I used to not let my students write in the note-names on their recorder sheet music. I thought, “if they write in the note names, they aren’t going to really practice reading the notes at all.” I preached this to the students and made sure they didn’t do it. Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague that challenged my thoughts about this very hard-lined, old fashioned, and ineffective approach to notation teaching. My colleague said “That [not letting them] seems impractical, if that is a step they need to take to become successful notation-readers then why not let it happen?” That got me thinking–do I write in the notes of music that I perform as a professional musician? Of course I do, I write in accidentals if I am having trouble remembering a key change or if there is no courtesy accidental written in. Also, if there is a lot of ledger lines in a jazz chart, which is usually published in that “jazz font” most of us are familiar with, it can be a little confusing if there are a lot of accidentals or notes written close together.
Now, I let them write in the notes but I do explain that writing in the notes is not for everyone. I let them know that we only write in the notes if we need to but when they come to play and test for their next belt, there should be no notes written in. Basically, it is temporary. Also, I tell them regularly that if there is a note that they keep making the same mistake on then they absolutely should write in the note names above or below the note. Whether we like it or not, this is an integral step to learning to read notes fluently.
The thing is, allowing them to write in the notes, helps set them up for future success. Of course, sometimes learners will need guidance as to when to let go of this safety blanket. For a lot of them, it doesn’t take long before they don’t need to write in the notes at all. Even at the middle school level, they should be allowed to write in the note names or fingerings for at least Grades 7 and even some 8 because unless they have had private piano lessons, their note reading is still likely at a basic level from what they learned in elementary school. It seems too that in band, all of them are on new instruments and writing in the notes or fingerings gives them one less thing to think about. I remember even in high school writing in fingerings for tricky passages.
I am not saying to tell them to write in all the notes all the time. All I am saying is to let them use it as a strategy to help them become successful music readers. Think about it as a form of tablature where the rhythms and fret numbers are written in without pitches. They still have to read the rhythms on the page so writing in the notes isn’t a ‘cheat,’ it is simply a strategy. I have a flow chart for reading music in my classroom. They know the steps they need to take to read music effectively and we always talk about the missing steps and what the strategies are to be able to accomplish that step. When I ask my recorder students now what strategies they could use to help them with getting the right notes, they often suggest writing in the notes. They do understand though that when they write in the notes, that they are not permanent and do have to come off at some point.
Here is the Anchor Chart that I use in my classroom. I cut it so it fit onto a poster after it is printed and then laminated it.
What are some strategies you use for helping your learners read music?
Until next time, Happy Musicking!