Teaching Piano Students to Read Music

What is the number one reason students don’t practice?

They can’t read music well.

Having to figure out every note as you play is no fun at all. It’s like reading a book in a foreign language where you have to stop and look up every other word. It’s a tedious chore.

Teaching students to become fluent readers is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching the piano. There are just so many notes! But it is possible, and it is well worth the effort.

After much research, trial and error, and many years of teaching I can honestly say that I have figured out how to teach my students to become competent readers. My students can pick up their music and read it. This makes learning much more enjoyable for them and teaching much easier for me. In this post, I am going to share with you exactly how I teach my students to read music.

Preschoolers

I love to start students as young as possible. I start students at three-and-a-half to four years of age. I don’t teach reading to very young students. We work on lots of listening, ear training, and hands-on activities. Around the time a child begins to read words is when I start teaching music reading. Here’s how I do it.

Know your Student

In my experience, most piano students fall into one of two categories: visual learners and auditory learners. Because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance, visual learners tend to look at the score and auditory learners tend to try to pick things up by ear.

Some kids take to reading easily. They have an easy time connecting what’s going on in the score with what happens on the keyboard. Others have naturally great ears and can hear something and learn it without looking at the music very much. For these students reading seems counterproductive.

As a teacher, it is crucial that I watch and listen carefully to see how my student is learning.

How to Begin

I can honestly say I became so frustrated with many of the available piano method books that I wrote my own. I recommend that you stay away from any method books that have hand positions and fingerings over every note. Use a method that introduces new concepts slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning. You may also want to use more than one method and always have lots of supplemental music.

Downplay Mnemonic Devices.

I start my students start with middle C and we go from there. I don’t even mention “every good boy does fine” I use this only as a reference, it can be helpful to help a student find the first note of a piece. That’s it though, no counting lines and spaces.

How Music is Read

Piano music is read by seeing patterns and transferring those patterns into music on the keyboard. Think about it. As an experienced pianist, do you ever think about note names while you are playing?

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