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#946300 - 05/25/04 01:34 PM Student having tough time learning notes
4x4_luvr Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 3
[sorry for the length, thanks if you can bear with me] main topic: how can I help a student, 9 yrs old, improve her note-reading time?

I recently picked up a new student whose older sister had been teaching her. She was way too advanced for what she understood and wasn't counting at all. I think she just learned to "copy" what big sis would play for her. I have managed to start getting a handle on the counting thing.

But she still takes about 20-30 seconds to name and play a note on a flashcard. So, you guessed it: sight-reading music takes FOREVER. Exception: if there is just one hand involved, she is reading by interval "relatively" well - although even then sometimes she'll play down a 3rd instead of up a 3rd, and I'll ask her about "what direction is the music going?", and follow the note-to-note path with my pencil, and she won't even always get that right.

And when the other hand joins in, it probably takes 20 seconds longer, then, on each count for her to play both notes.

We worked flashcards TO DEATH for about 4-6 months, and I saw virtually no improvement in note-reading speed, much less playing it on the piano. I gave up on flashcards FOR NOW. I asked her if she said the little All Cows Eat Grass-type sayings every time to read a note, and she said "No, I know lots of them without having to do that." - news to me! \:\)

In my search to find a way for her to actually play (I'm sure she's thinking I'm horrible, since her sister had her playing much harder songs - although I must note that none were with both hands yet), I have gotten ahold of a book which has finger numbers on most of the songs, and she does very well then.

So I bought another line of books, with less finger numbers, but the "crucial" ones (first note in the left hand after several counts of rest is numbered, but the rest of the continuous "phrase" notes are not), moving her back a level to the very beginner (but not primer) level. She still struggles because of note-reading, although if the intervals are 2nd or 3rds and it doesn't do both hands at once, she's "ok".

Do any of you have any other suggestions to boost note-reading skills; and then to transfer that to the keyboard. I feel lost because I didn't start her off - I would not have let her out of the primer level with this problem. But she's already out of it, and I'm trying to work with her. She's 9 and obviously doesn't have a lot of talent for it, but seems to enjoy playing the songs she knows.

Side note: when she does practice a lot of minutes in a week, it doesn't even seem to help for the songs for that week - which makes me wonder - should I suspect poor practice skills then?

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#946301 - 05/25/04 01:41 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
Paulo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 134
Loc: québec
You could try very simple music dictation. This can actually be fun, play a few notes and have her try to write them down by ear. It will also give you a better idea of how much ear she has and will maybe help her understand intervals better. Bad habits are very hard to overcome so do not despair.
independent tuner/tech

#946302 - 05/26/04 10:06 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
KBarmonde Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/26/04
Posts: 1
Loc: Draper, Utah
I have found that teaching with Jon Schmidt's (spelling???) method works well. You can download it from his website - www.jonschmidt.com. I had the same problems, and this method has helped me a lot!
Kristen Barmonde

#946303 - 05/27/04 12:19 AM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
Candywoman Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 1046
What a well-thought out question. I'm glad you gave up on the flashcards. When a child sees a note that isn't related to anything, they cannot remember it. You could have them play the note on the card, but then why not just play a short phrase of a piece of music.

Intervallic reading and using associations like All Cows Eat Grass help a lot. Other suggestions:

1) play a phrase silently on the palm of the opposite hand while saying the letter name, before returning to the piano.

2) use a primer as an adjunct to other material. Call it the exercise book and she won't balk. (Leila Fletcher Book One)

3) have her play pieces that were let go two weeks prior. Encourage the reviewing of old pieces at home.

4) Do not have stress about note-naming. It isn't everything. Stress other musical elements to allow mental breaks between attempts. For example, choose good music such as Snow White by Leslie Fly, or Miniatures by Janina Garscia.

5) Be patient. Sometimes cover her hands when she plays something easy. Be careful how you respond to wrong notes. I always say, that sounds nice but it's different from the page.

Good luck.

#946304 - 05/27/04 08:31 AM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
junmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/22/04
Posts: 397
Loc: United Arab Emirates
She may be looking up and down while dealing with every single note.I agree with the last suggestion. By covering her hands she will be forced to use another part of her within, which is her sense of imagination and touch. Speed will play a very important factor on this though. Make sure that her mind will be her guide on which note to press. Therefore, play really slow on the first go. You may repeat the same exercise but this time provide her with a steady tempo by helping her count while playing or by using a metronome.

Your choice of reading material is also vital to perk up her interest. Don't let her sight read pieces yet but stick to those that offer fixed 5 finger positions.
Piano tuner / Piano teacher
United Arab Emirates

#946305 - 05/31/04 12:42 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
4x4_luvr Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 3
Thank you, all who responded, for the great suggestions. I will certainly try most, if not all, of these tactics (hopefully the first one I try will be "the key" and she'll take off \:D ). I have been throwing some primer material in, explaining by saying "You're getting into some more difficult songs now, with 2 hands involved, and I'd like for you to have some songs that are more fun for you to play since they are easier." and hoping that they just keep helping, even if by small amounts, in her note-reading capabilities. Along these lines, we also have been doing some fixed 5-finger position exercises from books like "Fingerpower" and other technic-style books.

Thanks again!

#946306 - 09/06/04 05:43 AM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
intermezzo Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/31/04
Posts: 2
Loc: southern hemisphere
I agree that the ability to read notes fluently can be hampered by the fact that pupils are not keeping their eyes on the music most of the time. I also think they need to have more confidence in note reading before moving on to more difficult pieces. May be you can try giving them pieces that's half a grade easier (or those with more familiar notes), but stress that they must play them very fluently and accurately and have their eye on music throughout. This will develope their trust for their fingers and boost their confidence in sight reading, as well as playing hands together. hope this helps.

#946307 - 09/06/04 09:38 AM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
NeoDavinci Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/03/04
Posts: 201
Loc: Oklahoma
Anything you can do to have her write notes herself on staff paper will help. Have her compose short melodies and write them down. The earlier dictation suggestion is a good one too. You can improve her ability to recognize rhythms at the same time.

#946308 - 10/04/04 12:38 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
pianistang Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/04/04
Posts: 2
Loc: Indiana
I sometime write out a page of single notes on staff paper. The kids love to see how fast they can name them. Also, some of the students have been introduced to simple transposing. A few weeks ago, I had them pick a very short song to copy on blank staff paper one week. The next week they transposed that small piece onto the same sheet of staff paper. Not only were they able to work on notes, but they saw the music from a different perspective!

#946309 - 10/19/04 10:45 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
PianoMum9 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/19/04
Posts: 19
Loc: Surrey, BC
Don't get discouraged. Bad habits are hard to break. Are you doing some theory with her? Flashcards are too much in isolation, but something like the theory books from the Faber & Faber Adventures in Piano series are usually helpful because they combine written work with ear training and sight reading. There were some other great ideas posted. Good topic.

#946310 - 10/27/04 01:49 PM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
pianocamel Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 11
Loc: Lillington, North Carolina
I also get several transfer students who struggle with note reading. One boy I had recently had this problem and was about ready to quit because he would get too frustrated when he played.

For some of my students, writing them down on staff paper makes all the difference in the world. For this boy, though, it still made no sense. So, we went all the way across the room to a row of chairs lined up against the wall. (I teach in a Sunday School classroom at a church. \:\) ) We spaced out the chairs and made them the line notes, with the spaces in between the chairs the spaces. After he got the hang of which chair was which, we went to the blackboard. I drew the five chairs with lines coming out from them and the light came on for him.

Students learn in many different ways. Your girl might be a very kinestetic (sp?) learner. Very hands on, moving around kind of person. You can order large floor mat keyboards and staves from several places, or come up with your own creative way of learning away from the piano.

Just thought I'd mention those ideas since I know they have worked for me in the past. Good luck with her!

#946311 - 10/28/04 09:30 AM Re: Student having tough time learning notes
DW_mod Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/12/04
Posts: 117
I haven't read all of it, sorry, cause it's quite long , but this's what I have to say.
Firstly, to let the students have reliable note reading abilities, they should already have a good linear feel. If not, go back to step 1 and make her do various 'trace out the lines' in colour pencils... trace out line 3 in blue or line 1 in green kinda exercises. And make her colour the space, then draw space notes, then line notes and so on.
1. Okay, so that means: Linear feel, space and line concept comes first before notes recognition.
2. Verbalisation and movement of notes. Let her know the solfege of notes ( u can use solfege singing for this ) before she actually learns to read them. It will help her to navigate in steps in the future. Do not proceed in the learn 1 note and memorise it kind of way. It doesn't work for this kind of children. Then, get her to know what is up and what is down. Use a magnet game for this. Let her move the magnetic note around the board, in between the lines and so on.

Then, comes the actual playing.
I find that 'Improve your sight reading' by Paul Harris to be most helpful for a progressive study, and Hal Leonard's notespeller is excellent for kids.
There are certain things one can do ( specially recommended for people with poor co-ordination or slow note reading. )
1. U can memorise some space or line formulas as guidelines to help u read, and it's easy to navigate around em.
Treble(space notes)_ FACE
Treble(line notes)_ Every Good Boy Does Fine
Bass ( space notes )_ACE is Good, or, All Cows Eat Grass
Bass ( line notes )_ Good Boy Does Fine Again.
2. After u've got that in yr head, yu learn to navigate around the staves with that. U do written ex. of note spellers, then gradually leading into verbal ex...as the main difference between written and spoken form lies in the speed.
3. Then, do Hal Leonard's advanced notespeller whereby they make u learn to read notes in shapes and intervals...this is esp. helpful for chordal playing. And they make u recognise different intervals such as steps(2nd), thirds( leaps), fourths and fifths and so on.
4. Try Paul Harris's clapping ex. The purpose of doing clapping is not to check the rhythm, but to work on the co-ordination between the 2 hands. So often have I seen teachers making students do these clapping ex in two seperate lines, which is really wrong. Let the kid clap the 2 lines at once, so it'll be pretty mucgh like playing on the piano itself. Right hand for the upper line, and left for the lower line. Start with really simple rhythm, then progressing into dotted rhythm, triplets and so on.
5. Now, here is when the actual playing comes in...after the student is equipped with adaquete note reading abilities-Pls note that the student does not have to read every note itself, most often, they are encouraged to read in steps and shapes, to ensure a good flow.
Start with real simple ex that anchors around the key note and moves in steps, then progress to leaps of thirds, then 5ths.
4th will come in by itself, so long as they can tell the difference between 3rds and 5ths. And methods as such work not only for chords, but for melodic progression also.
Both hands always seems more tricky. But it'll be tackable if it's done systematically. Start simple BH ex with 'false' BH playing. RH doing steps and leaps, and LH with tied notes, or occasional 'shapes'...preferably 5ths. Then take it to the next step, LH in steps, and RH with shapes....and so on.
And the ultimate element, is the ability to read ahead. Choose spaced out rhythm such as minims for a head start, and perhaps chords...since shapes are easier to identify. So, it'll go like this: 0 read, 1 play, 2 read, 3 play, 4 read the next bar, 1 play... and so on.
Then, finally it'll develop into something like this... 0 read, 1 play, 234 read, 3 play... This means that they'll actually read 1 whole bar/phrase ahead.
And lastly, always remember that chordal progresisons are always easier to sight read, it's the linear ones that are difficult.
And if all things fail, make her do alot of theory or written work. I find that this helps their note reading remarkably. Though, of course, that will not change into playing ability( sight reading ) unless u drill her on it. But at least, she's reading her notes.


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