a lively piece of music playing. The switch is on a timer, and the stimuli last for around 20 seconds.
Rudi's teacher encourages him to ask for more by tapping his hand, and she helps him to operate the switch through co-active movement. Rudi smiles after around 10 seconds of the visual and auditory stimulation.
Rudi enjoys the multisensory experience of light and sound, and can communicate his desire for more, implying that he has a memory of the stimulation, and can imagine what it would be like for it to continue. Moreover, he is aware of capacity to influence what another person does.
Romy, who is on the autism spectrum, has severe learning difficulties and is non-verbal, is at home, having one of her first sessions with her piano teacher. He offers her a rendition of Für Elise, the first part of which is known to be one of the few pieces of music that Romy will tolerate being played live. She has hyperacusis and is neophobic – so new sounds or new pieces can cause her great anxiety.
Romy watches and listens carefully to what the teacher is doing, and then moves to the end of the piano and has a different view – straight up and down the keys. She then puts her tongue on the wooden case of the piano, enabling her to feel the vibrations of the notes being played.
Although Romy is known to be able to engage with music in a more advanced way than Sounds of Intent Level 2, it is important to acknowledge the continued importance of the sensory experience of sound music to her – and how this involves more than just listening. This illustrates the point that Sounds of Intent levels do not replace one another as children develop musically, but build on one another, whereby each lower level is retained as more advanced levels are engagement are achieved. This remains true for all of us throughout our lives as children and adults. Who could not be captivated by the sounds and sensations of listening to large gongs of the Balinese gamelan at close quarters, for example, or the fascinated by sounds of the tam-tam in Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I.
Other videos of Romy
To see Romy playing a pattern on the piano, go to P.3.A (b) (2nd video). To see her recognising a motif being repeated, go to R.4.B. To see her recognising different motifs being connected coherently, go to R.4.C. To see her reproducing a motif with which is is familiar, go to P.4.A (c) (3rd video). To see her linking motifs by varying them, go to P.4.B (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a motif for someone else to copy, go to I.4.A. To see her juxtaposing different motifs, go to I.4.C (a) (1st video). To see her choosing songs, go to R.5.A. To see her learning the fingering for a scale on the piano, go to P.5.D (a) (1st video). To see her playing a number of scales on the keyboard, go to P.5.D (b) (2nd video). To see her playing a Bach prelude, go to P.5.D (c) (3rd video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, sharing a common part, go to I.5.A (d) (4th video). To see her playing a piece with another musician, each with a different part, go to I.5.B (b) (2nd video). To see her showing a mature response to music, go to R.6.A (b) (2nd video).
The complete Sounds of Intent assessment matrix is to be found here [DOC 60] and downloadable assessment sheets here. [DOCS 61 & 62]
Consistently reacts to one type of sound
Amy has recently turned four. She has profound and multiple learning difficulties, and until recently appeared to make no response to sound at all. But around the time of her birthday she noticeably reacted to her mother’s singing, widening her eyes and smiling briefly. Since then, it hasn’t mattered which song her mother sings – it seems to be the sound of her voice to which Amy is attracted.
Ed is in this fifties. He receives long-term care in a home for people with complex neurological disabilities following a stroke around 18 months ago. At first, he seemed to be completely unresponsive to any auditory stimuli, but in recent weeks, his music therapist has noticed that his rate of blinking increases markedly when she plays long, slow notes on the cello in the middle range.
Consistently reacts to two types of sound
Mahmud is 12, and has profound and multiple learning difficulties. The music teacher at his school has noticed that he responds to two types of sound – both of which need to be loud – the bass drum and the cymbal, when struck with a hard stick.
Linda is 14 years old. She has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Two sounds appear to attract her attention. One is a small cluster of bells, shaken close to her right ear. The other is the flexatone – again, played close to her right ear.
Consistently reacts to at least three types of sound
Liam is 15. He has profound and multiple learning difficulties, and tends to be unresponsive to sound. However, his parents have recently acquired a Bluetooth speaker that they place on his lap, which means that he can feel as well as hear the sounds that are played through it. They have been using Soundabout Tracks – Level 2, Sounds https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/ – and Liam has shown clear responses to the engine sounds, the flies and the foghorn.
Eillie is in her late twenties. She has profound and multiple learning difficulties. She has been responding more to sound in the last year or so, and she seems to relate best to high sounds; her teacher noticed that she smiled when she heard the flute, the accordian and a lead guitar, for example.