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#1526205 - 10/01/10 12:05 PM Transfer students who can't read.
wavelength Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 340
Loc: Vermont, USA
I just started with 5 transfer students-- two sets of siblings from two different teachers. They showed up with stacks and stacks of books that they had worked out of. They played a piece they were proud of, and played it well. Then I asked them to read something, and they were completely lost at note one... I had to put a primer book in front of them before I got them to read. All their books had finger numbers or letter names penciled in for every note.

I guess I'm finding this remarkable because I don't think of myself as the most efficient teacher of reading. People come to me for jazz, blues, rock, world music, improvising, composition, whatever... from a cool guy who plays in pro bands. I keep a consistent thread of reading, but it is a relatively small part of my lessons. I always had this notion that everyone else's students read better than mine.

Both these teachers are reputable, and members of a professional organization with other reputable teachers who I admire. An insecure part of me is gratified (a "fringe" teacher seeing them as "establishment" teachers), but mostly I'm just perplexed. The kids learned the pieces- both in method books and in repertoire books- without learning to read.

I guess it comes down to student-teacher chemistry. I certainly don't succeed with every student.

Any thoughts on this?

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#1526217 - 10/01/10 12:28 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
danshure Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
weird timing - i just posted these yesterday...






...by the way, I see what you're talking about ALL of the time smile
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#1526265 - 10/01/10 01:28 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Overexposed Offline
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Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2648
Thanks for posting these, danshure! Very useful ideas especially for those who are having trouble with note reading.

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#1526328 - 10/01/10 03:30 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12052
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I think this may happen more than you think. Perhaps it's some piano teacher's dirty secret, perhaps it's done with pressure by the parents for their children to compete and do well in a short amount of time. Whatever the reason, it happens and must be dealt with in a way you feel is best.

Since you do some teaching of reading, you obviously feel it's an important part of a well-rounded pianist's abilities. I would first have a talk with the parents about this, and then talk with each of the children at their lesson to get a feel for how important it is to them that they read. That will help you decide how far you wish to pursue this with each child.

Personally, I feel it's very helpful and would explain the benefits of being able to read music in a way that would make sense to them and be excited to learn it. If you get everyone on board you'll have an easier time of it.
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#1526341 - 10/01/10 03:47 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Meilen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/07/09
Posts: 48
Loc: Switzerland
I just had a new student start a couple of weeks ago who has apparently worked his way through a whole book, but, as far as I can see, didn't have a clue with regard to actually reading the notes. I've discussed this with his mother, and I have started a process of learning how to read the music, while trying not to make it too obvious to him that there is such a deficit, as I think that would be very demoralising for him.

He is only seven so we are playing lots of games, which he enjoys, and I do lots of repetition of reading in different formats (using the music, games, a whiteboard, drawing them ourselves, singing etc), and this seems to be working. In the meantime, we are also doing some improvisation, which gets him playing at least.

It seems criminal that a teacher would only teach by rote learning or by always writing in the notes, but I think it is incredibly common and probably a very easy habit to slip into. Far easier to tell the student and make some progress than have to struggle with all that messy reading!!!

Kate
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#1526347 - 10/01/10 03:57 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Stanny Offline
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Registered: 11/08/06
Posts: 1461
Thanks so much for creating those, Dan!
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#1526385 - 10/01/10 05:03 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
david_a Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Thanks Dan - I like your whole approach. Well done.
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#1526455 - 10/01/10 07:14 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
AZNpiano Online   sleepy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5512
Loc: Orange County, CA
What's your idea of a "reputable" piano teacher? What's a "fringe" piano teacher? I don't think either one has anything to do with teaching note-reading.

I get lots of transfer students who are weak readers, and a few are non-readers. It's back to the basics for them. Worksheets. Lots of worksheets.
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#1526684 - 10/02/10 06:12 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11731
Loc: Canada
I've been reading this forum for well over two years. It is clear that teachers get judged in various ways and have to make sure they don't fall short in the eye of the public and their colleagues. So what is it that gets seen? In recitals, how well the students play. In competitions, ditto. In exams, mostly how well they can play pieces and technical exercises, though at least there sight reading is also tested. In the public eye (customers) - how well the students play in recitals, succeed in competitions, and maybe how "fast" they go through grade levels which is supposed to be progress.

None of these things: playing well in recitals and competitions, going quickly through the grades, need reading skills. In fact, emphasizing reading will slow things down. In any case, that ability will not show up during performances. It doesn't seem strange to me that teachers with a (good public) reputation might have students who can't read.

What we parents can do is be informed enough that we don't put that kind of pressure on teachers, so that those teachers who push the invisible things get the reward of recognition.

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#1526701 - 10/02/10 07:44 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: keystring]
Meilen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/07/09
Posts: 48
Loc: Switzerland
[quote= What we parents can do is be informed enough that we don't put that kind of pressure on teachers, so that those teachers who push the invisible things get the reward of recognition. [/quote]

This is spot on! And it's also up to the teachers to make it very clear to parents (and students)what the preferred outcomes of lessons should be.

Kate
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Teaching piano in English in Switzerland!

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#1526722 - 10/02/10 08:46 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: keystring]
danshure Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: keystring
None of these things: playing well in recitals and competitions, going quickly through the grades, need reading skills. In fact, emphasizing reading will slow things down. In any case, that ability will not show up during performances. It doesn't seem strange to me that teachers with a (good public) reputation might have students who can't read.

Keystring - put very well, and that's precisely one thing I attempt to show in the second video "book / piano"

READING music and PLAYING music are two completely separate things - and in fact piano is really a "Super-Multitasking Activity" - which is why I believe breaking things into pieces is extremely powerful.

Just because someone can play, it does not follow that the cause of this was an ability to read notes! Look at all the ways someone can learn to play:

Imitation(copying)->Playing
Reading Finger Numbers->Playing
Reading Intervals->Playing
Writing in note names->Playing
Guessing/Memorization->Playing
By Ear->Playing
Improvisation->Playing
Composition->Playing
Teacher's constant "right/wrong" corrections->Playin

Look at ALL the ways someone can get to step number two - playing. Yet we assume just because we see our student playing the music, it must have been a result of real note reading (which I define as essentially recognizing the note on the page by looking at the circle and translating to to its correct spot on the piano).

However when we dig deeper, we often find they've been using one the ways above, which is NOT real note reading. And then we wonder why we get (or GIVE) transfer students that can't read. It's easy to let each week go by - and if they can play the music we just keep moving them forward, without really stepping back to ask HOW did they just "read/learn" that piece of music??

This is why it is SO important to come up with these "tests" to determine if a student is actually reading notes.
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#1526886 - 10/02/10 03:23 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: AZNpiano]
wavelength Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 340
Loc: Vermont, USA
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
What's your idea of a "reputable" piano teacher? What's a "fringe" piano teacher? I don't think either one has anything to do with teaching note-reading.


Actually the dichotomy I set up was establishment/fringe, not reputable/fringe. But perhaps that's the crux of the issue in my mind. Not the question of how to teach reading, but the questions of:
Is there really such a thing as "fringe" and "establishment" teachers?
Do my students really do read less than students with more classically oriented teachers?

I believe that the perception of this dichotomy is what fuels some of the self-aggrandizing posts that occasionally appear on this forum by teachers who don't care for traditional classical methods. They show disdain for what they perceive as traditional methods, but I believe the source of the disdain is actually insecurity. I can relate to the feeling, though I don't experience it the same way.

To describe "fringe" I'll describe my own experience. I was a poor piano student as a child, though I loved to play the piano and I played a lot even if I didn't practice my assignments. I didn't like school, though I loved learning. I never liked organized sports, or group activities. I never played in school bands or orchestras. I lived music and art, but I almost didn't graduate because I didn't have the required half-credit of "art". After high school I goofed off for a few years, playing in bands, and practicing the piano a lot. In college, majoring in music with a "jazz/contemporary concentration" I discovered that all the other pianists read much better than I did. I had to work my *ss off to keep up. After college I went to Bazil to learn about their music, then I moved to NY to play jazz. My professional life, now in Vermont, consists of playing in a touring reggae band, playing Rhodes in a West-African jazz band, arranging horns for a 10-piece salsa band, and somehow teaching 20-25 students while I'm at it. That's not exactly your average small-town piano teacher resume. I don't participate in a professional organization, or exams, or grades, or collaborate with schools, or go to teacher's workshops. I don't mow my front lawn. That's what I mean by "fringe".

By "establishment" (and this is mostly my imagination) I mean the nice piano girl I went to college with. She was a great student, an excellent reader, played in church, and was majoring in music education or piano pedagogy. She couldn't improvise a lick, but she was a very good classical pianist. I imagine she's teaching in a school, or giving private lessons somewhere, maybe leading a choir. I also mean the fine teachers involved in the local music teacher's association, holding group recitals at the mall, competitions, workshops, and I don't know what else. In my imagination, these teachers know how to teach reading really well because they paid better attention to their own teachers and they read incredibly well themselves laugh I imagine they have secret techniques passed down by generations of pedagogical kung-fu piano masters.


On another note, thanks for the ideas on teaching reading. Nice videos, danshure!


Edited by wavelength (10/02/10 03:24 PM)

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#1526898 - 10/02/10 03:43 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
danshure Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
wavelength... thanks, and i knew what you meant by "establishment/fringe" but maybe it's a new england thing smile

(love vermont by the way - got married there)
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#1527175 - 10/03/10 12:21 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 850
There are many factors that may explain these children not reading well. For one, meeting with a new teacher is stressful and it can take weeks before children feel relaxed enough to resume their earlier level of reading. It's likely that the teachers erred in writing down note names and finger numbers for each note. It's also possible that the children hadn't played for several weeks before meeting with you. It's possible their teacher went too fast in the beginning and kept adding notes before middle a-e had been covered well. It's also possible that their teacher stressed other components of music making, such as melody shaping or singing.

As for Danshure's method: I appreciate the tip about physical distance. However, overall, I question this approach. It would be highly effective if there were only three notes. But there are many notes. Don't your students start to get things jumbled up after a few notes?

In my opinion, young children do not process notes in isolation, as you indicate. They need to associate each bit of information with something previously learned. I think you are correct in your list of the many ways a child could read. I think it takes a long time for the average child to read notes. A child who is very analytical would do well with your method. But, it must be remembered that they would do well under any method. The real test of your method is on a particularly intuitive child. I just don't believe in these types of note-reading exercises, flashcards, etc.. However, I liked your list and follow that more.

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#1527224 - 10/03/10 03:47 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Given almost any two children, it's quite easy to tell which one of them normally reads music but is having a difficult time today, and which one has never even tried it. Of course any student would not be at his best-ever reading level when meeting a new teacher - but this question isn't about someone reading less well than he ought to, it's about not reading music AT ALL - about students who don't really understand that you need to look at those black and white spots in order to know what you need to know.

Any time you see a finger number written for EVERY note on a page, it's a glaring major error - no question, no exception. However, that doesn't mean it had to be the teacher's writing - some parents like to "help". smile

Re. processing notes in isolation: the connection between what a young student knows already and this new material is going to be tenuous at best. With some sophistry, a teacher can create "associations" around it, but I'm not sure how much good those do. The whole system of music notation is odd, and doesn't have many parallels in the life of most children. (for piano students, reading includes simultaneous use of at least two different directional metaphors, along with a distance-sensitive yet non-proportional depiction of the flow of notes in time, along with a (therefore partly-redundant) symbolic representation of that same flow of notes in time. Maybe it's enough of a mess already without trying to create explicit associations. smile

I don't think anybody here wants to blame another teacher's student's former teacher for not teaching them to read - we weren't there, we don't know the whole story - maybe nobody does - anything is possible. But (on the other hand) I don't see much of a need to defend our unknown colleagues, because they are anonymous and staying that way. I'm sure I've been talked about by strangers as "that guy who did such a bad job" - in fact, probably more than my share of times. frown But there's not much anybody can do about that.
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#1527225 - 10/03/10 03:52 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
<<An insecure part of me is gratified (a "fringe" teacher seeing them as "establishment" teachers), but mostly I'm just perplexed. The kids learned the pieces- both in method books and in repertoire books- without learning to read.

I guess it comes down to student-teacher chemistry. I certainly don't succeed with every student.

Any thoughts on this?>>

I'm not a teacher, but an adult returner and trying to gain at least some basic ability to sight-read simple pieces "fluently" is my current goal...

Thoughts...

1) It's really quite simple, some teachers just don't teach or encourage sight-reading at a fluency level. As students we are taught to decode/decypher and effectively memorise ("rote-reading", can't play without the score, can't read anything fluently and can't play by memory). Constantly working at the limit of ability on "challenging pieces" then reinforces this.

2) "The establishment"
I think this has a lot to do with it. e.g Whilst sight-reading is a component of many examination systems, like the ABRSM & LCM, they seem to have a built in bias against sight-reading, whilst you are encouraged to memorise pieces right from the start. The key bias, is that the sight-reading tests are equivalent to pieces at least 2 grades below the current level. Also the sight-reading tests are just a small number of bars (relative to the pieces).

I don't understand the need for a two grade gap. In the ABRSM scheme, it seems to me, that for example, you have to have completed Grade 3 and be working on Grade 4 (sight-reading exercises) to read a Grade 1 piece fluently. So the "fluency" gap is effectively 3 grades (it seems to me).

Wouldn't a smaller gap (if any) between pieces and sight-reading tests at a grade/level encourage sight-reading?

What would happen if the sight-reading test was a whole piece just 1 grade below the current grade level?
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#1527406 - 10/03/10 01:17 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: EJR]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Originally Posted By: EJR
I'm not a teacher, but an adult returner and trying to gain at least some basic ability to sight-read simple pieces "fluently" is my current goal...

Thoughts...

1) It's really quite simple, some teachers just don't teach or encourage sight-reading at a fluency level. As students we are taught to decode/decypher and effectively memorise ("rote-reading", can't play without the score, can't read anything fluently and can't play by memory). Constantly working at the limit of ability on "challenging pieces" then reinforces this.

2) "The establishment"
I think this has a lot to do with it. e.g Whilst sight-reading is a component of many examination systems, like the ABRSM & LCM, they seem to have a built in bias against sight-reading, whilst you are encouraged to memorise pieces right from the start. The key bias, is that the sight-reading tests are equivalent to pieces at least 2 grades below the current level. Also the sight-reading tests are just a small number of bars (relative to the pieces).

I don't understand the need for a two grade gap. In the ABRSM scheme, it seems to me, that for example, you have to have completed Grade 3 and be working on Grade 4 (sight-reading exercises) to read a Grade 1 piece fluently. So the "fluency" gap is effectively 3 grades (it seems to me).

Wouldn't a smaller gap (if any) between pieces and sight-reading tests at a grade/level encourage sight-reading?

What would happen if the sight-reading test was a whole piece just 1 grade below the current grade level?
Well, sight-reading tests in examinations are really (in my opinion) a kind of game, just because of the nature of the exam. The rules of the game include a strict time limit (only so many exam slots in a day - have to get everyone finished in a reasonable time), a complete performance of the required piece (marking fairly means we can't let the student stop half-way), and as close to perfect as possible. With all those requirements, it becomes impractical to ask for long pieces (imagine the slow student slogging through page three at a quarter of the expected speed while the examiner takes nervous glances at her watch) or repertoire at the student's level (if you had to practice the other ones for weeks or months, how are you going to play this one perfectly in half a minute?)

In my opinion, the way to encourage sight reading is to require it in situations where the student (a) is inclined to be self-critical AND (b) has to keep going at all costs - playing duets with others, accompanying other players or groups, anything like that. But it doesn't have much to do with the sight-reading game that one plays in exams.
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#1527553 - 10/03/10 05:37 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Elissa Milne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 1337
Loc: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Difficult to read ≠ difficult to play, and thus apparent discrepancy between degree of difficulty in examination repertoire and in sight reading tests. The tests are designed to really test 'reading in an examination situation', not 'reading in real life circumstances'. Students who plan to sit exams where sight reading will be tested need to practice specific examination technique for these tests, even if the students are excellent sight readers.
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#1527677 - 10/03/10 09:31 PM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: wavelength]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2648
dansure, I just thought I'd let you know that I now have a copy of the grand staff notes in a clear protector sitting on a music stand (just like you showed in the video). I used it with 2 students today. As soon as each one hesistated on a note, I had them point to the note, then match it to the chart on the music stand.

Having to get up and match notes motivated each one to THINK and focus on what they were doing. It seemed that they thought it was less effort to remember notes, than to get up and match notes to the chart.

It was helpful! Thanks again for your videos!

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#1527881 - 10/04/10 08:53 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: danshure]
keystring Online   content
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I was trying before to highlight another angle of the subject. Namely that there is a reason why some teachers neglect teaching reading, and this can be because of what surrounds getting and keeping customers. The way reputations are built is through competitions, recitals and exam results. The part that is visible to parents or older students is when a student moves fast through grades, rather than what is in grades. All of this puts pressure on teachers in terms of what they stress and what they give short shrift to. If a transfer student comes from a teacher with a "good reputation" and that student can't read, what was that reputation built on? If it's impressive public performances, other things might have been stressed.

If we parents and students don't know what goes into mastering an instrument and playing, we will demand the wrong things, and ignore the teacher who is building a solid base. I think we have to be aware of the system, and its shortcomings as well as its strengths (recitals / competitions give students something to work toward, give visibility to the art etc.)

As such, maybe exams play another role. If exams include ear training and sight reading, then teacher and student must work on ear training and sight reading. It's as simple as that. It counters the pressure to go only for what is visible in performances. If it does no more than getting everyone involved to take ear and reading seriously, maybe that is still an important factor for this side of it.

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#1527899 - 10/04/10 09:22 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: keystring]
danshure Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: keystring
The way reputations are built is through competitions, recitals and exam results. The part that is visible to parents or older students is when a student moves fast through grades, rather than what is in grades.

You bring up a great point. However, I've noticed that getting and keeping customers for me has been two entirely different points really;

1. How independently my students can work on music at home. That is they can "self teach" and "self direct". (Ironically this is why note reading is so important - I want them to learn as much music as they can without my involvement.)

2. How enthusiastic they are to go home and play music. This is the winner. I have had so many parents that tell me their child has never been so enthusiastic to go home and play without them asking or without external motivators. This is so immediately visible to parents.

In short;

They WANT to go home and play -> and they know WHAT to do and HOW.

Two different schools of thought - and two different types of customers for sure. Parents that value these public events like recitals and competitions care about how their kid makes them look. The parent that simply wants their child to do it out of their own love cares about the child's happiness.

Parents come to me who maybe have experienced the other type of lessons - their kids can play, but as soon the competitions an external motivators/rewards stop, the kid stops playing! There was no internal motivation because it was all external.
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#1527901 - 10/04/10 09:24 AM Re: Transfer students who can't read. [Re: Overexposed]
danshure Offline
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Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: Ann in Kentucky
dansure, I just thought I'd let you know that I now have a copy of the grand staff notes in a clear protector sitting on a music stand (just like you showed in the video). I used it with 2 students today. As soon as each one hesistated on a note, I had them point to the note, then match it to the chart on the music stand.

Having to get up and match notes motivated each one to THINK and focus on what they were doing. It seemed that they thought it was less effort to remember notes, than to get up and match notes to the chart.

It was helpful! Thanks again for your videos!

Ann.... awesome!! I'm so glad it helped, this made my day. smile
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