In the comment section of previous post, a reader asked for suggestions with helping a young student connect notes on the staff with their names and their corresponding piano key. I gave a response in the comment section, but thought I would share some of those thoughts with you all as a separate blog post!
Sometimes, beginners (or even transfer students) seem to be missing a piece of the puzzle for understanding note-reading on the staff. Below is a description of how I would systematically try to figure out what is missing with a student who is struggling with note-reading!
I would first make sure the student can say the musical alphabet verbally forwards and backwards. This seems basic, but believe it or not, sometimes beginners miss this step, and then note reading makes little sense to them!
The next step is making sure the student knows the names of all the piano keys. My favorite thing to do is to ask them to find 3 C’s on the piano, and then 3 D’s (etc.). I also like using The Amazing Keyboard Race game.
Then, I would do some worksheets or activities making sure she sees the difference between line and space notes. I’ve had students think line notes mean the note is sitting “on” (meaning, between) the lines — which is actually what we call a space note. Knowing line and space notes is crucial to identifying intervals (steps versus skips) and to connecting the musical alphabet to seeing steps on the staff. (Also, make sure the student is looking at the note head in order to identify the note, rather than the stem.)
After that, choose a couple of notes on the staff to focus on, probably starting with Middle C. Give the student a sheet of large staff paper, and ask them to draw 5 Middle C’s as their theory assignment. The next week, have them draw D’s and Middle C’s. Continue in the same manner, gradually adding new notes. Whenever you practice quizzing notes on the staff, have the student first say the letter name of the note aloud, and then play that note on the piano immediately after. Instead of using flashcards, I now use the Music Flash Class app on my iPhone. It’s faster and easier — it lets you choose the range of notes to practice, and my phone is always near me when I teach.
That is the methodical progress I usually go through when I encounter a student who seems to be having trouble understanding something about the process of note-reading. I’m sure you can find worksheets and games that correspond to each step at some of the various websites and blogs that offer free music worksheets! I have a variety of resources listed on the Links page, if you need a place to get started.
Please share your tips about teaching successful note-reading in the comments below!