One approach to teaching (namely the Suzuki method), focuses on repeated hearing of a piece of music before the student attempts to play it. When I was using the Suzuki method to teach my three children, each of them had a different learning style.  Looking back now, a different approach may have been better for each.  Nevertheless, they all developed good memory skills, along with a good sense of how to play with lovely phrasing and expression. These are the positives from hearing how a piece is supposed to sound.  However, I find it is much better in general to give children the tools they need to decode the notes, even if only slowly at first. Once they have worked out the piece at a level they can manage, then, by all means, I will play it through for them so they can get a sense of how the music should sound once they can play if confidently.

Having said all that, I think one of the greatest assets learned using the Suzuki method was memorising the music.  This was always encouraged so that there was a focus on making a beautiful sound without being distracted by even the process of reading the music. After all, nobody actually listens to the notes on the page – that is just the starting point to learn the particular piece.  A good musician can still play excellent sounding music from the page, though, without having to memorise it. So, being able to read music well is a valuable tool that opens up a world of music written by thousands of composers, without having to actually hear any given piece first.

If your child is a memoriser, they will be looking for all the short cuts they can to avoid reading the notes. I know this because I have seen these little people in action! They have a keen lack of patience to work through that note reading process. Here are some suggestions to guide them to really read notes.

  • Play some note reading games with note flash cards relevant to the notes they are learning.
  • Get them to read aloud the names of the notes for a line of their piece
  • Make a jigsaw: Photocopy a page of their music, white out any words or distinguishing markings or bar numbers and cut it into bars or measures. Blue tack the jigsaw piece to a plastic backing like a clear book folder. Have them play the notes and work out which bar it is on their music.
  • For those with a good ear, choose a selection of 5 notes to learn. Have the child face away from the piano and give them the 5 notes on flash cards from low to high. Now you play one of the notes. Get them to identify the note and then come and play it in the right place. Place the note up on the piano and do the rest in random order. Then have them come and play them again, reading them at the piano.

If your memoriser makes any attempts at reading and you can see that they are getting it, you might like to offer some kind of reward so they will want to repeat that skill!

Reading/memorising: It should be both…and, rather than either…or. Next time I’ll try to show how both strategies for playing can work well together.

5 thoughts on “Music Memoriser/ Music Reader – Part 2: some practical steps

  1. Totally agree we should be using both skills but sometimes it can backfire. I had a little boy come for lessons who had an older sister. His sister would show him how to play quite complicated pieces which he then remembered – and played really beautifully I might add. However his reading skills were nowhere near these pieces and he hated plodding through books of easier tunes. He really just wanted me to play the pieces so he could watch and remember them. I came to hate his sister lol.

    • Thanks Suz, great example of the challenge. It brings to mind something you can do so a younger sibling doesn’t hear all the pieces of the older sibling and plays them by ear. You could have the younger sibling on a completely different tutor book so they are learning music they haven’t heard so they need to read the new music. I grew up listening to pieces played by my siblings as well as all the pupils who came to the house for lessons but I don’t think many of them had the same tutor book I had at the beginning. This was possibly a help in that early stage.

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