Student does not want to learn to read
Found in: Reading
Gail J., Washington
One of my best students (a 12-year-old home schooled girl who gladly plays for at least an hour every day, always has her Playlist current as well as an arrangement or her own variation to share each week) had been a bit reluctant to begin the reading process, so I delayed a lit longer than usual in introducing it. She is now just finishing Foundation level 8 and is about halfway through Reading Notes. Her mother called just before her lesson yesterday and explained that her daughter is very adamant about not wanting to continue to learn how to read music. This is quite out of character for her; she’s not been one to claim territory and I was actually a bit shocked by this.
I had noticed the reading process has been a bit of a struggle for her, and I think in comparison to the ease she has found with the rest of the program, maybe this has discouraged her. We spent quite a bit of time at her last lesson talking about the benefits of reading music, the approach SM takes to this process as well as the fun streams coming up like Jazz Clues, etc (she’s a fantastic little blues player and interested in more jazz instruction). But basically at this point she feels she can figure out by ear anything she would want to play, or could consult YouTube for anything she’s not able to figure out.
She would very much like to continue lessons, but isn’t sure about continuing to learn to read. By the end of the lesson we agreed that no final decision needed to be made at this point, and she is thinking about what she wants to do, and the parents have decided that “this is her craft to do as she wishes”. Any suggestions?
Robin T., China
The most important thing is she continues to be interested and play. She sounds like she has a great ear, and how many pianists do you know who read brilliantly but struggle with that skill and wish they had it? I would let it go and she may get around to it one day when she sees a need.
Ian M., Indiana
You might think about delving into why she is so adamant. What, exactly, about learning to read music is making her feel not-safe? What is she afraid of? Addressing that underlying reason with her – from a place of love and acceptance – might give you some insight for how to proceed.
Cindy B., Illinois
My understanding is that we teach Simply Music as it is and not as our students want it to be.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
I wrote a response, then realized on rereading your post that I might have misunderstood slightly, but I hate throwing out work, so I’ll keep my initial response and add a further comment at the end 🙂
My experience, in and out of music lessons, is that these issues commonly have a foundation in fear, like that the child (for whatever reason) fears they are not good at a particular skill and they don’t want their perceived weakness exposed. The only defense they have available against such exposure is to say “I don’t like it” or something similarly vague. Sometimes you might be able to draw out their story, and sometimes the child can end up discovering that they are not nearly as incapable as they feared, or that they’ve just overestimated your (or someone else’s) expectations. Occasionally, there may even be a genuine learning issue that will impact the pace of their development in that arena. Either way, uncovering underlying issues can be a challenging, high-risk path for you to take. Sometimes it will be better for the parent to partner with you in that investigation or for you to stay out of it entirely and hope the parent uncovers the story (and Ian’s “place of love and acceptance” would apply to the parent too).
If you can’t discover any underlying issues, I don’t think you can avoid the area entirely. At some point, she will come face to face with the limitations of their lack of reading ability. But regardless of why the resistance exists, you can often minimize it simply by minimizing the dosage. Make it a very small part of her lesson time and practice time, and give her tiny challenges. Find the smallest possible increment of new material and ask her for a couple of minutes a day of processing it, with the understanding that she won’t be asked to move on until she’s processed it thoroughly. She can hardly complain about that. There’s a strong likelihood that she’ll discover it’s not so bad, get bored with the smallness of the tasks, and end up on a regular progress rate. If she doesn’t (because of some genuine learning issue), and she progresses very slowly, that is no problem whatsoever. It takes as long as it takes.
Just make sure the mom is ensuring she does that little bit each day.
So, my addendum: I see that she’s halfway through Reading Notes already! If she’s like most students, she’s already done the hardest stuff and is nearly ready to fly! So the question is why she’s objecting now after getting so far. Firstly, have a close look and see if there’s some specific thing she’s not quite getting that’s causing her anxiety. For example, she might be scared of leger lines because of some perceptual weakness with lines and spaces. Dig a little to see if there’s some small issue, something she feels she’s missing. Sometimes reducing the dosage will tease this out. Either way, let her know she’s nearly ready to be teaching herself songs off the page, which opens a whole new world! Get her agreement to stick with it a little longer and give her your agreement that you only expect a small amount of time from her on this. If she’s at this stage and in Foundation 8, she’s in great shape and there’s heaps of time!
If you’re really stuck, depending on exactly where she’s at with Reading Notes, you might actually be able to start her on a few pieces from Time for More Music. That would be a conversation we could have if necessary, but try all the above first.
Joanne D., Australia
I agree about trying to source where the apprehension is coming from if you can. I would ask her to trust you as her teacher and just include small doses for her in every lesson. I come across this type of student protest mostly with improvisation projects and just ask them to do it even though they are apprehensive. I find it’s easier to let it slide as I’m not that comfortable with it either and am pushing through my own resistance. I am trying not to avoid any streams that my students are uncomfortable with – this is an ongoing challenge as I trust in the SM process. I hope you can encourage your student to push through her resistance and trust in the process.
Patti P., Hawaii
She might just need a slower pace through Reading Notes, or more time getting comfortable with each step along the way. Perhaps she might like approaching it from the angle of composing a short melody and notating it to share with someone else.
I usually talk about how great it is to know how to read music, that it is another learning tool for them because there is so much written down that isn’t on YouTube, and not reading music is akin to not being able to read words – it is limiting their world.
That being said, there is also the possibility that reading is difficult for her for a physical reason. I found out after my daughter was an adult that she didn’t like music reading when she was a child specifically because she had great difficulty with the lines and spaces. They sort of swam across the page. This in spite of being an avid reader of books.
I would assume she has a good reason to not want to work on reading, and that there is a solution if you can get to the heart of her reason.