Onmutu- General Music Learning Article
If you are a complete beginner, you have probably experienced the frustrations of learning to read music. As the weeks go by and you become more familiar with your instrument, these difficulties may subside. Or they may not. For some musicians, music-reading is a skill they must work on all their lives. If a musician finds themselves counting ledger lines, or struggling to name notes in a piece, they are certaintly not alone. I am a music major, and I would not say that I can read music fluently. Is I've reflected on my musical experiences thus far, I can pinpoint a couple events that may have affected my music-reading ability. I hope that this article can help students find ways to learn note reading, and help teachers understad and find wasy to help a struggling music-reader.
Catching it Early
I began cello in my 4th grade orchestra. I absolutely loved it from the beginning. It was exciting, a source of friendship, and a break from the academic school day. But as one of many cellos in a noisy trailer, I did not get much individual attention. Note reading was not something that came naturally to me, so I relied heavily on my ears and eyes. This developed my intuition and my pitch very well, but I wasn't able to read music. If a teacher notices a child struggling with note reading, they should immediately reccomend private instruction. The child may learn very well for a while only relying on their ear, but it is not
a method that will allow them to become advanced. In a large group, these students may appear to be doing well, but private instruction will uncover their note-reading difficulties. When teaching a student that struggles with music reading, it is tempting to teach using call-and-response. These students often have very refined ears, but unless they work on their note-reading skills, they will eventually hit a plateau. Flashcards and note-naming games are very helpful for younger students.
In an orchestral setting, those who struggle with note-reading often are able to rely on their eyes and ears enough to learn the music well. But chamber music is a completely different musical experience, and requires strong music reading skills. Since there is (generally) one person per part, the musician must be able to read and play their part with limited cues from others. When I began chamber music, it was extremely stressful for me. I often sat without playing as my group continued without me, but it helped my music-reading immensely. I was also still able to use my strengths of pitch and intuition to my advantage. For older and more advanced students, chamber music is a great way to solidify note-reading and sightreading skills.
Academic difficulties were a constant problem throughout my childhood. Since third grade, math has seemed impossible for me. I was apparently unable to learn my times tables and was put in special needs classes in elementary and middle school. I repeated Algebra II three times in high school, and finally asked to be tested for a learning disability my senior year. I was diagnosed with a symbol-recognition delay, which explained my music-reading difficultes. If a student has been diagnosed, or is suspected of having a learning disability, musical reading problems often occur as well. Teachers should take note of a student's academic performance and see if it correlates to their musical difficulties, because there is often a connection. I also want to note that academic struggles can give children very real anxiety and self esteem problems that can last into their adult lives. Learning to read music should be a process that doesn't induce anxiety, which can hinder their abilities even further.
The struggle of note-reading doesn't define a student as a good or bad musician. These musicians can still enjoy music, or even become professionals, if they are given the right tools. These students often have exceptionally developed listening skills, which will stay with them throughout their lives. Many also possess abilities such as quick memorization or innate knowledge of the emotional depth of music. These are skills that are difficult to teach, and a music-reading difficulty should have no weight on the judgement of talent. If teachers are sensitive to the needs of these students, they can improve exponentially and reap newfound confidence and skill. Learning differently requires teaching differently. Innovative, dimensional musicians can be created if they are given a chance to learn in a beneficial way.