Pace of Learning–Reading Rhythm & Notes
Kelly N., Canada
I need some help in responding to some concerns from a couple of student’s parents (who have been talking to each other, by the way)!
These 2 students have had approximately 145 lessons. One student is right on target according to the curriculum overview, and one is further behind due to the pace of their learning in regards to reading music. (So one student is finishing the reading notes program, and the other is half-way through Time for Music.)
I have received complaints on both evaluation forms stating that they figured that the children would be reading better by now, and not spending as much time on “memorized” songs. In their minds, they have been coming for 5 years, (which I corrected due to the number of lessons, and having vacations and summers off, so really it is 3 years of learning) but they see it as coming for a really long time and not yet reading their playlist pieces.
I also had one parent tell me her child is getting burned out keeping the playlist alive all summer, and if she knew how to read the music she would be able to take a break.
I have a number of conversations already in my head that I plan to have about this, and will not go through all my responses in this email in the interest of keeping this email shorter, but I am asking those of you who are further along in the program if you have dealt with this type of conversation and how you handled it.
Bernadette A., California
This is a lengthy post but one I am passionate about. When I started teaching 8 years ago, I was on a high learning curve – there was so much to do, process and learn that at moments, I was overwhelmed. So…
Because of this it took me a while to get a handle on all the programs and levels. I had to give myself that and in the process I lost students b/c I wasn’t able to go as quickly as they would have liked – i.e. wanting to read. But over time, the levels/programs became second nature to me and now I am quite able to get them through the reading program and get them to playing songs they would like to learn. I also gained an understanding of what the goals were for Simply Music. I’m thinking my journey is not too different from yours.
The conversations that I would be having with these parents are:
- Reading is not the end all. Whole musicianship is the key. The ability to play, do accomp., to read, to improv, to compose, exposure to different kinds of music, to express their musicianship, to write, to sight-read… I emphasis that Playing-based is their ‘first language’ – the joy of being able to play anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and it is the springboard for everything that we do. It is an entry-level music program that allows students to fall in love w/music and experience the joy of playing the piano.
- Reading is very important, too. Explain the reading program to them thoroughly. I have conversations with my parents and students that they are not allowed to leave my studio until they are able to read, especially to the parents. I practically beg them b/c I know what is ahead. I set the vision. I tell them to hang on and that another world will open to them if they stay with me. I focus on the fact that I am a non-trad. teacher and that I teach reading non-traditionally but it is more of a fun, natural, and organic way of learning. I share my testimony, how I failed 3 times trad. as a child and young adult. I remind them of the failure rate of traditional programs and how long it takes to learn that way. I remind them of one of SM goals: to become generative. I let them know that I am working myself out of a job, that in their musicianship, they will only have themselves to rely on in the future if they ever leave my studio.I tell them that I break up the reading into 2 different sections: reading rhythm (approx. 3-4 months) and reading notes (3-4 months). I don’t move on till these areas are natural and free in reaction and movement. I tell them these are the base tools. Once they get to the base tools, they have everything they need to be successful in reading. Then we start TFMM. Close to a third of the way through, they can begin to read level 1 songs. I make them read all of level 1, 2, 3 over a period of months as we are going through TFMM. This is the foundation for moving forward – allowing them to experience success so they can take the next step.
To give you an example, I had a student who had been taking lessons with me for 3 years, and she had all the base tools. As we were starting out TFMM, she asked me if there was any way that we could learn a song. She pulled out sheet music for Pavane for a Dead Princess. (it is a beautiful classical song w/lots of black dots on the page). I looked at her and said, “Oh honey, I think that might be too hard for us.” It was a group class. Then she looked at me really funny. Questioningly, I looked at her and said, “__________, do you know how to play this song.” She said, “Yes, Mrs. Ashby.” She sat down and played the first page of the song beautifully. I was stunned. At that point, I realized the power of Simply Music and this method.
The other day, a mom of a student asked me about reading. I was into her daughter’s lesson and gave her an ‘off the cuff’ answer. Her daughter had been w/me for two years and just started the reading program. After thinking about it, I realized I really did not address her felt need of understanding the program. The next week, I took some time to explain to her that I did not do an adequate job of answering her question and asked her if it would be alright for me to explain the reading program during her daughter’s lesson. We used the bulk of her lesson time to go over the program and I walked her mom through it. After the lesson, she walked away saying that they will continue piano lessons hopefully for the next 2-3 years. I love retention.
- For those parents who have been with me since the beginning, I’ve explained to them that I was on a high-learning curve and that I am learning the reading program alongside of their kids. They realized at that point to give me the time/grace to learn what I need to know. I still lost students but for those who have remained on to this day – I can say that they are well-rounded. They can do it all. They are self-generative.
Kelly, I’m thinking that you have these conversations in mind already and that this is just review stuff for ya. Remember that b/c they’ve been with you for 3-5 years, you have the relationship with them to encourage them to ‘stay the course.’ I know they like you (because I like you). If they have been talking with each other, I would straight up address that with each mom (or together) and use that as a segway into explaining how the reading lessons work. I’d also pull out SM poster and explain that it is not a straight line to Music City but over the past 3 years we have been taking an adventurous journey – meandering, exploring, experiencing, discovering, loving, and building a relationship with this wonderful instrument called the piano, our friend.
Dixie C., Washington
How do you get through the Reading Rhythm & Reading Notes in 6 to 8 months. It takes me twice that long at least. What am I doing wrong?
Sue C., Australia
I agree, it is possible to get through RR and RN in a shorter time as discussed, and after that I am reviewing, redoing sections, clapping, writing and actually taking time to get students to play the songs in TFMM (not only be able to read them). This follow up work for RR and RN can go on for as long as it takes, even years and builds on the foundation taught in the shorter time in RR and RN.
So whichever way RR and RN is handled (longer or shorter time depending on the stage of musicality that the student is at) the same wonderful outcome will occur, that of having the skills to read music.
Bernadette A., California
When I shared that I teach RR & RN in that time frame, I meant it very loosely. Some students, for example, learn quickly like my student who learned how to play Pavane for a Dead Princess. With younger students, I would take how ever long it would take to learn the processes. The important thing for me is that they are processing rhythms and intervals very naturally. Hope this helps.
Dixie C., Washington
Even with my fast learners it takes a couple years to get through the programs. Do you skip some of the steps if a student is obviously catching on quickly? Just going through the steps and taking a small amount of time in each lesson draws it out for me.
Bernadette A., California
There are so many variables to teaching that can affect how a program is delivered. I look at the student, their age, the group, the speed at which they are learning etc. And then there is the teacher to consider – their background, their experience. With that being said, I can recall that when I first started the RR/RN, that it took me a long time to get it and a long time to teach it. (A funny: While waiting for a theme park ride, I would stand in line with my kids and husband in the boredom and the hot sun and practice my rhythms – people thought I was weird).
Over the years, I’ve gotten better and now know how to manage it so that my student’s are learning at their pace. The bottom line for me is that I deliver a method of learning that they will get and be successful at. Teachers are always asking Neil, “How long?” His standard response is, “However long it takes!” (I think I got that right). That may mean that it can take me under a year to teach the program or 2 years to go through the program. I give myself that freedom to discern what is best for the student. I know that I am speaking in generalities.
Neil mentioned at the 2020 Vision meeting in Mill Valley that sometimes teachers go through levels 1-4 in their first year w/students but some teachers go through level 1-2 including all the outside projects – ACC, Variations, Comp., Improv… Both delivery methods are at the discretion of the teacher, both can be an appropriate way of teaching. Herein lies the dichotomy: I love the freedom that Simply Music gives its teachers to teach but within the parameters of the curriculum. It has given me the freedom as a non-trained musician to accept where I am at in my learning/teaching and to work at trying to be a better teacher.
By stating the amount of months that I teach RN/RR in my previous email, I may have convoluted the subject more so.