Tuesday was another fun-filled afternoon of piano lessons in my studio. Recently, I have noticed two students that have struggled with note reading, so I decided to use some note-reading worksheets to see if I can determine the root cause.
The younger student is constantly second-guessing her playing and making mistakes. Her understanding of rhythm, however, is developing nicely. When given the treble clef worksheet, she would pause occasionally to check notes -- especially as they moved into the upper range of the staff where we have not yet done much playing. I didn't find this alarming. As I checked her work, I found that she was consistently correct in her responses. Now I'm completely puzzled.
The thought occured to me that I need to ask her to play the individual measures from the worksheet. The student played the correct letter names, but almost always in the wrong register of the instrument. There's the problem: there is a missed connection between the geography of the written score and that of the keyboard. I loved the sparkle in her eyes as we together figured out what the problem was and I assured her that it can be fixed.
Student #2 presented a slightly more difficult situation. This student is the same teen that I wrote about last week. We worked on a bass clef worksheet. I sat and watched as she tried to figure out the notes by using rudimentary memory aids for each of the lines and spaces. Although ultimately accurate for the most part, I must admit that it was a painful process to observe in a student who has studied music for over two years. When we went to the keyboard, we began to dialogue about how she approaches reading a piece. Her answer was that she is looking at the distance and direction the notes are moving and making an educated guess at the correct note. Her instincts are quite good, but her lack of reading skills and regular practice do not allow her musical ear to be the helpful tool that it can be.
With my beginning student, I think I have a clear plan of attack now that I have some insight into the underlying problem. My teen student is a different story. I'm trying to brainstorm how to teach this concept that was never a difficulty for me personally and not something I have encountered in another student before. Since she performs excellently in math and science, I am considering approaching the problem by intensifying the theory study during our weekly lessons, but I'm not sure that approach won't compound the problem rather than resolve it. I certainly have a lot to ponder this week.