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Start with numbers, then read music

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So many parents ask about their children and how to get them to read sheet music that we host an advice column dedicated to kids.

Getting children to read sheet music is a difficult task even if approached with patient humor.

Our advice depends, of course, upon the circumstance. But in general we suggest that your children start piano using something OTHER than sheet music, so that the beginning of piano lessons has a happy quality, rather than the drudgery often associated with kids piano lessons that depend only on reading music.

You also might want to read an article excerpted from Newsweek magazine about the amazing effect of music study on kid's math scores, Music on the Mind. 

Piano kids score higher on math tests. Get your child started today!!

Here are this month's selected questions, and answers from Emmy Award winning composer and teacher John Aschenbrenner, author of Piano Is Easy

We answer all email advice questions, but we select the most interesting to be published here. 

Dear John,

My eight year old son is taking piano lessons and really likes it, but I can't get him to practice more than a few minutes a day. What do I do to make him practice? Mrs L.V.

Dear Mrs. V: Your son likes piano lessons and you're worried? Any kid who plays voluntarily a few minutes a day is on the right track. Leave him alone, but encourage him, and don't be militaristic about practice. If you really want results, Mrs. V, you should take up piano. I'm serious. An eight year old is easily influenced by your actions, so why not take up piano together? Also, have you sat with your child and asked him to play a song for you? I haven't met a child yet who doesn't want attention and praise from their parents. Turn off the TV and start making music ten minutes a day. And read the Newsweek article Music on the Mind. A few calm minutes a day with you and the piano is what your child needs.

Dear John,

My eleven year old daughter hates piano and I have to drag her screaming to the lessons. What do I do? She says the teacher makes her do the same thing over and over again 'til she's ready to go crazy. She used to like it, but now she hates it. Mr. Bob K.

Dear Bob,

With all due respect, the teacher sounds like an unhappy dogmatist, in my unasked for opinion, and your daughter is right. Get her away from this instructor or she'll end up hating piano. There are few teachers creative enough to make piano study palatable for most kids. The teacher's mistake is the repetition. Perhaps what the teacher needs to do is give the child MORE music, not less. Lower the bar a little and let the child learn to read sheet music by exploring through piece after simple piece, however imperfectly, until she gains confidence and learns to read sheet music. Variety is all she's asking for. Under such a program, your daughter would probably enjoy playing. But unless you can find a brilliant, creative new teacher, let her go, let her quit. 

Dear John,

My son is ten and took lessons for two years, but when we went to try a new teacher, we discovered that he couldn't read music at all. He had memorized the songs and the piano keys he had to push, but never really learned to read the notes. What should we do? We want him to have the experience of playing music. N.M

Dear N.M, 

First of all, your son is obviously smart: he managed to push the right piano keys in spite of the fact that he was never taught to read music properly. There's a reason for this. Most piano teachers don't really know how to teach reading sheet music, so they concentrate on getting the student to memorize a small group of pieces. The kids hate this boring, repetitive approach, but the parents think the kid is learning because those few pieces seem to be getting better and better. It takes a creative teacher to devise a program that fights the boredom of repetition. But it's really not that hard: teachers should have the child master reading sheet music by constantly presenting the same set of problems (the notes) in different forms (different pieces.) The "variety" approach works on even the most obvious "quitters." 

Kids quit piano for a reason and, I hate to tell you this, the kids are almost always right.

By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved

PIANO IS EASY includes a 107 page song book with 44 songs. It is identical to the print version.

PIANO IS EASY DOWNLOAD wcs018DL $9.95 Includes download of printable 120 page illustrated song book with 50 songs in Adobe PDF format plus printable stickers. Identical to the printed version

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Teach your child piano at home.


See also: PRESCHOOL PIANO PACKAGE: A selection of books for the youngest kids

See also: CHILDREN'S MULTI BOOK PACKAGE: Includes books for older AND younger children

See also: ADULT PIANO PACKAGE: A selection of books for adult beginners





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Teaching children the piano involves much more than just reading the notes.

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