Student having trouble reading diagrams
Heidi M., Canada
I’d like some advice about my 7-year-old student who previously had about one year of lesson (traditional) in China and can already play some lovely classical pieces (reading). I explained why we do not read notes, and she and her parents accept this as far as I can tell. She has not asked to see the notes but she has a bit of trouble distinguishing sentences 1 and 2, more than other children I teach. I also noticed she sometimes will say “Do re mi fa…” when she does sentence 2 for Dreams. I worry about that because I think they should be learning the patterns, not thinking too much in terms of left-brain detail. Even after 2 weeks of classes (explaining the patterns/diagrams to her) she still didn’t understand it. I explained it again and asked her to explain it, and she seemed to get it this time.
I don’t mind if her progress is slower; I want her to enjoy learning at her own pace. But I am sensing that internally she is not quite connecting with the diagrams yet because she is used to another method and that this is what is slowing her down. An adult student once told me the same thing about herself though now the adult is “getting” it. I hope this 7-year-old will catch on to it soon too.
Note her parents are supportive of this; they tell me they trust me on how I teach. I am thinking I need to get them to also explain the diagrams after they hear me explain it. For other children with no music background, they seem to catch on to the diagrams much faster and more easily because they don’t have to unlearn another way. I should mention that with this girl, English is not her first language. Her English is like that of perhaps a 4-year-old. That might be a factor. Maybe she needs to have it reinforced in Chinese by her parents, but I still think that her previous experience is a factor.
Finally, this student knows lots of chords from before (i.e. C F G, D A B) and has good finger strength for them so I wonder if I should jump straight into Accompaniment 1 with her. I tried a bit of Jackson Blues with her (the RH) and she got it very quickly. Her main problem is with the finger patterns on the non-accompaniment songs.
Ian M., Indiana
I think that in your position, I might try to explore whether the difficulty was with the learning cues provided by the diagrams, or with learning the patterns themselves. You might be able to do this by leaving out the diagram for the next song that involves finger patterns – sounds like it might be Chester Chills Out or maybe Ode to Joy, but whatever it is, start with the finger patterns, then move to the piano and see if she can make that move.
For instance, on Chester, don’t even open the book – just start teaching the song. What you’ll say initially is that the pattern is the five steps of sound from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom, followed by top and then bottom. This is the pattern for the whole song. When you get to the piano, you’ll make some adjustments for which fingers play black notes, and noting the starting position for each of the four lines. Make sure she feels comfortable asking questions – at least, as comfortable as possible given her language difficulties.
And then you watch and listen. Try to clarify if she has questions. To me, there is already a difficulty in the diagram for Chester, because Neil uses the word “middle” in two different ways, and this is potentially a bigger problem for a non-native English speaker.
If she is able to process the patterns this way, it may be that the diagram is the problem. If she isn’t, you may have to look in another direction – not necessarily something dire, but the idea that what we’re doing is SO different from what she is used to that you may need to break things down quite a bit more, and just deliver the tiniest bits of content so that you can make sure that she is able to take it in and process it.
Leeanne I., Australia
I agree with Ian: more work away from the piano. I also had an adult with prior experience who kept thinking in terms of note names instead of the patterns. His brain finally changed to pattern thinking, but it took a couple of months. Give her a bit more time to change her way of thinking.
Kurt M., Michigan
Everyone learns at their own pace. Previous experience doesn’t always translate to quick progress in Simply Music. Don’t be afraid to go slowly. It is not a race to cover content. And yes, I spend a lot of time with the first songs pointing at fingers as well as away from the piano. Also two weeks is nothing. Teach in small bits as suggested.
Felicity E., Australia
Sounds like she has a good ear and an aptitude for music. At that age I would be worried about her going backwards as it sounds like she has developed a lot of skill already. While she is moving through F1 and F2, I would be giving her lots of opportunity to improvise and compose, and doing arrangements and variations to keep her playing up while she moves through the early levels and adjusts to the new learning style.
Jacqui G., Canada
As she is familiar with chords, you could start her in Elizabeth Gaikwad’s book “Songs for Children” – fun songs and traditional tunes that are much more fun for kids than the songs in the Accompaniment 1 book. I have used it with a pair of 7-year-olds and they (and their moms) loved it!