Do You Let Your Learners Write in the Notes?

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.

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.
Do You let Your Learners Write in the Notes?
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.

Anchor Chart – Reading Music

What are some strategies you use for helping your learners read music?

Until next time, Happy Musicking!

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2 thoughts on “Do You Let Your Learners Write in the Notes?

  1. I do let them write it in, for as long as they need it. I was a kid in 5th grade band who was told NOT to write them in. Trouble was i had a form of dyslexia that made reading it near impossible at that point in my life. So, I learned to play everything by ear. When the teacher moved me from the alto sax to the barry sax, and I had no model to listen to, I was sunk, and the teacher kicked me out of band. Have no fear…this story does not have an unhappy ending. I joined a show choir the next year and my life was set, i could use my great ear there with no repercussions, and because of both the negative band experience and the positive choir experience all i ever wanted was to be a music teacher. Here’s my point. We don’t always know why kids use the aides they do. They might not even know why. But if they are seeking those aides and need them…at least they wanted success enough to use them! Our job is to instill the love of music, not hate and frustration. Thank goodness for my choir teacher, old mr. So and so in 1988 just didn’t know any better. We do friends, we do! Let them write in their notes. Better yet, give kids who needed it a modified staff for awhile, or put it on a colored paper that helps them see it better! You could be raising the next mysic teacher. And we all know the world needs more of those right now!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Leah. I’m sorry you had such a negative band experience. We sometimes never really know the reason a learner uses a particular strategy. I completely agree with your statements!

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