The Battle To Read Music

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The battle to read music is largely one of speed. If you go at a glacial pace, it is no battle, and the child wins because they have time to sort it out.

If you want musical Blitzkrieg, the child will assuredly be defeated. Speed does not work. There are too many complex ideas to be absorbed by a child’s mind.

Yet the conventional piano teacher lives on that speed, getting through “the book” (Faber, Bastien, Alfred) and onto another, so the student can be called “accomplished.” After book 1 comes book 2. It’s very exciting.

A page a lesson, that’s the rule, and if your child goes slower, they’re a dunce.

A page a lesson is an absurd expectation. I expect a grain of sand and am often pleasantly surprised.

I don’t measure by pages. I measure by skills. You either have the skill or you don’t. I’ll devote 20 lessons to an essential skill if necessary, no guilt, no shame, no comparisons to other kids. No speed, just patience.

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Some kids never really learn to read music, or only learn the right hand (“treble clef”.) It takes tremendous persistence on the part of both teacher and student.

Other kids, once introduced to reading music, only want to do that, and build up tremendous skill at it lesson after lesson, the pedant’s dream.

But these kids were allowed to delay reading music until they thought themselves ready. No one force fed them Bastien. They took up reading music when they felt confident. You have to “listen” to them.

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Children’s struggle to read music is largely age-based. Concepts that are impossible at 5 are easy at 9.

But from my experience, it is better to slowly introduce the elements of reading music slowly, as soon as possible, on a very reduced diet.


Below are the tools kids receive to start reading music in conventional piano lessons:

Five lines above, keyboard below
Five lines above, keyboard below

They get five horizontal lines (most kids are not sure how many lines there are) and a piano keyboard below it. Two completely different graphic systems in different planes and dimensions, and we expect the kids to jump in and play.

Here’s our solution: stickers to tell kids where the five horizontal lines are on the keyboard:

Five lines related to piano keys
Five lines related to piano keys

By giving kids a visual reference point, we reduce confusion greatly. A “note” can only be on a line or a space. Make the child into a detective: is the note on a line or space?

All of this is exhausting for a child, all these decisions and observations.

Break it up with a little fun, like the FOURS PIANO GAME or some familiar songs.

Abstractions are exhausting for kids, music is not.

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