About SoI


The 'Sounds of Intent' research project was set up in 2002 jointly by the Institute of Education, Roehampton University, and the Royal National Institute of the Blind.

The aim of Sounds of Intent is to investigate and promote the musical development of children and young people with learning difficulties - although the system can also be used effectively with adults.

The research team has developed a framework of musical development that covers the whole range of ability from profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) to those with autism, with or without exceptional musical abilities (so-called savants).

The framework is freely available to anyone who wishes to use it, and works on all platforms, though it is particularly well suited to touch-screen technology (such as iPads).

The software enables ideas for promoting children's engagement with music to be viewed and downloaded, and for individual children to be assessed.

Teachers, therapists, other practitioners and parents can register to assess their children online. Assessments can be made as a one-off or over a period of time. The results can be printed out as numbers or in graphical form.

The research team is grateful for extensive support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Amber Trust.


The Sounds of Intent framework of musical development is based on research with three main elements.

  • Observational data of children with learning difficulties and/or autism experiencing or engaging with music have been gathered by practitioners through video recordings and fieldnotes. Many hundreds of observations have been made, and over 200 are included on this website. These have been analysed for responses, actions or interactions deemed to be representative, exceptional or in any way indicative of attainment or progress.
  • The analysis has been informed by psychological research pertaining to 'typical' early musical development, including listening, producing and responding to music and musical sounds from the period of foetal development through to the first years of life.
  • The model is underpinned too by zygonic theory - which seeks to explain how music makes sense to us all, and in particular that mature engagement with music entails the (typically subconscious) attribution of derivation to its constituent sounds, whereby one is felt to generate another or others through imitation. This applies both to structural understanding (through which music 'makes sense') as well as aesthetic response (which includes music's apparent capacity to express or represent emotion). The theory has been used to predict the order in which the musical abilities it implies are likely to evolve in children (irrespective of their learning difficulties).

Why focus on early musical development?

The PROMISE research, undertaken at the turn of the century that investigated the provision of music in special schools in England, demonstrated that many of those working with children with learning difficulties and autism regard music as an essential ingredient in their lives, both as a worthy focus of attention and source of pleasure in its own right, as well as a means of promoting wider learning and development. However, the musical development of children with complex needs has, until now, been largely uncharted territory.

Some argue that it is inadvisable —if not impossible— to attempt to study and conceptualise the early stages of musical development in a discrete way since engagement with music is almost invariably embedded within broader (non-musical) contexts, occurring as part of other activity. Even in the domain of hearing, music often arrives mixed up with everyday sounds and is frequently encountered as a composite form of communication inextricably linked to words. Clearly, such interdependence is fundamental and must be taken into account. However, since music has the capacity to emerge from the 'buzzing, blooming' confusion of early perception as a distinct entity in sound, it should be possible to track its development and emergence through the process of maturation and there is now a considerable body of evidence for musical development in the 'neurotypical' population. This evidence should in turn enable those working with children with learning difficulties or autism both to offer more effective support in engaging with music as an activity in its own right, as well as better enabling them to use music as a scaffold to structure other learning and development.

SoI publications and other public output

  • Ockelford, A. (2000) 'Music in the education of children with severe or profound learning difficulties: Issues in current UK provision, a new conceptual framework, and proposals for research', Psychology of Music, 28(2), 197–217.
  • Ockelford, A. (2001) Objects of Reference: Promoting Early Symbolic Communication (Third Edition), London: Royal National Institute of the Blind.
  • Welch, G., Ockelford, A. and Zimmermann, S. (2001) PROMISE: The Provision of Music in Special Education, London: Institute of Education and Royal National Institute of the Blind.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G. and Zimmermann, S. (2002) 'Music education for pupils with severe or profound and multiple difficulties', British Journal of Special Education, 29(4), 178–182.
  • Ockelford, A. (2003) 'Focus on Music', Focal Points, 2(3), 1 and 3, available at www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant/sodarticle.pdf
  • Ockelford, A. (2004) 'Music and children with SOD', Eye Contact, 38, 16-17.
  • Miller, O. and Ockelford, A. (2005) Visual Needs, London and New York: Continuum.
  • Ockelford, A. and Pring, L. (2005) 'Learning and creativity in a prodigious musical savant', International Congress Series, 1282, 903–907.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G. and Pring, L. (2005) 'Musical interests and abilities of children with septo-optic dysplasia', International Congress Series, 1282, 894–897.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G., Zimmermann, S. and Himonides, E. (2005) 'Sounds of intent': mapping, assessing and promoting the musical development of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties', International Congress Series, 1282, 898–902.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G., Zimmermann, S. and Himonides, E. (2005) 'Sounds of intent', Eye Contact, 40, 12–15.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G., Zimmermann, S. and Himonides, E. (2005) '"Sounds of intent" mapping, assessing and promoting the musical development of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties', Proceedings of International Society for Low Vision Research and Rehabilitation Conference 2005 ('Vision'), Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Ockelford, A., Welch, G., Zimmermann, S. and Himonides, E. (2005) 'Mapping musical development in children with PMLD: the "Sounds of Intent" project', SLD Experience.
  • Pring, L. and Ockelford, A. (2005) 'Children with septo-optic dysplasia – musical interests, abilities and provision: the results of a parental survey', British Journal of Visual Impairment, 23(2), 58–66.
  • Ockelford, A. (2006) 'Using a music-theoretical approach to interrogate musical development and social interaction', (in) Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music, N. Lerner and J. Straus, (eds), New York: Routledge, pp. 137–55.
  • Ockelford, A., Pring, L., Welch, G. and Treffert, D. (2006) Focus on Music: Exploring the Musical Interests and Abilities of Blind and Partially-Sighted Children with Septo-Optic Dysplasia, London: Institute of Education.
  • Ockelford, A. (2007) In the Key of Genius: The Extraordinary Life of Derek Paravicini, London: Hutchinson.
  • Ockelford, A. (2007) 'Exploring musical interaction between a teacher and pupil, and her evolving musicality, using a music-theoretical approach, Research Studies in Music Education, 28, 3–23.
  • Ockelford, A. (2007) 'A music module in working memory? Evidence from the performance of a prodigious musical savant', Musicae Scientiae, special issue on performance, 5–36.
  • Ockelford, A. (2008) Music for Children and Young People with Complex Needs, Oxford: OUP.
  • Ockelford, A. (2008) 'Special educational needs', Classroom Music, 26(2), 8-9.
  • Ockelford, A. and Matawa, C. (2009) Focus on Music 2: Exploring the Musical Interests and Abilities of Blind and Partially-Sighted Children with Retinopathy of Prematurity, London: Institute of Education.
  • Ockelford, A. (2009) 'Zygonic Theory: Introduction, Scope, Prospects', Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie, 6(2), 91–172.
  • Ockelford, A. (2009) 'Focus on music, part two: exploring the musicality of children and young people with retinopathy of prematurity, Insight, 24, 36–37.
  • Bruce, T. and Ockelford, A. (2009) 'Understanding symbolic development', in T. Bruce (ed.) Early Childhood Education, London: Hodder Arnold, pp. 105–117.
  • Welch, G.F., Ockelford, A., Carter, F-C., Zimmermann, S-A. and Himonides, E. (2009), 'Sounds of Intent: Mapping musical behaviour and development in children and young people with complex needs,' Psychology of Music, 37(3), 348–370.
  • Cheng, E., Ockelford, A. and Welch, G. (2010) 'Researching and developing music provision in special schools in England for children and young people with complex needs', Australian Journal of Music Education, 2009(2), 27–48.
  • Dimatati, M., Ockelford, A., Heaton, P., Pring, L. and Downing, J. (2010) 'Absolute pitch in children with congenital visual impairement: a preliminary study', Proceedings of ICMPC11, Seattle.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Special abilities, special needs: introduction'; and 'Sounds of intent: musical development in learners with complex needs', chapters in G. McPherson and G. Welch (eds), Oxford Handbook of Music Education.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Imagination feeds memory: Exploring evidence from a musical savant using zygonic theory', in D. Hargreaves, D. Miell and R. MacDonald (eds), Musical Imaginations: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Creativity, Performance and Perception, Oxford: OUP.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Another exceptional musical memory: evidence from a savant of how atonal music is processed in cognition', in I. Deliege and J. Davidson (eds) Festschrift for John Sloboda, OUP.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Songs without Words: exploring how music can serve as a proxy language in social interaction with autistic children who have limited speech, and the potential impact on their wellbeing', in R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz and L. Mitchell, Music, Health and Wellbeing, OUP.
  • Ockelford, A. and Vogiatzoglou, A. (2010) 'Sounds of Intent: Phase 3', PMLD Link.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Evidence of musical development of pupils with PMLD', SEN Magazine.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Using education in music, and education through music to promote well-being in children and young people with complex needs', in R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz and L. Mitchell (eds), Music, Health and Well-Being, OUP.
  • Ockelford, A. and Welch, G. (2010) 'Sounds of intent', in Music as a Natural Resource: Music in Education Project, Compendium produced by the United Nations, International Council for Caring Communities.
  • Welch, G. and Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Music for all', in S. Hallam (ed.) Music Education in the 21st Century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, Analysis and Aspirations, London: Institute of Education.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Music - window on the autistic mind', What's Special, European Network for Opera and Dance Education, Brussels.
  • Ockelford, A. (2010) 'Understanding autism', Libretto, 2010(3), 11.
  • Vogiatzoglou, A., Ockelford, A., Welch, G. and Himonides, E. (2011) Sounds of Intent: software to assess the musical development of children and young people with complex needs', Music and Medicine.
  • Ockelford, A. & Zapata Restrepo G. P. (2012). Sonidos de la intención (SOI): Un proyecto para valorar y promover el desarrollo musical en niños con dificultades múltiples y severas de aprendizaje. Revista Acontratiempo, 18. [web]
  • Ockelford, A. (2012) ‘Sounds of Intent: A music curriculum framework for pupils with learning difficulties’, NAME Magazine, 37, 7–8.

How can I become involved with SoI?

As of April 2012, all Sounds of Intent Site Users will obtain practitioner privileges automatically. This means that you will be able to start recording session data without having to contact us via email, simply by following the automated user registration procedure.

Please do not create an account if you are not planning to record session data using the SoI Framework. All site visitors have full access to the complete corpus of information; you do not need to register in order to access SoI resources and information.

If you simply want to test the site and experiment with session data recording, please use our test account
username: test, password: soitest

Please respect this policy; failure to do so will result in having your account, email and IP addresses blacklisted with Sounds of Intent.

What do I need to do in order to obtain a practitioner's account?

Please create an account on the SoI website and follow the easy steps for becoming a user/practitioner. The information that we require is:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Qualifications
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Employer
  • Birth year

this information is vital for us in order to ensure that this free resource is not being abused by individuals or others that do not belong here, but also in order for the SoI research team to be able to perform longitudinal -fully anonymised- statistics.

What about confidentiality? Are the data safe?

The Sounds of Intent team comprises academics and researchers at the University of London and Roehampton University. We handle recorded data with confidentiality and always in compliance with the British Educational Research Association's (BERA) ethical guidelines.

As an additional safety measure, and in order to ensure that parents, teachers, carers, and School Heads are confident that session data are safe, we also enforce anonymity. The Sounds of Intent database does not record, require and/or accept pupils' names, addresses or any other personal information that could help identify that individual.

In order to research and monitor development and also maintain a meaningfully coded research database, we record the following information:

  • pupil's alias (only known by the registered practitioner)
  • pupil's date of birth
  • pupil's ethnicity
  • pupil's sex
  • pupil's special needs
    • Cognition and Learning Needs Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD)
      • Moderate Learning Difficulty (MLD)
      • Severe Learning Difficulty (SLD)
      • Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty (PMLD)
    • Behaviour, Emotional and Social Development Needs
      • Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulty (BESD)
    • Communication and Interaction Needs Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN)
      • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
    • Sensory and/or Physical Needs Visual Impairment (VI)
      • Hearing Impairment (HI)
      • Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI)
      • Physical Disability (PD)

Can I download my own recorded data?

Absolutely! Always! You will always be able to download your raw session data as a simple comma separated values (CSV) file, for your own personal records and/or further analyses of pupil development. The SoI system will also be generating dynamic progress charts for your recorded sessions automatically; you will be able to download and print those too.

SoI core team

Sounds of Intent Free Online Resources and Technologies

Dr Evangelos Himonides

This resource has been designed, developed and is being maintained by Dr Evangelos Himonides, iMerc co-director and Reader in Technology, Education and Music at UCL Institute of Education.

Please visit the Contact page for contact details.

Sounds of Intent Project team

Professor Adam Ockelford

Professor of Music, Roehampton University (former Director of Education, RNIB)

Professor Graham Welch

Professor of Music Education, Established Chair of Music Education and Head of the Department of Early Childhood and Primary Education, UCL Institute of Education

Dr Evangelos Himonides

iMerc co-director, Sounds of Intent software development manager and SoI webmaster

Sally Zimmermann

Music Advisor, RNIB

Angela Vogiatzoglou

Ex-Research Officer (2009-2010)

Dr Fern-Chantele Carter

Ex-Research Officer (2005-2007)