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Young Students and Music Reading

Diagnosing the cause of note reading difficulties in beginners.

Pointing to a measure in the music score, or even just a single note from either clef, and asking the student to draw on paper what they see on the page is often the fastest and most direct way to see how the student’s brain is perceiving what they see when looking at the music score.

We do not expect the student to make an exact representation, but what they do draw still gives us insight into how their mind is perceiving the music page.

There are certain types of discrepancies that are most revealing:

#1.  Are their five lines to a staff or some other number. Are the lines spaced with any regularity.  Do the lines cross or converge, or is there an attempt to make them parallel.

#2. If there is a clef sign, what is it vertical position relative to the staff and is its size and height in proportion with the distance between the staff lines.

#3. If drawing more than one note, how are the notes spaced horizontally.  Are they cramped, do they have breathing (“perceiving”) room.

#4. Most importantly, what is the vertical position of the note circle relative to the staffs. If it is the F above middle C and in treble clef, is it in the first space of the staff, or just in any space.  How does the note circle fill the space.  Does it use the entire space, more than the space allows or less than that.

What does the student feel is sufficient to draw a note.  Is the note drawn with staff lines appearing.  If drawing a single note, and there are staff lines, how far do the lines extend on either side of the note, or do they exist in  close proximity to the note circle.

If the note to be draw happens to be middle C, does it have the ledger line, is the space between the ledger line and the nearest staff line approximately the same as the distance between the lines that are adjacent to each within the staff.  If not, is the space bigger or smaller.  Does middle C appear as a circle with a line through it, but positioned arbitrarily on the staff amid the five lines.

#5. If there are whole notes mixed with halves and quarters, is there an attempt to distinguish between their appearance.

What to do next:

By considering these accords or discrepancies, and of others of a similar nature, we now have a primitive ‘snap shot’ of the student’s brain when looking at the music.  What do we do if the drawing is significantly different than what appears on the page.  First I make a copy of what I, as the teacher, see on the page when I try to draw the same thing that I have asked the student to draw.  I then ask the student if the two drawings, theirs and mine, look the same or different.  In this process it is best to avoid any notion of correct or incorrect, we should merely help the student pick out any differences if there are ones, without yet assigning any relative value to either one.   It is important, in this regard, that the teacher’s drawing conform as closely as possible to the score, or we may find the student strangely expert in finding true differences other than the ones we consciously intended.

A lot of patience required from the teacher when using this procedure with the young student.  It is best to remember this general principle: a student is not not understanding on purpose.  They are trying to understand their best.

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