Preventing Kid's Struggle To Read Music
Preventing kid's struggle to read music is the job of the piano teacher. Some teachers completely ignore their student's difficulties. Regardless of the piano method, if it is a struggle for the child, you are going too fast. You must have a teaching tool, ready in advance, in case the child flounders at reading music.
The tool can be numbers, it can be colors, it can be by ear, by eye. The only real alternative to reading music is playing music. This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the age of the child. The ideal ratio of play to work in a child's piano lesson is really about seven parts playing music and three parts reading music, and that is the maximum.
Kids are usually happier with a mix of nine to one, but each day is different, each child is different on a different day. Roll with the punch.
Some Kids Never Learn To Read Music Well
Some children never really learn to read music in both hands. Yet they can readily understand the physical logic of a piece of piano music. Being able to read music proficiently doesn't mean you find playing the piano an enjoyable activity.
Still other children only want to read music, and are uncomfortable outside the narrow confines of the printed page. Improvisation scares them if they have no idea of what to do.
Struggle Defeats Enthusiasm
If the reading struggle continues the child will become frustrated and fail to find music making enjoyable. From a child's point of view, why do all that work if it's no fun in the first place? Most piano teachers simply discard such students, or never take them on in the first place.
My goal is to find the spark inside each child that will allow them to enjoy the piano in their own unique way. I don't mind slow starters, underachievers and misfits. All have the right to try the piano and perhaps enjoy the experience.
How To Prevent The Struggle
Here are guidelines to help prevent the music-reading struggle.
The first rule is to give the child a visual reference point on the keyboard. This prevents confusion at the very beginning, as in the drawing above with the blue and red stickers. If the child does not understand reading music after gentle initial attempts, but does like playing songs at the piano, back off from reading musicuntil the child is thoroughly engaged with the piano.
Pretend that reading music doesn't exist, and let them inhabit the realm of numbers in blissful ignorance. Build their confidence outside of reading music first.
Try A Low Dose First
Eventually the child will be ready to try reading music again. When you do, lower the dosage. That is, only a minute or two devoted in each lesson to hammer home the basic concepts in game form. Simplify, dilute, and use any ruse to get the child slowly comfortable with the very basic patterns.
If it takes a student six months to learn how to find Middle C and the next two white keys above it, so be it. Look at the child's face. If they are confused, it's no longer fun. Reading music becomes a struggle. Break things down into such ridiculously small bits that anyone can get the idea.
Abandon Curriculum And Concentrate On The Child
Abandon whatever curriculum schedule you were on. Ignore the arbitrary standards set by "piano teacher associations" and the like. Just because Billy learned to read music in three lessons doesn't mean Sally will do the same. Most importantly, do not proceed further with reading music if the child demonstrates hesitation with the basic music-reading skills.
Limit your goals to finding Middle C and the first five keys above it without failure. Unless the child understands this little five-note game in all its permutations, it is pointless to proceed further. Most children's piano frustrations are caused by an impatient teacher. The teacher quickly tries to move ahead from the five note skill without realizing the child is insecure in that simple area.
Going into more complex ideas without the basic skills in hand is a recipe for disaster. This is especially true if the only tool being used is reading music and repetition. The piano is a pyramid of complexity. Climb this mountain one level at a time. It takes tremendous patience.
To a child of average musical gifts, that can seem like an eternity, and may well in fact be. The problem isn't stupid kids. It's impatient piano teachers.