Stay Sane Teaching Kids To Read Music
It is extremely difficult to stay sane teaching kids to read music at the piano. Teaching kids to read music will easily drive you insane if you expect children to understand reading music as an adult does. A child's brain and an adult's brain are quite different. Children are just, at six, becoming aware of the world and embarking on interacting with it. But their brains are not yet fully developed.
The evidence for this is in their lack of left-right hand coordination skills. Compare a 7 year old and a 12 year old in terms of dexterity at the piano and there is a world of difference. The same is true with reading music. The older the child, the less trouble they have, for the brain is more connected. Five years of physical growth does wonders for a child's ability to coordinate their hands.
Reading Music Is Mental
But reading music is mostly mental, not physical. In this area, too, younger children naturally lag behind. Abstraction skills, memory and perceptions of multiple dimensions simultaneously are required. Even one dimension, up and down, may at times be taxing to a child. Kids tire if you push again and again at a single concept. Like a game show host, keep switching to a new game.
Time Your Efforts
And timing is everything. On a bad day, a simple idea may not get through. On a good day very complex ideas are sometimes grasped. Reading music, similarly, requires the mastery of one concept before another can be laid upon it. Piano teachers find themselves hammering away at those first steps in hopes of getting the whole music reading mechanism going.
This is a crucial stage where it's important not to let the child feel like a failure. If they don't get an idea the first five tries, just back off. But you must figure out what the problem is. For example, you might be teaching the idea of notes moving up and down at the keyboard. Suddenly you discover the child is hazy about the idea of left and right, a key precursor concept, without which you can't teach up or down.
Some Skills Have To Be Learned In Order
Find out if a "precursor skill" is hazy before you hammer away at a music reading concept. Often the lack of an underlying skill has to be solved with conceptual games before the greater idea can be attacked. Learn how to properly prepare the simplest of concepts in reading music (up/down, left/right, etc.) The simple ideas of left/right, up/down, must be fully grasped before you demand they understand a larger concept.
The Younger, The Weaker
And sometimes the obstacle is purely physical. For example, very young kids, 4-6, may have trouble moving the fingers separately. Thus, any attempt to teach fingering will not go well unless prepared with finger dexterity games aimed at making the fingers perform as a group. Don't ever let the child feel a failure at reading music. I whisk away the music reading book and move to something else before they can form the idea of themselves at a failure.
Game One May Go Fifty Times
For example, I may have a child find Middle C on the page perhaps 50 times before I try to move ahead and have them find any other notes or ideas. When they are absolutely sure of the Middle C building block, we move to something that amplifies upon it. Perhaps then we try to find the note next to it, and other notes on the five lines of the staff. Working in such a "modular" fashion has benefits for a child. They are never subjected to lengthy sessions of mind-numbing music reading. Instead the method is to use short bursts of music reading posed as games.
Relate notes on the page to piano keys
Now that you know the proper attitude, here are the rough steps you should follow. Each of these steps may take weeks, depending the child and their age:
Find Middle C on the page and the piano.
Locate the five lines of the staff, on the page and on the piano, using the five stickers of the Piano by Number system.
Find the spaces in between the five lines, on the page and on the piano.
Restrict yourself to the first 5 notes above Middle C, in Piano by Number these are 1 2 3 4 5. Every method starts with this simple group of white keys.
Look at page after page of notes and have the child identify whether notes are
1.) on a line
2.) on a space
3.) on it's own little line, Middle C.
Those three questions must be mastered before you go any further. See the drawing below, and make a game out of it.
Once these above ideas are firmly in mind, try songs that involve the first three notes, C D E or 1 2 3 in Piano by Number. Have them try to read these three notes. Here are some sings that fit the requirements, in numbers:
Whisk it away when they get bored. Eventually they will get it.
Coordinating Up And Down
Most confusion is because they child doesn't know how to coordinate the "up" on the page with the "up" on the piano. Working with so many dimensions and locations (page/piano) is confusing. Until they have tried it many times, they will need your unfaltering guidance.
It is your job to see that those many times are passed agreeably and without frustration. Make sure each step is mastered separately, and make music outside of reading music. If you follow these steps the child will slowly learn how to read music.
Most of all don't make the mistake of thinking that reading music is all that matters. Don't overemphasize reading music. It's not the most important thing. What matters most is the child's willingness to return and try again.