When it comes to young children reading music, it can be difficult to help them focus on the music without their eyes wandering. Here are 4 potential distractions, in no particular order, that I have observed.
Enjoying an illustration on a page of new music provides a rest moment for our pupil’s brain before learning something new.
Tip: I find it beneficial to let the pupil have a good look at their new page and its picture and all the information they need for the piece before they start to read through the music. Then the things on the page are likely to be more helpful, instead of a distraction.
2. Hand position guide, finger numbers and letter names
If there is a hand position guide of some sort on the page, it is best treated as only a guide to get started.
Tip: If it seems your pupil is looking at it more than the notes of the piece they are supposed to be reading, try covering the hand position guide with a post-it note.
3. Looking at hands
Children who insist on looking at their hands while learning to read music may at first seem to be playing really well and learning quickly. But there will come a time when they seem to hit an invisible brick wall in their learning. Moving their eyes from page to hand and back makes it hard to know where they are up to in the music. It also makes it increasingly difficult for the brain to process the connection between the written and the played notes.
Tip: If they keep looking at their hands because they feel they know the note names better by looking at the keys, try holding a blank sheet of paper or card over their hands. This helps to keep their eyes on the page where they will be able to recognise the notes all the more as they actually look at them.
4. Everywhere but…
Sometimes children can find it quite difficult to actually look at the notes. You will see them look from one side to another, perhaps imagining its finger number, or simply looking at the page because you asked them to, but with a blank stare. They may be tired or thinking of something else. This is going to mean it is getting too difficult to do a lot at once.
Tip: Break down the task of reading the notes into smaller parts, such as by using flashcards or doing one line of music instead of two. You could also take that time to do a game, creative playing or a listening piece instead, before trying again.
It is worth doing everything possible for this process to be right. It is often an ‘Aha!’ moment when they get it. I always see much better note reading skills from that point on. Like anything, it needs to be manageable for each child. Some will take weeks to get this process, others can take much longer. If they get it right at the start, then by the time hands move out of simple positions they can adjust well to those changes. By that time note recognition is instant and they are not depending on finger numbers or visually looking at the keyboard to see what to play.