Leading to Reading
We can make music without learning to read music. So why do piano teachers put so much emphasis on note reading?
Reading music gives …
- Another "language"
- A chance to play or sing whatever you like
- A way to communicate with other players or singers
- A way to share music you compose
- A mode for communicating complex art music
Reading symbols …
- Stimulates neural networking within the brain
- Helps you solve problems
- Arouses curiosity
- Provides clues to other cultures
- Intensifies poise and self-worth
Pictures, gestures, and speech prepare us to read our native language. Similar experiences prepare one to read music.
The natural learning sequence
|Experience first||Names later|
|See and touch your toes||"toes"|
|Reach above your head||"up"|
|Feel an ice cube||"cold"|
|Hold and play with a ball||"ball"|
|See (many) dogs||"dog"|
In music—the natural learning sequence
|Listen to music||Soft/loud, Up/down, Fast/slow|
|Feel rhythms||Note values|
|Recognize patterns||How to compare and describe them|
|Create music||Ways to write it|
The Challenge: Sensory OverloadPianists have a lot to think about: correct posture, large muscle use, small muscle control, coordination, and complex musical notation. This poses a special problem for beginning piano students. Like an over-watered flower garden, the beginning student's attention may become "saturated"—overwhelmed by too many concurrent, challenging stimuli.
It is not at all surprising that something has to "overflow". Indeed, beginning students commonly exhibit problems with tension or faulty basic technique when their attention is wholly absorbed by music notation. Sometimes students play unmusically or are insensitive to wrong notes because attention to reading distracts them from listening.
The language we call music notation is a rich mosaic, conveying a wealth of specific instructions to the player: Which key do I play? How long should I hold it? How loud? How should I play the note in relationship to others surrounding it? What finger and hand should I use? Are there ways to initially simplify this language so the student may gradually develop reading skill without the consequences of overtaxing a beginner's attention?
The Solution: Pre-readingJust as training wheels aid a child learning to ride a bike, pre-reading introduces beginning students to reading notes. Pre-reading notes do not appear on the music staff, and note names are placed inside the note heads. The notes are carefully placed on the page to show the contour (shape) of the melody, thus stressing directional (up and down) reading.
Pre-reading teaches …
- Steady pulse
- Read note rhythms
- Read directionally
- Recognize patterns
- Differentiate left and right hands
- Track with the eyes from left to right
- Place hands on the correct keys
- Equate stepwise movement with adjacent fingers, skips with non-adjacent fingers
- Feel rhythm
- Correlate notation and performance
- Memorize by pattern