TEACHING Piano Adventures®

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 …

Reading symbols …

Pictures, gestures, and speech prepare us to read our native language. Similar experiences prepare one to read music.

The natural learning sequence

Experience firstNames 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

FirstThen learn
Listen to musicSoft/loud, Up/down, Fast/slow
Feel rhythmsNote values
Play musicNotation
Recognize patternsHow to compare and describe them
Create musicWays to write it

The Challenge: Sensory Overload

Pianists 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-reading

Quiz the student: Are the notes stepping up or down? Find another measure that's the same!Just 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 …

Conceptual Skills

Motor Skills

Musical Skills

Don't be fooled!

Pre-reading is not a delay of reading "real music". It is a rich opportunity to shape conceptual and musical development through engaging all the senses and intellect in appropriate and compelling ways.