Advice needed on Reading Program
Julia B., Canada
One of my parents just texted me to say her oldest boy (14) wants to quit lessons. She said she would like both boys (younger one is 12) to stay until they are “reading notes proficiently”, and asked “What will it take in terms of [number of] lessons”. The boys are currently halfway through the Reading Notes program, and in Foundation 7. I delayed the Reading process somewhat because they transferred from a traditional program, and I took extra time to help them build a strong playing based foundation, which I think they both have. They are moving well through the Reading program at this point. I have several thoughts on this, but would love to hear your input about how to approach these parents — questions to ask, concepts to clarify etc.
Mark M., New York
I’m absolutely not the best person to answer this, as I’ve only so far had a few students get to Time for More Music. But if I were in that situation, and knowing how quickly some teachers get through Reading Notes such as Robin Keehn doing it in as little as six weeks, and also knowing how much farther in Foundation/otherwise these particular students seem to be compared to perhaps more typical Simply Music students, and when you’re so close and yet it’s become a question of possibly losing students, I’d just kick the reading program into high gear with them. It sounds like they can likely handle it.
Tip the scales away from other streams if needed, especially Foundation and any other streams that you’ve done more of than you otherwise would have with more typical Simply Music students. Make a priority of completing Reading Notes and getting through Time for More Music, making absolutely clear to them that they will be ready to choose their own pieces to learn from the page as soon as TFMM is done. And at that point you can then resume your more typical balance of with the other streams.
Shanta H., Minnesota
Although, if a 14-year-old wants to quit, but mom won’t let him until he’s reading proficiently, are you not just hastening his departure by kicking up the reading program? My question is what is the “I want to quit” really about? Time management? homework overload? Wanting to read sooner? standard valley amplified by teenage hormones?
My own opinion is that every kid hits a wall at some point with their school workload plus music and extracurriculars. Finding a way to manage through that is the only way that music will stay on board through the teenage years. This is probably why most of us have so few teenage students. Sometimes it’s getting them to talk about it that’s the hard part.
I have a 14 year old student named Ellie who has been through one of these recently: She came in crying because she loves piano and didn’t want to quit but she couldn’t find time to practice between 9th grade homework, swim team, and debate team. We spent the lesson mapping out her schedule for each day of the week and finding that 30-45 min/day that she needed. We also decided on what she’d play each day of the week so she had some better direction. Once she had a schedule with designated times for piano her feelings completely turned around.
Sue C., Australia
I agree with Mark. With some students who are more than ready for reading, I make that the focus for a while, especially to get through Reading Rhythm if they are going too slow with this. I find Reading Notes book is quicker to get through.
The momentum has to keep going with some students. I have a couple of students who have finished RR (not that you ever really finish it) and instead of giving them the Read ‘n Play work books straight away, I will be getting them straight on to Reading Notes. Then when I feel success coming I will get them doing both the Read ‘n Play volumes. Whereas with others I use Read ‘n Play (by Laurie Richards) simultaneously with the RR and RN books.
Robin Keehn, Washington
I ran into this scenario my second year of teaching. I got a lot of pressure from one family with three teenage girls. I responded by quickly moving through the reading program. Before we even finished Time For More Music, their dad declared them readers and pulled them out. I just couldn’t believe it! I remember calling Neil and asking him what I did wrong.
What I learned is that I need to be careful from the start not to hold reading out as the goal. I don’t really talk a lot about it now and I certainly don’t elevate it when I do talk about it. I just say that reading is great, lots of fun, opens up the world of music but it is just another way of getting the music into our hands. Parents don’t challenge me on it but if they did, I would tell them that I promise to develop excellent readers but I need to do it my way and on my timetable based on what I know will give their child the ability to be read “holistically.” What I mean is that their child has so much experience seeing music in terms of shapes, sentences, chords, fragments, etc. and has so much experience applying learning tools and strategies that when they read music, they see the big picture rather than reading note-by-note. If they can see and explain what the music is doing, they will be more accurate in their playing and also play with more confidence and expression.
So, in your particular situation, I would make sure to move with momentum through the remaining parts of the reading program but let the student and the parents know that you have taken deliberate steps to set him up to be that holistic reader I mentioned. The skills that you have developed in him are going to make him an amazing reader, capable of taking on anything…with time and practice.
The key here is practice. If he has done a bunch of arrangements, he is used to using learning tools and strategies to see what he is doing. This will be key in his ability to look at a piece of music, discover what is happening (a broken chord, a sentence, etc) and explain it to someone else. This really is the goal and it does take time and regular assignments and practice. This applies to teachers and to students. I would never tell someone how many weeks or months it will take to be a proficient reader. It will depend on the foundation laid and the dedication to honing that skill.