TO STAY SANE TEACHING CHILDREN TO READ MUSIC
Teaching kids to
read music will easily drive you insane if you expect children to
understand it as an adult does.
Adult brains and
children's brains are two different things, in two different
categories of capability.
just, at six, becoming aware of the world and embarking on
interacting with it. But their brains are not yet fully developed.
The evidence for this is in their lack of left-right hand
coordination skills. Compare a 7 year old and a 12 year old in
terms of dexterity at the piano and there is a world of
But reading music
is mostly mental, not physical, and in this area, too, younger
children naturally lag behind in terms of abstraction skills,
memory and perceptions of multiple dimensions simultaneously
(left/right, and slow/fast at the same time, for example.)
dimension, up and down, may at times be taxing to a child, if you
push again and again at a single concept. And timing is
everything: on a bad day, a simple idea may not get through,
whereas on a good day very complex ideas are sometimes grasped.
similarly, requires the mastery of one concept before another can
be laid upon it, so piano teachers find themselves hammering away
at those first steps in hopes of getting the whole music reading
This is a crucial
stage where it's important not to let the child feel like a
failure. If they don't get an idea the first five tries, just
back off, but not before you've figured out what the problem is.
For example, you might be teaching the idea of notes moving up and
down at the keyboard, and discover the child is hazy about the
idea of left and right, a key precursor concept, without which you
can't teach up or down.
So find out if a
"precursor skill" is hazy before you hammer away at a music
reading concept. Often the problem is a lack of an underlying
skill that has to be solved with conceptual games before the
greater idea can be attacked. Learn how to properly prepare the
simplest of concepts in reading music (up/down, left/right, etc.)
before you demand they understand a larger concept.
And sometimes the
obstacle is purely physical. For example, very young kids, 4-6,
may have trouble moving the fingers separately. Thus, any
attempt to teach fingering will not go well unless prepared with
dexterity games aimed at making the fingers perform as a group.
And the simplest
idea to keep in mind is to not ever let the child feel a failure
at reading music. I whisk away the music reading book and move to
something else before they can form the idea of themselves at a
For example, I
may have a child find Middle C on the page perhaps 50 times before
I try to move ahead and have them find any other notes or ideas.
When they are absolutely sure of the Middle C building block, we
move to something that amplifies upon it, like the note next to
it, and other notes on the lines of the staff.
distinguishing between Middle C and the note on the lowest line of
the staff (3) may be a huge task for a child, one that consumes
weeks of small blasts of work. Kids take their own time to be sure
of things, but, once sure, it's almost written in stone and you
can build upon it. So go slowly.
Working in such a
"modular" fashion has benefits for a child, for they are never
subjected to lengthy sessions of mind-numbing music reading, but
rather to short bursts of it posed as games.
Now that you know
the proper attitude, here are the rough steps you should follow.
Each of these steps may take weeks, depending the child and their
Middle C on the page and the piano.
the five lines of the staff, on the page and on the piano,
using the five stickers of the Piano by Number system.
the spaces in between the lines, on the page and on the piano.
restrict yourself to the first 5 notes above Middle C, in
Piano by Number these are 1 2 3 4 5. Every method starts with
this simple group of white keys.
at page after page of notes and have the child identify
whether notes are
on a line
on a space
on it's own little line, Middle C.
proceed further until the child can identify any note's
line/space status as in #5 above, both on the page and on the
Once these above
ideas are firmly in mind, try songs that involve the first three
notes, C D E or 1 2 3 in Piano by Number. Have them try to read
these three notes. Whisk it away when they get bored. Eventually
they will get it.
Most confusion is
because they child doesn't know how to coordinate the "up"
on the page with the "up" on the piano. Working with so many
dimensions and locations (page/piano) is confusing until they have
tried it many times, and it is your job to see that those many
times are passed agreeably and without frustration.
Make sure each
step is mastered separately, and make music outside of reading
music, and the child will slowly learn how to read music.
Most of all
don't make the mistake of thinking that reading music is all
that matters and consequently overemphasize it. It's not the
most important thing.
What matters most
is the child's willingness to return and try again.