How To Help Kids Read Music

The conventional setup at the beginning of piano lessons will not help your kids read music.
Five lines above, keyboard below

Children are often confused when they try to correlate the notes on the page to the keys below.

When kids read music, they look from the page to the keys.

The drawing shows the elements with which a child is expected to start reading music: five horizontal lines, and a piano keyboard below.

Nothing else, no other tools.

This is what kids first see in conventional piano lessons.

Notice that there is no visual reference point on the piano keyboard.

To a child, the piano keyboard is an ocean of white and black buttons with no apparent organization. This doesn’t mention the series of five lines (above the keyboard) which have no apparent pattern and bear no apparent relation to the confusing, different pattern of the piano keys.

Confused yet? Your six year old is. A ten year old might get it if you really try.

A Different Method

A musical staff referenced to a piano keyboard using removable stickers.
Relate notes on page to keys on piano

Given a reference point, as in the drawing, children relax and start developing visual habits and confidence in the basics of reading music.

Here you’ll see a piano keyboard with the colored stickers applied.

Above that you’ll see a “musical staff,” which is the group of five horizontal lines.

Each black arrow in the diagram above points down to a white piano key with a blue sticker, except for the black arrow on the far left, which points to “Middle C,” which is the white key with the red sticker.

Why Piano Stickers Work For Children

The blue stickers define the location of the five lines of the musical staff (the five lines are the “musical staff”) and the red sticker defines the location of Middle C.

The stickers reduce uncertainty about note reading to a minimum. The note you’re looking for is either on a line or a space, a simple question the child quickly surmounts.

With the stickers in place, kids will fumble much less at reading music, and you can get more done than just finding notes on the page, like playing music and exploring the piano.

Concentrate on Middle C First

The first step after applying the stickers is to make the child aware of the circular symbol for Middle C, which is the circle in the drawing below with the little horizontal line through it:

Middle C

This is Middle C, the first note that children learn at the piano. Look through some pages of music and help the child identify the graphic symbol for the note Middle C.

Page with lots of Middle C's to find.
Doodley Doodley Game: Ring the bell when you see a Middle C

Here’s  page with lots of Middle C’s for kids to hunt and find. If you click on the page in most browsers it will enlarge and you can print it.

Doodley Doodley Game

Make a game of it, saying “Who can point to Middle C on the page first?” and then let them win every time after a few tries. I make a silly game of it called “Doodley Doodley” in which I say “Doodley, doodley” repeatedly and quietly as I scan my finger across the page slowly under each note. When the child sees a Middle C (the circle with the line through it) they get to ring a library bell, we both laugh, and then we continue, “Doodley, doodley…..”

Then play some games in which the child sees the note Middle C on a page, and then has to play it on the piano keyboard, finding the white key with the red sticker. All that is necessary for quite a while is for the child to be familiar with three basic elements: 1) the location of Middle C, 2) the location of the lowest of the five lines, the first blue sticker, and 3) the location of the second of the five lines, the second blue sticker.

All piano lessons for beginners concentrate on the note Middle C and the five white piano keys directly above that, which includes the red sticker (Middle C) and the first two of the five blue stickers. It’s an easy game that kids get right away, and the location of the lines of the staff are burned into their memory.

The Line and Space Game

You are making a game out of finding note locations either one the five lines, or the spaces in between them. The result of this method is kids that are able to sight read, which is a quite valuable skill in music, the ability to simply read the music that is put in front of you.

Almost all kids that I have seen taught by the “old school” method (read first, play later) are really memorizing the music in order to get through the lessons, and have no idea of the actual geography of the keyboard. Give these “old school” students a simple, unfamiliar piece of music and they have no idea how to read it, because they have memorized their way through their piano lessons.

It’s not necessary to name the notes, nor is it necessary to make the child use a certain finger to play a certain note, at first. Choose your battles carefully.

In fact, naming notes and using certain fingers (at first) actually deflects kids from the real task, which is to become comfortable with finding the relationship between the five notes on the page and the five keys on the piano. Once that relationship is established, you can go anywhere in reading music, but you are at a great disadvantage if you have not mastered this “baby talk” of reading music, the first five notes C D E F and G, or in Piano by Number, 1 2 3 4 and 5.

Why Piano By Number First?

You stand a far greater chance of success at reading music, which is, after all, the real goal, if you first make the child comfortable with playing the piano using a simple, transparent and immediate method such as Piano By Number.

Then slowly begin to introduce the elements of reading music using the careful steps outlined above on this page.

Copyright 2015 Walden Pond Press

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