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Originally Posted by ToweringMaple
Hello everyone, a bit of background first. I have been taking my nephew to piano lessons (40min. a week) by a russian teacher for three years now. She plays very well and holds a degree in music. True to my past experience with russian instructors, she is strict. My nephew has gone through all of Harmony road beginner books where she taught him on the solfege scale with a moving do. His has recently become much more adept while learning songs he has picked out (Wet Hands, Sweden, <-Minecraft Music) & He is finishing his longest piece yet of three pages with the Angry Birds Theme Song <-left hand modified to play every other note.)

According to her, his biggest weakness is that he memorizes the notes right away instead of reading the music. This is true to an extent but he can and does read music - just not quickly - and he will look at the music to figure out the correct notes when he messes up. She also has not taught him scales or arpegios (Non musician family so we have no idea what those are, I just hear about them a lot.). She wants to move him on to easier pieces so that he will stop memorizing. Yet my nephew really does not like learning out of the book. He likes music that he can connect to (hence the game theme). I don't think moving to easier songs will fix the problem either because he will be sent home with a new song each week that is relatively short. This means he will just end up memorizing the easier short song where when learning longer more difficult songs he has to look at the music at least occasionally. My question is two fold. 1.) How should one improve sight reading? 2.) How should one measure progress? Is his progress typical for three years of music instruction? I think I just need some confirmation.

Other song he knows are the intro to Fur Elise, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Blue Danube. He learned all of these about a year ago though.

links to the three songs I mentioned (Angry Birds is the most difficult I think):
Sweden: https://musescore.com/torbybrand/sweden-minecraft
Wet Hands:https://musescore.com/torbybrand/wet-hands-minecraft
Angry Birds: https://musescore.com/sveciaost/angry-birds
The most important thing right now is that your child is enjoying what he is doing and it sounds like he loves certain kinds of music so let him play it. If the teacher supports him and likes what she sees let her introduce the more technical stuff when she feels it is appropriate. Personally I wish I had been taught advanced scale work, exercises, and such in my pre-teens but your son will be fine if he doesn't have his scales down pat by 10. He has time.

You can learn the piano and play well knowing just a few scales, the rest of the technical stuff and other scales can be introduced in the music your son plays if the teacher picks pieces carefully. I've never practiced scales consistently (if at all) throughout my training. Can't say I really know many of them at all unless they appear in a piece then I'm forced to work on them in the pieces I play (but yes, that's my loss should have learned them years ago to hammer them into my brain doing so now would just be busy work with very little carryover for an adult learner like me.)

I do recommend however that your child learn his scales and arpeggios within the next few years because it will help be a much better pianist later if he has these patterns hardwired in his brain at an early age. If only I could turn back the clock I would have done a lot of this work in my youth if only I knew better.

Last edited by Jethro; 10/07/20 02:39 PM.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by DanS
Reading music without understanding the chords you're playing is akin to reading letters without understanding the words.
I don't think there's any need to jump the gun for a 10-year-old kid. Does he really need to know that he's playing an A flat 6 chord in second inversion in his 'game' music? I don't think so. (And jazzers will probably call the chord something else.....)

Shouldn't a 10 year old whose been playing for 3 years know when they're playing a C chord? Shouldn't he begin to understand how chords relate to each other? It's not hard to teach, I've been doing it for 30 years. It helps a lot.

Why in the world would you choose a extreme example like you did as an example of why a child shouldn't learn basic theory? It's really childish.


Originally Posted by bennevis
Similarly, when I started learning English (at nine), I was reading lots of adventure books in American English (like Cannibal Adventure smirk by Willard Price) without understanding any of the American idioms used in them (and which my dictionary gave no help), but my comprehension of English developed regardless, such that I was able to read Lady Chatterley's Lover - and understand it - within a few years.


This proves my point exactly!!!!! The student doesn't need to understand every single chord, but can learn a lot from understanding some. Thanks for supporting my argument.

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You have touched on my underlying worry I think. What you learn as a child becomes hardwired into your brain and is very natural. As a former competitive athlete, though I have not practiced in years, I know I can simply go and do many of the base skills in figure skating because it's my muscle memory. This is why I am somewhat concerned about him not learning 'scales' as it seems like a basic. Looking at the former, that scales and music theory go together, makes it more important to me as my nephew has expressed interest in composition from the very beginning. I'll have to ask his teacher I suppose and listen and inquire as to her reasoning.

He does know chords. He knows all the basic (7?) ones and how they correspond to the solfege (do=c chord).

Last edited by ToweringMaple; 10/07/20 02:58 PM.

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Originally Posted by DanS
Shouldn't a 10 year old whose been playing for 3 years know when they're playing a C chord? Shouldn't he begin to understand how chords relate to each other?

Why in the world would you choose a extreme example like you did as an example of why a child shouldn't learn basic theory?
Did you actually look at the music he's playing?

He's not playing Twinkle Twinkle in C major. He's not even playing Mozart's Twelve Variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman".

Adults are far too wedded to book stuff, often learning lots of theory that is of no help in actually playing the piano, but we're talking about kids who just want to play what they want to play.

Are you going to go into detailed explanation with the kid of how the chords he's playing relate to each other?


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Originally Posted by DanS
Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by DanS
Reading music without understanding the chords you're playing is akin to reading letters without understanding the words.
I don't think there's any need to jump the gun for a 10-year-old kid. Does he really need to know that he's playing an A flat 6 chord in second inversion in his 'game' music? I don't think so. (And jazzers will probably call the chord something else.....)

Shouldn't a 10 year old whose been playing for 3 years know when they're playing a C chord? Shouldn't he begin to understand how chords relate to each other? It's not hard to teach, I've been doing it for 30 years. It helps a lot.

Why in the world would you choose a extreme example like you did as an example of why a child shouldn't learn basic theory? It's really childish.


Originally Posted by bennevis
Similarly, when I started learning English (at nine), I was reading lots of adventure books in American English (like Cannibal Adventure smirk by Willard Price) without understanding any of the American idioms used in them (and which my dictionary gave no help), but my comprehension of English developed regardless, such that I was able to read Lady Chatterley's Lover - and understand it - within a few years.


This proves my point exactly!!!!! The student doesn't need to understand every single chord, but can learn a lot from understanding some. Thanks for supporting my argument.
Reading this I can tell my approach to music is different from other amateur pianists. I was taught the foundations of music (note recognition, time signatures, dynamical marking) at a very young age on the organ. I took high school and college level music theory courses but honestly would have to say I forgot a lot of the details. I'm not particularly good at analyzing advanced pieces of music using music theory I do know, but one thing I've always emphasized was having a personal connection with the music I'm playing and trying to convey that connection to anyone who happens to be listening.

I've listened to and heard the music from some amateur pianists who had an excellent grasp of music theory and could analyze pieces at a very profound level but could not connect to the music they were playing or convey what the piece had to say to their audience. (I have professor friend of mine who told me he played the piano all through his teens. Was able to play very advanced pieces including several Beethoven Sonatas, Grieg's Concerto, Rhapsody in Blue to "technical" perfection, but he told me that he knew he had no emotional connection (absolutely none) to the music he was playing and he was once criticized for this during one competition he entered. The man was a brilliant engineer and mathematician and he told me it took him well into his middle to late years and many years of voice training and working with a chorus that he began to have an understanding of what it means to tell a "musical" story. He told me the concept was very foreign to him for many years that it bothered him and he gave up the piano as a result and now has been dabbling in it here and there.)

I think where this child is now and for many other children would be fine. The most important thing is that he's developing a connection with the music he's playing such that he can give it meaning and convey that meaning to his audience. The fact that he is moved by certain pieces he plays is a great start. I'll never forge the first time I "heard" music for the first time. I was 4 years old and my uncle who was an accomplished organist played a piece on our family's organ and I was completely overcome with a strong emotion that if a 4 year old could have an orgasm that's basically what it felt like (sorry but it's true) and I decided then and there that I wanted to learn how to play the keyboard. I could still remember that moment in my life as clear as day- and I was four! After that I would spend hours listening to music on the radio by myself arranging the pieces on the organ that I heard and this continued into my pre-teens. Connecting to the music at a young age I think is critical if playing music will be something children will carry through their adult lives. Don't spoil it with too much theory and technical work too soon. Let it come naturally.


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Originally Posted by ToweringMaple
You have touched on my underlying worry I think. What you learn as a child becomes hardwired into your brain and is very natural. As a former competitive athlete, though I have not practiced in years, I know I can simply go and do many of the base skills in figure skating because it's my muscle memory. This is why I am somewhat concerned about him not learning 'scales' as it seems like a basic. Looking at the former, that scales and music theory go together, makes it more important to me as my nephew has expressed interest in composition from the very beginning. I'll have to ask his teacher I suppose and listen and inquire as to her reasoning.

He does know chords. He knows all the basic (7?) ones and how they correspond to the solfege (do=c chord).
I think he has a few years to take advantage of what early scales training has to offer. It's not the end all be all of playing the piano but having those skills at an early age I'm sure would help a lot. Right now the best thing to foster is his innate love for music. Maybe looking for music he likes to play with scale like passages would be a good start, but I think he's still on the right track.


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Originally Posted by ToweringMaple
He does know chords. He knows all the basic (7?) ones and how they correspond to the solfege (do=c chord).
Seriously, that's all he needs to know at this stage.

As for scales, ask the teacher by all means, but frankly, he's doing well and I think it's better to let the teacher do the teaching.

Incidentally, I wouldn't teach like his teacher, but then, I only teach classical music, and I follow a standard international syllabus. If a student wants to play other stuff, I'd send him to someone else.


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Originally Posted by ToweringMaple
an someone explain the importance of scales? From my understanding its to build finger strength and finger independence but this doesn't really make sense to me. You only need finger strength if your playing really long songs and this is something you would naturally work up to. As for finger independence I can understand a little more here but it looks like the fingers are simply mirroring each other which doesn't seem like true 'independence.'

For me, the analogy would be something like technique drills and gym exercises for a sport. Let's just say basketball. Sure you can improve by just playing the game, but targeted drills (shooting, dribbling, footwork, etc) can be more efficient towards building proper technique.

Like dogperson said though it's possible that it'll come later. It's possible that the teacher had already gone over scales and but simply decided it's not appropriate to assign them as part of practice. It's just worth understanding the teacher's plan and sync up to make sure everyone's on the same page. Piano lessons for a child is somewhat of a collaborative effort between the teacher and the parental figures.

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I started piano at the age of five and I can assure you I didn’t learn scales immediately—/ but later. The training then included more theory than is usually taught. (One 45 min theory lesson per week). I don’t think I was stifled by this plan.... which is what my teacher thought best.

For Pete's Sake, give the teacher the opportunity to add elements when she thinks it should be taught. sitting in our armchairs and second guessing doesn’t feel right. He is learning to read music; he is learning chords. She is a Russian trained pianist; we should have the confidence she will add scales when appropriate.

The collaboration with relatives should be, IMHO, is the student practicing what he was asked to practice. .. not questioning ‘when are you going to teach scales’ .


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After seeing this conversation play out I am not worried about him or his teacher. I'm quite happy about this conversation though because its helped me make my own mind on the relative importance of scales and how it fits with my nephew's development. Also, what this truly has turned into is how much theory should a child know who is not an absolute beginner. Not much of this can be found on the web so I'm happy we were all able to add to the archives for this debatable topic.

Last edited by ToweringMaple; 10/07/20 04:03 PM.

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There's scales and there's scales. The teacher has taught him solfege and thumb crossings. Based on that I think she has already taught him scales appropriate for his current studies.

There is also the serious scale work, and my (also Russian) teacher did not start me on it until after years working on touch, speed, Czerny, Bach, and a few sonatas. I think the Russian regiment takes scales so seriously and is so demanding, that it's not taught until the student has developed the ear to detect imperfections, and commitment to technical work, among other things.

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One thing that hasn't been discussed a lot thus far (unless I missed it, which is possible!) is the benefit of playing scales... I am not a music teacher, so I may not be able to articulate all the pedagogical aims, but having said that...

I think one reason for playing scales to get used to the fingering (even though in the context of specific pieces, fingering will change). The other detail is that by playing all the scales, the student gets more comfortable with all the key signatures.

So one benefit is to play the scale that matches the key of the piece the student is learning, and do that before working on the piece during each practice session.

Same with arpeggios, it helps the learner get comfortable with the hand shapes and move across the keys in that key etc.

I'm writing this here just to answer OP's question, not to say that the teacher should necessarily change her approach.


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Originally Posted by ShiroKuro
I'm writing this here just to answer OP's question, not to say that the teacher should necessarily change her approach.

lmao, I love how this thread has already gotten to the point where reasonable responses actually need to have a disclaimer attached with it. grin

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