For many students, one of the main reasons why they don’t continue on their instrument is because they have difficulty reading notation in addition to learning how to play their instrument. Having to manipulate small muscles to perform exact movements is challenging enough, but many method books also add the task of interpreting music notation at the same time.
Although well intentioned, one cannot internalize and fully understand notation if there’s no context for it. An analogy would be placing a college level text in front of a 5th grade student and asking them for a detailed discussion and analysis of the material.
Many school music teachers have to put on concerts and are told by their administrators that their students must read music right away. Music reading is considered the top priority instead of learning and performing songs (melodies and bass lines) by ear. This puts unnecessary stress on the teacher and student, and prohibits real learning.
The fact is, we need to hear melodies, internalize them, sing them over and over, and then perform them, and play variations on them; this is similar to how we learn to speak, read and write. After we have learned a number of melodies and made up some of our own, then we are ready to read.
Nonetheless, as a student, some of you need to read notes right away and are having difficulty. Here are a couple of tips for you:
- Do you know your alphabet? Actually, do you know your alphabet from A-G? If so, the only letter names in music are A through G, and then they repeat again. If you memorize the note on the bottom line of the music staff (E in treble clef and G in bass clef) all you need to do is go further along the alphabet with each higher note, and backwards along the alphabet when the notes go lower. (See graphic below)
2. Is it easier to remember cute little sayings? How about these: (See graphic below)
Always work out your notes and fingerings BEFORE you try to play the example. Many students just automatically attempt to play an exercise without working through the fingerings and notes first. It is best to practice these fingerings in the rhythms that you see…. We will be talking about that next time!
- Decide which tip works best for you: alphabet or the sayings.
- Spend 10 minutes a day only working on reading notes. Start with songs you know, then advance to examples where the notes skip.
- Report on your progress in the Comments section below.
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