To keep a student from looking at the keyboard too much, take a sheet of poster board and cut a little semi-circle out of one end for the neck. Attach ribbons on either side to tie around the neck. Occasionally, use this for simpler reading to break students' habit of looking down so much. This makes students feel and listen for the notes-some habitually look for every note even before looking at the music!
—Robin Stewart, Littleton, Colorado
When teaching beginning reading to students-we present the clefs as street names and the notes as houses, with specific addresses. Just as students know their families live on particular streets with particular addresses, they also know they have neighbors who live certain distances from them. We follow up with a game that uses little Matchbox cars finding the correct houses (notes).
—Music Learning Center, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio
My best theory and rhythm-reading students are those that play pop music. Don't insist on classical music as the only legitimate course of study. With pop music, not only do students apply their study of chords, arpeggios and so on, they play sophisticated rhythms. And by "jamming" with their friends, they are learning collaboration, improving their listening skills and just having fun. There is more to pop music than meets the classically trained eye and ear.
—Lana Robotewskyj, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
One of the reasons students pause at bar lines is that the notes on either side of the bar line are usually printed further apart than the rest of the notes. As these notes appear further apart visually, the student thinks there must also be more time between them so she plays them further apart. Therefore, as soon as staff reading is introduced, I warn the student that only the value of the note determines how long it should take to get to the next note.
—Jeanne Martens, Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania
If I suspect a student is playing by ear rather than trying to read the music, I turn off the power on the digital piano and carefully watch the notes he is playing. This is a little bit harder with a more advanced transfer student, so I have him play one hand at a time. I tell the students, until they learn to read note directions and intervals, they will have to play with no sound. They soon buckle down and learn to read!
—Jeanne Martens, Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania
When students have a difficult time understanding the concept of notation, I write out (or have them write out) the Grand Staff, where they can see that the musical "alphabet" is continuous, moving from below to above middle C. Then we sing one of their simple pieces, pointing to the notes as they move up and down the Grand Staff. This provided a breakthrough for one young student, who before the exercise could not understand the relationship of what she was playing to the printed music.
-Submitted by Melanie Braun, Flagstaff, Arizona
For beginning students who have difficulty tracking the correct number of repeated notes, draw a different colored line under each repeated note.
—Connie McFarlane, NCTM, Anchorage, Alaska
Look for ways to bring sight-reading into each lesson. Use short music examples that are at least two levels below a student's current level of learning, and give them time to scan the score before playing. Ensemble music played with another musician or recorded accompaniment gives a steady pulse to keep up with. Solo music can be tried alone, or students can be challenged to play every other measure as you fill in the missing part. Students who sight play the right- or left-hand part of newly assigned piano music have a head start on home practice. The more advanced the students, the more detail you should expect in their sight playing. You, as the teacher, will instantly see what concepts your students have mastered and where they still feel uncomfortable.
—Lezlee Johnsen Bishop, NCTM, Salt Lake City, Utah
Sharps are higher and to the right. Some are black, and some are white. Always play the very next key on the right. Flats are lower and to the left. Some are white, and some are black. Always play the very next key on the left, and you know you're on the right track.
—Billie Leach, NCTM, Shreveport, Louisiana
At a student's first lesson, we go over the alphabet backwards from G to A. I tell the student to learn it during the week and to see how fast he or she can say it. It really is helpful for recognizing descending notes.
—Susan Schilke, Oregon City, Oregon
For elementary students, a cure for stopping at measure bars is saying, "Now we must not stutter? Right?" Most students do not like the word "stutter," so we get to work fixing it.
When a student's fingers seem to go in a different direction than the music is leading-talk to him or her about the thinking process. I often will guide a student (even the youngest) to consider how his or her eyes look at the music, then a message goes to a special part of the brain that in turn tells the fingers to press the keys shown in their music. Also, I encourage the student to concentrate so his or her "brain thinking" will get more exercise, and the correct message will go to the fingers. My experience is that the students gain a new perspective on developing keyboard skills and began to understand the power of concentration.
In the fall, when elementary and intermediate students return for lessons, I find they are a little rusty on the note reading. Drilling with intervals is very helpful to bring them up to speed and increase their confidence in note reading, for example, identifying seconds, thirds and so forth.
—Nancy Nicholson, NCTM, Providence, Rhode Island
With parental permission, write finger numbers, LH, RH, treble clef and bass clef directly on a beginner's hands and fingers for quick orientation, vivid experience and evidence that a piano lesson has been encountered.
Cut a copy of an eight- or twelve-bar piece into one-measure pieces. Students can then try to reassemble it in a logical fashion. The results are sometimes hilarious, and the finished product can be used for sight reading.