Last year about this time I posted a pre-reading version of this well-known Christmas song. I had no idea that for many months it would be the most popular download on my site! I’ve always heard that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But since this post if for educational use, I have replaced it with a new one, which you can see above.
In an effort to help students with learning problems, specifically visual tracking problems, and also to help very young students, I changed several things in this new version. I made the note heads bigger and I color coded the notes. I added a light yellow background to help the student track which line he is on. While our older beginners without visual learning problems do not need this extra help, we often forget what a challenge this is for most 4 and 5 year olds.
As a music educator with years of experience, I’m not going to get into a fight about pre-reading or the age students should start piano. Let me just say that students who start piano early with a good teacher who knows how to teach preschool children, have a much better sense of musicality than if they had started later. And while a lot of teachers despise pre-reading, when used correctly it is a great aid. Certainly we don’t want to use pre-reading when it is not necessary and we want to get to a real staff as soon as possible. With my own students the rate varies from a week or two up to almost a year. I do not hesitate to take children with learning problems. Many of them have wonderful musicality in aspects of music besides simply learning to read. In the past many of these children give up thinking they could read music or become a musician because they were forced into learning just like our other students. Some of them became successful playing guitar by ear but never learned to read a note. One of the reasons I make so much of my own material is because it is designed for specific students. If one way doesn’t work, we try another.
I asked one of my adorable students who has music reading problems if he has trouble reading a map. He admitted that he cannot read a map. I told him that I can’t either, but I get around just fine and never get lost. I have learned other ways to get around and I have a good sense of direction. Maps just look too confusing but I can tell you what is on the southwest corner of any intersection for miles around. I can remember obscure history facts, but I don’t do well in visual memory games. I had a terrible time learning how to read music, even though I was always several grades ahead in my reading group at school and I started first grade a year early because I was already reading books. In piano I could never remember which one was B or D, which one was G or F and ledger lines were torture. I could not tell if the notes repeated. They seemed to jump around all over the page. Teachers constantly wrote that I was not working up to my potential. I have no idea why I have these odd strengths and weaknesses, but it really helps me understand the problems students have. Fortunately I did master my music reading problems, and I did very well as a music major in college. Certainly ear training and sight singing were easy for me and music history was a breeze! I could remember who wrote everything and what year it was written.
Many piano teachers never had music reading problems, so they really don’t understand those of us who did. I tell my students that we have to find other ways to learn to play piano because there are many ways to go about it. From the email that I get, there are many teachers who realize there is more than one way to learn to read music and the challenge is to make it enjoyable and musical. One day we may unlock the secrets to learning. Today the challenge is not to give up OR to obsess about learning to read music, but to come up with different ideas to produce music literacy and give our students some space.
The next time you get a transfer student who can play but can’t read, don’t blame the previous teacher. She probably did the best she could; and some students take longer than others. Thank goodness we now realize that piano can be for everyone!