Joe's Blog

Beginners: Perception of the note on the music score

September 5, 2021

Different Perceptions of the same physical fact.

A student at a particular lesson fails to recognize a3 as the identify of the  note on the top line of bass clef. However, I know he knows both where that is on the keyboard and what it looks like in bass clef.

I may tell a student several times in the course of a minute or two that  that  particular note in the score is on the top line of bass clef. The student is  confused. It is indeed possible that in this particular case, in this particular edition of a score, they have that day an altered perception of the note: it does not “seem” to be on the top line of bass clef. With patience and closer examination I can probably, eventually convince the student to perceive  the note differently. But it can be confusing, for both student and teacher. Why is it that no matter what the teacher does and says, the student’s original perception of the note as not being on the top line persists. The student is sure that the teacher is wrong in their claim it is on the top line. The teacher is vainly trying to figure out why the student sees it differently than they do. Is it a conceptual failure on the part of the student; optical, psychological. Is the teacher making a mistake, is there something obvious that the teacher  is missing? Is it a sign of opposition and rebellion – the student is just trying to make the teacher frustrated.

The first step is to acknowledge that neither the student nor the teacher is doing anything incorrect. A perception is a perception.  There is no arguing what a perhaps thinks they see. Perhaps the student’s perception will  morph back into the  other, more traditional perception, as when they next have occasion to look at the same note on the page.

The importance of gathering data.

When a student plays a wrong note, the first thing I ask is “what note do  you think you are playing?”. Often the student gives the correct name of the note. If so, the problem is not misreading the note on the page but an  inaccuracy in where the student has located their hands or a finger on the keyboard or, perhaps, a momentary forgetfulness as to the names of the keys by their relative position on the keyboard.

It is important, in such a case, to give the student “partial credit” for what they just played. “Let’s see what the half is due to.  But for now, you are definitely half right.

“Let’s start by looking a little closer as to where your finger is located on the keyboard.”   But then there is the possibility that the student read the note incorrectly and is playing the note they intended but misread it on the page. Can I distinguish one situation as against the other, unless I check in with the student and find out what was going on in their mind during the process of reading and playing that.  It takes patience, for both people.

And then there is the further possibility that the student both misread the note and failed to put their finger on the note that corresponded to what they thought the note was. In this case, it is often possible that the result is that the two mistakes canceled  each other out, with the result that the student plays the correct note, and the teacher may never know there was any problem at all. If these complex occurrences are not diagnosed the  student may make similar “non” mistakes in the future.

We do not know what is going on in another person’s mind. We should analyze each situation to determine if possible which of several different causes could have given rise to a particular note error. We can also accumulate evidence as we get to know the student better until we have a list of most likely suspects till for this individual in this situation.


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