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What am I missing... (Read 2004 times)

Offline jd8386

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What am I missing...
« on: March 27, 2014, 02:29:58 PM »
Here was my lesson last night.

The student (8 years old) was a transfer from another teacher. She has been with me for three weeks. She took lessons with her old teacher for six months and moved to my state. They found me. Old teacher gave her Piano Adventures books and I am introducing other repertoire. She plays some Piano Adventure level 1 stuff by rote and claims to know how to read the treble and bass clef notes (but she can't, at all).

Our lesson:  For 10 minutes we played with giant flash cards.  Just five notes. C D E F G in bass clef. She has gotten pretty good at recognizing the letters.  I put F and D on the piano.  She plays F D F D F D F D F D F D F D F D as I point to the cards.  I place E in between them she plays F G D or F F D or F E F, or who knows what else.  I ask if the middle note (e) is higher or lower than the first note (f). She responds "uhhh.. higher?"  I ask is the middle note (e) a line or space note. She responds "uhhh...line?".  After 5 minutes of trying to reword my question, getting her to close her eyes and listen to high and low sounds, doing jumping jacks, and otherwise expending energy any way I can to illustrate high and low relationships, she still can't ID or play the flash cards consistently.  I sigh inwardly, and open to her method book so her parent can imagine we accomplished something when she plays "Firefly" this week because I drill it into her by rote.

Seriously, I am sick of this.  What gives.  Do I just wind up with every child in the world that is unable to make a connection between high and low pitches and notation?  Is this something else other teachers experience or do I just go about this the wrong way?  I have found sometimes kids will understand a note as high or low (line / space) based on the direction of the stem.

I have been teaching for seven years.  I am always eager to learn and always trying to be the absolute best teacher I can.  I have worked in three different studios and taught many students privately.  I have worked with students I inherited from other teachers, I have taught them myself from the beginning and I worked with kids from at least 10 different states in the U.S.

It seems like three out of five kids can't understand high and low notes.  What gives.  Does any other teacher experience this?

Offline cabbynum

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #1 on: March 27, 2014, 02:43:11 PM »
On of my students just didn't get it till I tried something really sill

She kept saying "it's not high or low though, it's all even..." Something to that effect she's 6 so it was probably less cohesive. Anyway, I had her lie down on her right shoulder on the bench. And I played a high note and asked if she looked up or down. She said she looked up so I said so it's a higher note than this one right? And smacked a low note. It clicked for her. Now we have no issue. But it was terribly frustrating at first
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Liszt Sonata B minor
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Offline tillyfloss

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #2 on: March 27, 2014, 04:36:38 PM »
Try asking ' Is this the same or different?'

If she says 'Different', ask 'how is it different'. That should give you some feel for how she is viewing things.

Also it took me quite a while to realise that  music 'in a space' is actually 'on a line' to a child who is being taught to write very carefully on the lines at school.

Draw arrows at the beginning of the stave indicating up and down and show how although 'up' on the stave sounds higher, it is played to the right on the piano because that is where the higher sounds are. And vice versa of course.

Sorry if I'm just teaching Grandma /Grandpa to suck eggs and you've tried this already.How children think always fascinates me. Often they are highly logical; just not logical in the way we expect  :)





Offline slane

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #3 on: March 29, 2014, 11:57:38 PM »
"It seems like three out of five kids can't understand high and low notes. "

Yes. And it doesn't matter.
It takes time to learn those things. And a patient teacher.
Think of how long it takes to learn to read and how much more time we devote to teaching kids that.

Knowing whether E is higher or lower than F at Piano Adventures level 1 standard is unimportant.
Knowing whether E is on a space or a line is unimportant.
The important thing is, is that the note on the space above "that one on the line" is one key higher on the keyboard.
And you have to keep telling them over and over and over. And one day it will click,

But not being able to read music doesn't stop anyone from playing music. With a new piece I tell my daughter the notes the first time through. Then I write in a few reference letters e.g. the first note, the start of a phrase,  etc. from where she can find the rest of the notes. Eventually I rub the letters out. By the second time she plays a piece she doesn't need my help. She is on her third tutor.

I have a friend whose ten year old daughter can't read music. She got an A in her AMEB 2nd grade exam. You can't say she can't play piano! Her teacher says it doesn't matter. Real pianists read everything relative to some reference notes and those notes should be Gs and Cs. This teacher has an excellent reputation, apparently justified by the excellent progress my friend's daughter made.

So stop wasting  time with a whole lesson of flash cards. Spend 2 minutes on the flash cards and 3 minutes explaining how the dots on the page move up and down the keyboard and then teach some music! Nothing wrong with teaching by rote! Plenty of methods start that way. Suzuki obviously, but even Teaching Little Fingers to Play recommends rote learning to start. Lots of methods start with interval recognition and not note recognition. The important thing is making music.

Offline slane

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #4 on: March 30, 2014, 12:12:54 AM »

Also it took me quite a while to realise that  music 'in a space' is actually 'on a line' to a child who is being taught to write very carefully on the lines at school.



Oh that's interesting!
So what do you call the lines and spaces then? "On line" and "through a line"?

My daughter gets confused by the line of symmetry through middle C. e.g.middle B is the reflection of middle D, so in her mind they should both be Bs (or Ds). Took her some time to get rid of the idea that the line of symmetry contained meaning. Now she just says "well they should be the same!'

And it just occurred to me that music has to be rotated 90degrees through two axes to map onto the keyboard! We do it without thinking. The printed notes go up the page, that's obvious, but the corresponding keyboard notes go to the right. So there's a transformation that has to go on in the kids head to understand that.

Then add in the convention that we call notes to the right of the keyboard "higher", because we use the same word for pitch as altitude, and its no wonder the kids don't get it! There are two really abstract concepts there to grasp before they can properly understand printed music or even say which note is "higher" and which "lower"


Offline falala

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #5 on: March 30, 2014, 02:54:36 AM »
There are a couple of issues here.

The first is that we must remember that "high" and "low" pitch is purely a learnt metaphor. There is nothing innately "higher" about an F than an E. It's not closer to the ceiling; it doesn't float somewhere up in the sky. A 5 year old is probably not terribly long into the stage of learning English of knowing what "high" and "low" mean in a general, spacial sense anyway. The idea of applying the same words to sounds, which seem completely unrelated to directions in space, probably makes no sense to them at all.

The second thing is that a semitone is a very small interval for a child that young to differentiate. When Kodaly devised his singing-based method for children that young, he originally launched straight into the full diatonic scale. He then found that little kids couldn't sing the semitones in tune or recognise them reliably, so he took them out and came up with the early pentatonic focus that is such a well known aspect of it. That's why very young kids respond so well to having a good few YEARS of work with pentatonic material before even considering semitones.

In fact your example is very interesting. The original interval, F-D, is the minor third (so-mi) that Kodaly and others discovered children learn to audiate very early on (thus it becomes the interval of the well known children's chants, "I'm the king of the castle" and so on). So that was probably easy for her. Sticking an E in the middle of it would completely screw that up. Not only would it create the semitone, but it would obscure the minor 3rd interval itself, which children hear as a STEP within pentatonic shapes, not as a 3rd.

You could try starting with the F-D, really explore the idea of higher and lower with them (using handsigns, being physical about it). Then try adding a G afterwards instead, and ask her whether that is going even higher, or even lower, than BOTH the other notes. That would be adding la to the original so-mi, which is a much more child-friendly set of notes. Particularly if you relate them to simple little songs like "Ring a ring a rosy".

I'm a firm believer that there's no use trying to get children to recognise notes on a page until they can recognise them by ear and sing them. And there's no use being too abstract about the recognition and singing of them - it has to relate to natural singing material. There are pretty well-researched developmental aspects to the order in which that emerges, and at age 5 it's a long way off stepwise minor scales.

Offline cometear

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #6 on: June 10, 2014, 02:55:50 AM »
I am reluctant to accept students that cannot identify high and low pitches. I feel that is a necessary foundation and, although it can be taught, should be innate. If not, I will attempt to see where it leads but I refuse to accept a student that is completely and utterly lost. I think you should ask open ended questions like tillyfloss said.
Clementi, Piano Sonata in G Minor, No. 3, op. 10
W. A. Mozart, Sonata for Piano Four-Hands in F Major, K. 497
Beethoven, Piano Concerto, No. 2, op. 19

Offline pianoman1349

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #7 on: June 10, 2014, 06:02:20 AM »
Maybe because I am a little jaded from teaching in a music school for children living in poverty, but the problems of children not understanding high sounds and low sounds is not that big of a deal for me.

I a

I'm a firm believer that there's no use trying to get children to recognise notes on a page until they can recognise them by ear and sing them. And there's no use being too abstract about the recognition and singing of them - it has to relate to natural singing material. There are pretty well-researched developmental aspects to the order in which that emerges, and at age 5 it's a long way off stepwise minor scales.

I agree completely with this.  One of the ways that I alleviate this is to use pre-reading material that would simply show the general directions of the notes (see the song "Two Black Ants" from the Piano Adventures Primer LEsson Book by Faber and Faber as an example).

Try asking ' Is this the same or different?'

If she says 'Different', ask 'how is it different'. That should give you some feel for how she is viewing things.

Also it took me quite a while to realise that  music 'in a space' is actually 'on a line' to a child who is being taught to write very carefully on the lines at school.

Draw arrows at the beginning of the stave indicating up and down and show how although 'up' on the stave sounds higher, it is played to the right on the piano because that is where the higher sounds are. And vice versa of course.


Another great idea!!  I use this all the time in my group piano classes.

IF your student has started on the Piano Adventures 1 stuff, try starting her on some of the easy Czerny etude books/collections and the beginner Microcosmos volumess.  I find both of these works really re-enforce an postional approach where the hand develops muscle memory of keyboard geography and notational direction using specific keys as landmarks (they usually have 3-4 etudes/pieces dedicated to a single concept ... my teacher used it for me)

Offline Bob

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Re: What am I missing...
«Reply #8 on: June 10, 2014, 11:10:27 AM »
Maybe vocal sirens?
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."