This is why you should not learn to read music first

This is why you should not learn to read music first

Should All Music Students Learn to Read Music?

As a music teacher, I’m often asked about reading music.  Some parents want to know,”Will my child learn to read music?”  These are usually parents who have had musical training and see the benefits of being able to read music from the last 1000 years of music literature!

Music notation is an incredible invention.  It is so concise, brief and elegant in it’s description of what would have been a lost experience.  But that’s the problem.  It’s so concise and symbolic, you need years of training, practice and conceptual development to simply read music.  It’s well worth the effort though.  Learning to read music unlocks the doors to vaults and vaults of incredible music by the masters from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Stravinsky to Bernstein to Miles, Bird and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to name just a few.

But My Favorite Rock Star Can’t Read Music

Others want to know if they “have to learn to read music.”  This is usually from parents who struggled with reading music and really did not enjoy the process.

I can see both points of view.  While yes, there is a great value in learning to read music, many of the greatest musicians cannot read standard music notation.  Paul McCartney is just one example.  And no one would ever claim Sir Paul is not a “real musician” or songwriter.

The Old School Traditional Way

Traditional music teachers often start with reading music. They want to do this because it is teacher-centric. It’s easier for teachers as there’s so much music written with traditional notation.

Music notation is over 1000 years old!

Ye Olde Songs…yawn

So, often, this old school, easy way for teachers, is also focused on older music.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But, if you want to connect with younger students, you need to find a common ground.  You need to connect them with their music.  No, you can’t start immediately on the latest songs on the radio.  But you can accelerate the learning to get to that goal much quicker.

 

This is why you should not learn to read music first
This is an example of Bach’s handwritten notation from back in the 1600’s!

 

Accelerate Learning Techniques for Music

At Park Slope Music Lessons, we feel that to present the written music first is backwards. It’s like teaching grammar rules before even learning to say hello!

Our curriculum, the Musicolor Method®, works by giving students an experience of playing first, while building up technique and then gradually presenting the language of music through games and activities. It’s much more entertaining and twice as effective!

By empowering children of all ages to immediately start playing, there’s a huge boost of confidence.  Emotion is part of all learning.  How do you feel if you don’t get it?  Dumb?  Confused?  Frustrated?  But what if you could learn to play a simple song within the first five minutes of your first lesson?

Take a look at our videos, and the rest of our site.  You will see we have helped so many kids here in Brooklyn and now around the world learn to make music in a manner more organic, fun and fast.

Life Skills Through Music

And that leads to building life skills transferrable to school, work…everything!

Teaching Kids How To Read Music Using Solfège, Hand Signs & Kinesthetic Learning

Learning Solfege with Curwen Hand Signs

Teaching young kids to read music is quite a challenge.  I approach through a long process of micro-steps.  It’s the reverse of peeling an onion.  It’s a layering technique of building up from tiny kernels of understanding, expanding outwards. The first lessons are always performance focused – get them excited about playing a song!  It’s fun and within reach to play a song in 5 minutes!  That is so awesome! Then over the course of many lessons, we explore basic concepts of music theory through a series of games.  One of these “games” is learning solfeggio (Italian pronunciation), also known as solfège (French pronunciation).  This is the system of pitches with words that was created in the eleventh century by a Benedictine monk, Guido de Arezzo.    

To make it easier, I always look for ways to engage other learning modalities besides visual or aural.  In this case, an Englishman by the name of John Curwen did this work in the 1800s by creating a system of hand signs to go with the solfège system.   This engages the brain to have another way of remembering these pitches.  Kids love it and it certainly is fun! Another great educator (and composer) the Hungarian Zoltan Kodàly took these hand signs and made it easier by associating a height with each sign to correlate the rising of the pitch with each syllable. In my lessons, I teach my students using 2 hands to make it even easier as it balances both left brain and right brain.  Plus it’s easier and more fun!  Did I mention that fun is important? I created a printout for my students that features…them(!) – to help remember these. You can download this here. Get Download

Learning Solfege with Curwen Hand Signs
Solfege is fun!

  Hopefully we’ll all be singing and signing at our next recital. Here’s a video from another teacher (who also produces wonderful educational tools which I use and heartily recommend.)   After internalizing these pitches and then connecting them with notes on the staff, reading music becomes connected with the aural, visual and kinesthetic.  It has become much easier to move into any standard method book after a few weeks of this.   [button link=”http://themusicolormethod.com/blog/” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Click here for more music teaching tips[/button]   http://youtu.be/zCbDD5kfp-g

A Typical Music Lesson – My Approach to Teaching

4 hands are better than 2!

Apologies for the site being down all of last week.  But we’re back!  Here’s a quick update and enjoy the week off for Thanksgiving!

 

As many of you know, in each of my lessons, my aim is to address 3 main areas: repertoire, reading and music theory.

Repertoire

This is building up a collection of pieces that your child can play from memory and perform in public.
It allows us to work on technique and bring music to life whilst giving a great confidence boost and joy in playing. This material I often present using my own color notation which enables your child to learn a piece as quickly as possible and then memorize it. Many of you are using Suzuki material for this repertoire whilst others are working on a combination of Suzuki with jazz, blues, pop and world music.

Reading

To  learn to read music is truly a great skill. To be musically literate opens a whole door to deeper appreciation. Reading music is not as difficult as it seems, but requires a steady practice diet.   I will usually not start this until we’ve been playing a repertoire of about 7 to 10 songs.  I use a proprietary method of notation to get them up to speed quickly with simple and then complex pieces.

Music Theory

This is the nuts and bolts of music. We get under the hood and see how music is structured and built through games, exercises, composition, dictation and listening.  It makes music fun if you know the how and why. It also changes your listening and deepens your appreciation of music. It can be quite abstract at times which is why we have many many activities and games built up over a long period of time.

Listening

I realize not everyone has a massive music collection at home and I’m often asked, “What should we be listening to?” I’ve recently written a series articles for Jill Simeone’s lovely parenting blog Cozy Owl which address, Early Childhood Music, Essential Listening and Music for A Road Trip.

In the near future, I’m hoping to post playlists of Music Every Child Should Hear via this site.

 

NOTE: Winter Music Session

The winter music session is starting on Monday November 28 and will run until February 11.  I will be sending out invitations for the limited openings available to those on the waiting list.   If you would like to join the waiting list, please go to the contact page and click the link.

How To Read Music: Rhythm using Stick Notation

When teaching to read traditional music notation, I separate the 2 parts of pitch and rhythm.  Rhythm is easy to teach using stick notation.

[update-12-3-12] Stick notation is taking traditional notes and removing the note-head.  The note-head is the round dot at the bottom of the stick.  The dot is placed on the 5 lines of the staff and depending on where it is, tells us which pitch to play.  By removing the note-head, we focus only on the rhythm.

The use of hand movements, words and sounds enable us to get the music in our body, mind, eye and ear.  Multiple modes of experience!

This method is created by Michiko Yurko and you can find her and her books/games/workshops at MusicMindGames.com.

Here’s a little video I made with the help of Ava.

Essential Reading for Parents of Music Students

Talent is not inherited. The first month in a nightingale’s life determines its fate…I had always thought that a nightingale’s incomparable song was instinctive or inherited. But it is not so. Nightingales to be used as pets are taken as fledglings from nest of wild birds in the spring. As soon as they lose their fear and accept food, a “master bird” is borrowed that daily sings its lovely song, and the infant bird listens for a period of a about a month. In this way the little wild bird is trained by the master bird…It is not a matter of being born a good singer or a bad singer…the life force has a wonderful power to adapt to environment.

Continue reading

At What Age To Start Music Lessons?

As a teacher of music, this is a common question I hear.  Every child is unique and while there is no one right answer, I can offer a few guidelines.

ABCs

One of the first “games” I play with my younger students is to have them order the letters of the alphabet.  This is a chance for them to show off their knowledge, build confidence and break the ice with their new teacher.  I do this by giving them a stack of flash cards, each with one letter on it.  By connecting this to the musical alphabet, there’s usually an “a-ha” moment.   So if you’re child knows their ABCs, it will be easier to connect the dots to the musical alphabet.

Interest

Having a child who is passionate about music is probably the most important thing.  The amount of time required to master these new skills and concepts is great.  Has your child been asking about music lessons?  Do you listen to music around the house?  Does your child sing spontaneously?  If so, these are all great signs that your child is ready for more musical challenges and instruction.

Fine Motor Skills

Many kids, especially younger ones, have difficulty controlling different fingers.  With these children, I usually spend more time on singing, clapping and movement activities designed to internalize basic music concepts.  With piano, these kids can play melodies with one finger.  Other instruments may need to wait.

Which Instrument?

Voice is the instrument we already own.  With all of my students, we sing, clap and speak out all of the songs we are working on first, to internalize their rhythms, pitches and phrasing.  As we develop our voices, we can start to work on specific techniques like diction, phrasing, acting etc.

Piano is the easiest external instrument for anyone to learn.  It does not require physical strength nor the building up of calluses or specific breathing techniques or lip tension.    For all of my students, regardless of instrument, we spend some time learning the notes on the piano.

Guitar requires strength to press and hold down the strings.  This gets easier the older the student.  Check my website for recommended half-size guitars for younger students.

I would recommend piano as the first instrument anyone learns and then if there is interest, to move to other instruments.  I currently teach piano, voice and guitar and may offer wind instruments at a later date.

Curriculum

A previous article about the Goals of Beginning Music Lessons will also give you a better idea of our first weeks of lessons and whether your child is ready to embark on the magical journey of music.

NOTE:  This article came about from a conversation and a request from Melissa at Hip Slope Mama.  The article will soon appear there too.

The Goal of Beginning Music Lessons

My goal with my beginning music students is to

  1. Ignite the passion, fun and excitement of music within
  2. Introduce the names of the notes
  3. Connect those notes to their location on their instrument
  4. Connect those notes to standard written notation
  5. Through achievements, build their sense of self confidence and self worth.
  6. Have fun

To go through these steps, I have a variety of techniques and methods.  Steps 1 and 2 are usually not a problem.  If you know only the first 7 letters of your ABCs you know all the names of the notes in music.  Connecting those note names, A-B-C-D-E-F-G to where they lie on a guitar or piano or xylophone can be a challenge, especially for 3 to 5 year olds.  Once students know where the notes are on the instrument, we can make music and the fun begins!

I have experimented with many methods out there.  One method is to use color to correlate note names to keys.   I’ve been doing this with some of my younger students with great results. This is not synesthesia, where a person actually perceives one sense with matched with another like say “middle C is always a certain hue of red.”  It’s using what is readily available as a transmission system that is highly developed in all but the color-blind.

However, there is a caveat.  One has to know when to remove the “crutch of color” to allow the student to walk on their own.  Otherwise they never progress to the next level.

For example, some electronic keyboards have a feature of a “follow me” type game.  The student presses “play” and the notes play out a song whilst lighting up the proper keys.  This is similar to a video game called Piano Wizard.  The student presses the colored piano keys to play the game which is like a version of Tetris.  The falling colored eggs or blocks line up with the piano keyboard.  This may seem like a good idea, but it really actually interferes with the connection of note name, sound and location on the instrument.  The student is wrapped up in just playing the game and winning points.  I had this exact experience when I used this game with my son who was, at the time, just getting to know where the notes on the keyboard were.  The game became a crutch and hindrance to advancement.

By using a removable translucent colored tape, I can correlate note names to the keys.  Being removable is key.  Once we introduce other methods of knowing where the notes are, the colors can get in the way.

I’ll write more about these and other methods in future posts.