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Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956009
11/21/08 10:08 PM
11/21/08 10:08 PM
Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 12
West Chester, PA
dlgwarner Offline OP
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dlgwarner  Offline OP
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Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 12
West Chester, PA
My 11-year old son has been playing piano since this past summer. It has bcome apparent to both his teacher and me that he is playing by ear and is fairly illiterate when it comes to sight reading music and locating keys. (I do not play and have just a rudimentary knowledge of piano and music reading, remenants of F A C E and Every Good Boy... from elementary school.)

My son enjoys playing piano and falls into the "exceptionally gifted" category for visual-spatial intelligence. But, he is a divergent thinker and is also ADHD. What that means is that he is rather impressive at building abstract connections between things, visualizing 3-D space and mechanical design. However, is really suffers when it comes to rote learning and rarely reads through instructions. Instead, he prefers to look at pictures and "guess" or intuit their meaning and significance.

Most of the sight reading aids I have come across so far are really designed for linear thinkers and teach rote learning through repetition. (Approaches that only engender frustration for my son.) I have read some posts on this forum regarding teaching patterns and musical "words" as a better approach. This sounds like it could work better fo my son.

Can anyone point me in the direction of good resources for learning this on a self study basis so he can work on it between lessons. The more interactive and/or three dimensional the better.

Thanks for any suggestions you can offer. I don't want him to begin avoiding playing, but I think its probably pretty important for him to learn how to sight read if he is to progress.

Debbie

PS - We just had our first "real" piano delivered yesterday, a brand new Cunningham professional upright, so he is pretty motivated to play right now.


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Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956010
11/21/08 11:43 PM
11/21/08 11:43 PM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,586
Canada
keystring Offline
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dlgwarner, he's been learning piano for about 5 months? What kinds of things has he been doing with his teacher? How is his reading being approached right now? How is he learning the name of the keys, or how has it been presented to him? (to get a bit of a picture and maybe set the ball rolling)
Quote
Can anyone point me in the direction of good resources for learning this on a self study basis so he can work on it between lessons.
This puzzles me a bit -- He would be assigned things to practice, and his practicing should be toward things his teacher wants him to achieve. His teacher wants him to be able to sight read and recognize the notes? So his teacher would (I think?) be giving him ways of doing that. But you are looking for a way of doing that so that he can do a bit "between lessons". But this should already BE something that is happening and assigned by his teacher, no?

Has his teacher given him ways to build his reading skills?

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956011
11/22/08 04:07 AM
11/22/08 04:07 AM
Joined: Feb 2008
Posts: 355
Lacey, WA
Sal_ Offline
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Sal_  Offline
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Lacey, WA
I'm spatially oriented, and while I can't tell you how I learned to sight read, I can give an idea how I DO sight read, which I don't think is much, if any, different from what I've heard others say.

For individual notes, I don't think "This is an A, now find the A on the piano." Rather, "there's a dot in the second space it corresponds *here* on the keyboard." Once I get a starting note, I mostly judge distances between notes--ie. I'm reading intervals and not notes.

For chords, I recognize a combination of patterns and intervals. Three notes on top of each other mean 1-3-5 (in most cases,) and I put my thumb on the bottom note and the rest fall into place. Say that top one is moved up a little--then the top note on the key is higher, too.

When it comes down to it, the best way to learn to sight-read is by doing.

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956012
11/22/08 04:30 AM
11/22/08 04:30 AM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 10,856
London, UK (though if it's Aug...
keyboardklutz Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by dlgwarner:
My son enjoys playing piano and falls into the "exceptionally gifted" category for visual-spatial intelligence. But, he is a divergent thinker and is also ADHD.
William James warned teachers and parents not to get too caught up in this way of thinking over 100 years ago. You need to make sure you're covering all bases, especially the weaker ones. Besides, if he really is ADHD he's gonna have problems being gifted at anything. He'll be mostly living a strange 'life-in-shattered-mirror' existence.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956013
11/22/08 05:06 PM
11/22/08 05:06 PM
Joined: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,534
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Gyro Offline
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I don't see how you can call a person
who can't read gifted. A better term would
be handicapped or even ********. Furthermore,
it seems that parents can actually encourage
this kind of thing, because they want
so much for their child to be gifted.
Thus, they let the child slide by,
relying on instinct, and so he never
buckles down and learns how to discipline
himself and do the drudge work that is
the basis for all achievement in our
society. And so over time the condition
gets worse and worse. How is such a
child going to ever write a term paper?
And if you can't write a term paper,
how are you going to get through college,
let alone high school?

What needs to be done is for him to
start buckling down and learning the
discipline that he will need to achieve
anything in our society. And a good
place to start is with learning how
to read sheet music. Make him learn
pieces that he hasn't heard before, and
don't let the teacher play it for him
beforehand, Suzuki-style, so that he
can memorize the sound. Make him
figure out everything laboriously
note by note. He'll have to go back
to very elementary pieces, but that's
exactly where he belongs with his
childlike intellectual development.
It might take years to fix this,
so best start right now.

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956014
11/22/08 05:18 PM
11/22/08 05:18 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 10,856
London, UK (though if it's Aug...
keyboardklutz Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Gyro:
I don't see how you can call a person
who can't read gifted. A better term would
be handicapped or even retarded.
And I thought I was being harsh. Gyro, don't ya love him!


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956015
11/22/08 05:23 PM
11/22/08 05:23 PM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,586
Canada
keystring Offline
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The student has had lessons for six MONTHS or so, given that he started "last summer" or maybe 1 1/2 years if that means the previous summer. Gyro is probably assuming that becuase the boy is 11, he started some years ago.

Nonetheless, there is no call for such a prognosis. Dlgwarner, that writer is not a teacher (I'm not a music teacher either, though I am a teacher).

If he has a good ear, it would seem natural that he would use his strengths because that's what we do. We still don't know what has been tried up to now, what he can actually do, how his teacher has addressed his learning to read and learn notes. What instructions has this teacher given? I would just expect that the teacher would be the one to find ways of overcoming a weakness. Am I wrong?

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956016
11/22/08 05:32 PM
11/22/08 05:32 PM
Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 6,500
South Florida
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Gary D. Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Gyro:
I don't see how you can call a person
who can't read gifted. A better term would
be handicapped or even retarded.
If you want to talk about people who can't read, start with yourself.

Quote

…fairly illiterate when it comes to sight reading music and locating keys.


Piano Teacher
Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956017
11/22/08 05:36 PM
11/22/08 05:36 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 10,856
London, UK (though if it's Aug...
keyboardklutz Offline
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but:
Quote
...However, is really suffers when it comes to rote learning and rarely reads through instructions. Instead, he prefers to look at pictures and "guess" or intuit their meaning and significance.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956018
11/22/08 05:44 PM
11/22/08 05:44 PM
Joined: Jun 2007
Posts: 4,896
Puyallup, Washington
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Betty Patnude Offline
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Puyallup, Washington
Perhaps your son could show the teacher how he learns to do things by taking a pencil and blank paper and drawing pictures of what he thinks she means.

Letter names are not necessary to know on the music staff, it is their relative position to other notes that a reader such as he, very spatially oriented is going to see best. Having to name them before playing them is going to slow him down and confuse what he is seeing.

I think he will learn best by having a starting note on the music and on the keyboard to build from - this is called reading by distance and direction.

Distance is how far does the next note "live" from the last note played? Direction is did it go up or down or remain the same? How far did it go up, a step? or a skip?

He may be having some trouble with his durations (note value counting).

He may be having trouble with his fingering choices.

Make sure he knows Right and Left Hands, up, down, North, South, East, West, and up and down on the music staff, and on the keyboard. This is crucial to make sure he has a fixed orientation of his position related to his work at hand. (The teacher may have never considered this).

Does he have vision problems? Quirky gestures? Does he change subjects easily when talking, or interrupt himself with another thought? Is he a talker or a listener?

You have many things you can observe about how he processes things.

The better you know his habits and thinking style, the sooner you will help him organize this fundamental basics of notation.

Good luck!

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956019
11/22/08 05:56 PM
11/22/08 05:56 PM
Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 6,500
South Florida
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Gary D. Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
but:
Quote
...However, is really suffers when it comes to rote learning and rarely reads through instructions. Instead, he prefers to look at pictures and "guess" or intuit their meaning and significance.
I don't read instructions well either, never did…


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Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956020
11/22/08 05:58 PM
11/22/08 05:58 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 10,856
London, UK (though if it's Aug...
keyboardklutz Offline
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Maybe you're ADHD too.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956021
11/23/08 04:56 AM
11/23/08 04:56 AM
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 5
Levin, New Zealand
Raern Offline
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Levin, New Zealand
I'm only a beginner at sight reading myself, but I have a similar learning style to your son. Reading music and associating it to the right key on the keyboard is very much about visual and spacial skills however, so I'm not too sure what the issue is.

I guess my main comment is that repetition is the only way to learn this in the end. Anything you find to help will just be making the repetition easier, so with that in mind look for creative ways help him associate the notes with their written counterparts. Personally I prefer practicing off "real" music, even if I can't play it at tempo while I'm practicing reading, each song I run through makes me a little more familiar with the notes and common patterns of notes. The pay off being that while I get some practice reading sheet music, I also memorise the melody.

There is one interactive resource I ran into online that helped me a lot, a freeware program called "note ID". You can find it here: http://www.musicstudy.com/FreeDn.html

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956022
11/23/08 06:29 AM
11/23/08 06:29 AM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,586
Canada
keystring Offline
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Dlgwarner, could we shift to what your son has been taught so we can see what's been happening so far? The question is about his ability to read music (after 6 months? longer?) and recognize note names. For anyone to give suggestions, they first have to have some background in that area. Here are some angles:

- What kinds of things he has actually been working on: Is he being given pieces to learn? While he is being given pieces to learn, what is the teacher doing with them? Is he explaining anything about how he wants your son to approach them? What kinds of things might that be?

- Did he introduce your son to note names? In what manner? Has he guided your son from the beginning in learning those note names? There are two angles - on the sheet music and on the keyboard. So, has he taught your son to read music from the sheet music ? In what manner? What has he told your son to do in order to learn to read from the page? What has he done about the keyboard? Has his teacher given your son ways of understanding the notes on the keyboard. For example, that C is the white note to the left of the two black notes, and that there is a recurring pattern - finding all the C's - or anything that this teacher might have done to guide your son in learning what the notes are on the keyboard?

If your son is playing by ear, he first needs to know what the music sounds like. How does he know what it sounds like, if he's not reading it? Listening to a CD? Familiar music that everyone knows?

If your son is gifted, bright, and a divergent thinker, then he would be the kind of person to find his way toward goals if they have been set. So if he sees the need for learning to read, meaning familiarity with the keyboard and note names, and the sheet music, he might find his own way of going toward those goals. The goals have to be defined first.

If his abilities go toward creating maps and patterns, that is exactly what both reading music and understanding the layout of the keyboard are about. He can use that.

Finding strategies for learning how to read music is the job of the piano teacher. This has to be the goal and effort of any teacher who believes in reading music. It is not something that you should have to do, and it is not an "extra" thing that you do between lessons - it is THE thing that his teacher should be guiding your son toward. If he has made the observation that he has memorized the music and is not strong in reading, what did he then say your son should do in order to become strong in reading?

I'm asking these questions in the hope that your answers might help the piano teachers on this board get insight to enable them to advise you. If you read this discussion forum, you will notice that reading music is a large issue for learning to play the piano, because it is an instrument that plays so many "voices" at once. Other instruments play only one line of music. Many people find they have to work hard in the area of reading as a particular issue of the piano as an instrument.

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956023
11/23/08 06:45 AM
11/23/08 06:45 AM
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Posts: 10,856
London, UK (though if it's Aug...
keyboardklutz Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by keystring:
I'm asking these questions in the hope that your answers might help the piano teachers on this board get insight to enable them to advise you.
Don't worry on my account love.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956024
11/23/08 07:28 AM
11/23/08 07:28 AM
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Posts: 16,586
Canada
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nm

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956025
11/23/08 08:00 AM
11/23/08 08:00 AM
Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 13,837
Iowa City, IA
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It's very important to keep in mind that sight-reading is not a single skill. It's a combination of skills applied in a certain way. In the beginning stages, those skills are taught separately.

Right now, your son should be learning pitch identification, rhythmic reading, technique, and theory separately. Once a basic foundation in those four things are strong, reading will come far more naturally.

Also, a word about being a visual-spatial, divergent thinking, ADHD student: I question whether he's truly ADHD - it tends to be heavily misdiagnosed in divergent visual-spatial people. That being said, even if he is all three, that won't affect his ability or speed in learning these skills either way. It will mostly affect his comfort level with the instruction. If the teacher is trying to engage him with conversation and explanations, it'll be a somewhat painful process. If the teacher makes use of manipulatives and movement activities, then things will go much smoother.

Another concern I have is that you asked for "resources for learning this on a self study basis so he can work on it between lessons. The more interactive and/or three dimensional the better."

By definition, self-study is not interactive, and the piano is already 3-dimensional. My guess is that you need a slightly different approach. I'd consider materials that are geared towards improvisation and composition. It will engage the "right-brain" more and encourage reading from a slightly more abstract perspective

There is also some software available that he may find interesting. Take a look at the Sibelius Education suite - they have several things that might appeal to his age group and learning style:

http://www.sibelius.com/products/index.html

In particular, consider Compass and Musition.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956026
11/23/08 09:59 PM
11/23/08 09:59 PM
Joined: Nov 2008
Posts: 12
West Chester, PA
dlgwarner Offline OP
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West Chester, PA
Thanks everyone (well almost everyone)for your replies so far. I had composed a lengthy reply yesterday and unfortunately lost the whole thing when I tried to insert a quote. I did not have a chance to try again until now and I have may more things to think about. Sadly, some of these postings reveal how some rather ignorant, insensitive individuals are quick to spout off about that which they are woefully uninformed. Thousands of posts does not an expert make. mad

Now that I am done with my own minor digression, I'll quickly clarify a few things about my son.
  • He is, more thank anything else, a regular 11-year old boy
  • He was medically diagnosed with ADHD, which is very effectively being treated by the Chief of Pediatric Psychiatry at one of the leading children's hospitals in the US.
    with medication, he is generally highly functional, but can be easily distracted
  • He has been reading independently since the age of 4 is an avid reader and reads well above his grade level.
  • He has been in the "Academically Talented" program within our public school (a Blue Ribbon School District) having tested on the WISC-IV at the 99.9th percentile for visual comprehension, 97th% for verbal comprehension and 99th% for full scale IQ=138

The purpose of this post is not to boast about my son's intellect, but I suppose it is my way of telling some posters to "stuff it." wink

Now, about his piano lessons so far. He just began piano lessons in July with weekly 30-minute lessons for 8 weeks during the summer. During that time, his lessons were given by a summer teacher at a well regarded performing arts center in the Phila suburbs. He worked with the Alfred's Basic Adult All-In-One Course book and Matt apparently learned to read music and play simple, basic pieces (Lightly Row, etc.) I wasn't able to sit in on his lessons to know how he was being taught because my younger son had violin lessons at the same time. At home, we only had an electronic keyboard for practice. By the end of the summer, he decided he wanted to continue lessons.

He began lessons with a new teacher, "JP", at the end of September (and has had 8 weekly 30-minute lessons so far.) I have sat in on most of these lessons. So here is a run down of a typical lesson:
  • He first makes sure Matt is properly positioned at the piano and has him begin playing whatever piece he working on, currently "When the Saints Come Marching..." He will reach over and gently correct his hand/wrist position while playing, if necessary.
  • He will then have Matt play treble clef only, focusing on timing and touch, correcting as needed. If there is something Matt isn't getting, he'll say "take a ride" and place Matt's hand over his own so he can see and feel what he means
  • He will also have Matt read-off the notes in timing, as he points to the notes, especially if Matt seems to be making a lot of mistakes on the notes.
  • He'll similarly work on bass clef, working chords and proper chord location (rather than individual notes.) He will also make sure Matt is demonstrating appropriate touch, which he seems to be pretty pleased with.
  • For homework, he assigns specific stanzas in the current piece and requires a minimum number of times through for treble clef and bass clef individually before playing the whole piece with both hands a few times
  • JP also assigns workbook pages in the book on theory.
  • JP is not partial to the Alfred's book and has asked us to get the "Celebration Series" by Frederick Harris Music. He has also had us pick up a book on sight reading

This past Thursday, we had our first real piano delivered (a brand new Cunningham professional upright) so Matt is pretty motivated to play (and he enjoys it.) He loves to build and create and has been working on his own composition which I encouraged him to write down in his music composition book (which he did.)

For what its worth, Rich Galassini, of Cunningham piano knows Matt's piano teacher and was quite complimentary of him.

I imagine some of what's needed is some patience on my part (he has had just 15 lessons as of this posting) and Gyro, disciplined work on my son's part. Knowing his learning style and his frustration with feeling like he's trying over and over but not "getting it" I wanted to try to "get out ahead" of this and try to find an engaging way for him to master sight reading.


Thanks again to the suggestions you have provided so far. I will follow up with them. If the information I've provided above generates any additional suggestions, I greatly appreciate them.


Congratulations Philadelphia Phillies!!! 2008 World Series Champions!
Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956027
11/23/08 10:18 PM
11/23/08 10:18 PM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,586
Canada
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Dlgwarner, it's good to see your reply. I've zeroed in on this one thing:
Quote
Knowing his learning style and his frustration with feeling like he's trying over and over but not "getting it"
Is it possible that he doesn't really have much of a problem, but is not accustomed to anything being slow for him?

There is an article by Mary Beth Lewis, a respected piano teacher and pedagog, which impressed me a few years ago, discussing bright children including the problem of being bright - something I had never before seen mentioned but found important to read. Coming upon anything difficult can be bewildering, because the gifted child may never have encountered such a thing and doesn't know what to do with the experience. In case it is any use to you for this one aspect, here is the article:
M.B. Lewis - Gifted Students
KS

Re: Teaching Sight Reading to "Visual-Spatial" Learner #956028
11/24/08 02:05 AM
11/24/08 02:05 AM
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Posts: 13,837
Iowa City, IA
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Being a "divergent" thinker who hates reading instructions, major breakthroughs in my reading came in working with others - first in duets with my teacher and then in accompanying my high school choir.

Also, the idea that every aspect of his musicianship should be on track at the same time is a fairly linear one that might not fit him well. Again speaking from my own experience, I was often way ahead in some subjects and way behind in others. I always got caught up, but I was never able to stay engaged by everything at the same time.

Another thought - Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences comes to mind. One of the aspects of that theory is that "giftedness" isn't comprehensive. People are usually talented in some areas and completely normal in others. As you've said, his reading and spatial skills are way ahead, but his bodily-kinesthetic (physical technique) and musical (the ability to intuit sound) intelligences may or may not be advanced as well.

A final thought, the reading of rhythm and pitch are mastered separately before they come together. (This is the basis for Kodaly and Orff pedagogy and is corroborated by Edwin Gordon's research on the subject.) The lesson you described above doesn't seem to address these two aspects of musicianship in a particularly focused way. (I could, of course, be wrong, since I don't really know the details of what the teacher is doing.) It may just be that the teacher has other fish to fry at this point and will get to the reading later. It sounds like the work is primarily technical at this point, which is actually a good thing. Without the technique, nothing else really matters...


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
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