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#2248653 - 03/18/14 10:41 PM Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Hello,
I am a piano teacher originally from Europe living in the USA. When I started playing piano as a kid I already knew how to read music using solfege notes in the treble clef and this is why the first piano lessons had two staves with treble clefs. I still internally sing my piano pieces as I play them.
Now I have been teaching piano lessons in the USA for about 10 years now and of course I switched to the letter names but I still have no clue how my students can read the music. They don't know all the notes exactly but they can play it so I let them do it. I tried teaching solfege to some students but then the books are all structured around letter names and they get confused between the two ways of reading. I have also tried notespellers so that they become more confident reading notes but they reject them.

I am starting to feel like I should let go. Just let them play, even if they don't know each note name all the time but I really would like to find a more structured way to help them read other than let them figure it out.
what is the point of reading letter names? I imagine you see/hear melodic shapes, memorize hand movements, etc.. Am I missing something?

Thank you so much !

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#2248681 - 03/19/14 12:12 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5276
Loc: Europe
I know that I'll mess up with this, but what the heck. I can always say I'm sorry on my next post! grin

You are talking about C D E vs Do Re Mi, right?

So for me, as it stands, and as you present it, it's all the same. It's just a different naming. C for Do and so on.

BUT, there's also the idea of a moveable C (or moveable Do), which is something I never ever knew about, until I started using the pianoworld forums. Apparently this is a method used by Kodaly (??) and other Eastern European traditions, that use the Do, as the tonic in any kind of pitch we're talking about. This is easy to follow and sing along, but my guess is that creates a myriad of other issues (including the fact that my music is too chromatic and atonal in cases, to be held in a moveable Do system).

Next one please! grin
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#2248688 - 03/19/14 12:49 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Thank you Nicokas,
I learned fixed Do solfege as a kid and later in life I took some courses to learn movable do but I still rely more on fixed Do.
The advantage I see between letter names and solfege notes is that you can articulate the later even in fast passages. I remember during my student years playing Chopin etudes really quickly and I still could sing every single note as I played it. To me this is the meaning of reading music., being able to say or sing each note of a score independently of whether you play it not. On the other hand, I recognize it can be a bit pointillist . It wasn't until I let go of the singing a little that I started seeing figures and patterns and motions, so in this sense I think the letter names perhaps allow more freedom. Now I let my students see the variations and the repeats and how the music works in terms of form and that helps them learn a great deal.
So I guess, it depends on how you look at it.
My question is more about the learning process so that I can help my students learn to read using the letter names system because I'm not sure I get it .
So for example they can read the first note of a group and then see if it steps up and if it leaps down a third and then moves back up and it ends on a long note. So they would pay more attention to the first and the last notes of the group and read the notes in the middle in relation ..
Is this the way to read with letter names ?

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#2248709 - 03/19/14 02:38 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5500
Loc: Orange County, CA
What if you get students who can't sing or don't want to sing?
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#2248769 - 03/19/14 08:33 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
I don't teach solfege to my students. The lessons are too short , we don't have time. In any case with beginners we usually sing songs if there are lyrics written. If they don't want to sing I don't force them but I sing and sometimes later on they start singing too and sometimes not.

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#2248784 - 03/19/14 09:23 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3207
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: BostonTeacher

The advantage I see between letter names and solfege notes is that you can articulate the later even in fast passages.


I think you're limiting your speed if you must articulate with your voice. You need to be able to think much faster than you can sing.

I can think of lots of examples where neither letter names nor solfege syllables would be easy to articulate, for example a trill.
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#2248833 - 03/19/14 11:38 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: TimR]
ShiverMeTimbres Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/14
Posts: 207
Originally Posted By: TimR
I think you're limiting your speed if you must articulate with your voice. You need to be able to think much faster than you can sing.


I use this technique to unknowingly slow my Daughter down smile She likes to speed up when there's something she wants to watch on TV, so, I make sure she sings.

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#2248864 - 03/19/14 12:33 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Hi BostonTeacher,

First, the standard caveat: I'm not a piano teacher.

I am from Europe, though, and for as long as I have been reading music (about twenty years now, on and -- mostly -- off), I've used fixed Do solfège for naming notes. That said, I use the other system (letter names) without major difficulty whenever that seems more convenient. I may automatically think of the white key in-between the two black ones as re, but it will still sound the same even if I decide to start thinking of it as D.

I think the problem with your students not knowing the name of every single note on a page isn't that using letter names somehow makes it impossible (or even substantially more difficult) for them to "sing" internally. It's just that they choose not to do it -- probably because they just weren't taught that way.

In Belgium (where I'm from), most students taking up a musical education initially learn to read music not through the playing of an instrument, but exclusively through sight-singing. They keep at it for at least a year before they even get to *touch* an instrument. If that was your introduction to music (and I suspect yours must have been something like it), then of course you will tend to keep "singing" every score that's put in front of you, note by note -- and I put "singing" in quotes here because you and I both know, eventually you stop physically singing. You just audiate (hear the score internally), with or without note names.

Now, I'm guessing that for most of your students, learning to read music wasn't like that. Their first introduction to music notation probably went something like this: "This note on the ledger line in the middle of the grand staff is called middle C. Here is how to find middle C on the piano ...".

I think the most important difference between you and most of your students lies not in the way you name the notes, but in the first thing that comes to mind when you look at a note on the page. For you, that's probably a sound. For most of your students, it's probably a location on the keyboard. Now, if the goal is to learn to translate written sheet music into sounds coming out of a piano, which of those do you think is most useful?

I think associating notation with sound can come in very handy for those who play a string or brass instrument, or any other instrument where the musician has direct control over pitch. Often, for those same people, associating notation with some kind of physical action or location will be unhelpful, because string and brass instruments also allow the production of certain pitches in multiple physically different ways.

But for pianists, who basically have no control over pitch, and whose instrument has one and only one key for each of the pitches it can produce, an automatic notation-key association is, IMO, far more directly useful than a notation-sound association. If you associate notation primarily with sound, your reading process at the piano goes something like this: see the note, name/hear/sing/audiate it, and then go find it. Associating notation directly with physical keyboard location gets rid of the intermediary step. In that way, for pianists at least, it represents an efficiency gain.

So do your students need to "sing" internally, the way you were taught to do? I'm not sure. I think that if you teach them to do it, they'll have to "unlearn", to some extent, in order to sight-read as quickly and accurately as they possibly can. And do they need to know the name of every single note on the page? Not sure about that, either. I think the most important thing for a pianist to know is where a note is located on the piano; not what it's called, or what it's going to sound like. Those things are obviously important for reasons of their own, such as clear communication between teacher and student, and error correction while practicing. I'm arguing, though, that they are not priority number one for pianists.

I believe it's for the above reasons, and then a few others, that most teachers here promote intervallic reading (as you alluded to in your own post: this is middle C, and then the music goes a third down from that in one skip, or an octave up from that in a series of steps ... hey, it's a C major scale, I know how to play that!). I don't think the point of intervallic reading is to literally name every note you encounter along the way ... in fact, I'm pretty sure that is very much *not* the point of it. The point of intervallic reading is to see a note (or chord, or sequence of notes, or ...) on the page, and be able to quickly play it, even if you can't name it, or "hear" it.

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#2248984 - 03/19/14 05:30 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: Saranoya]
BrainCramp Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/09/12
Posts: 255
Loc: USA
BostonTeacher,

I'm not a teacher, but an adult learner. For what it's worth, here's how I learned to read music in New Jersey:

I did have piano lessons as a child, and that was where I learned to read music. It was much as Saranoya describes:
Originally Posted By: Saranoya

Now, I'm guessing that for most of your students, learning to read music wasn't like that. Their first introduction to music notation probably went something like this: "This note on the ledger line in the middle of the grand staff is called middle C. Here is how to find middle C on the piano ...".

I learned the letter corresponding to each line and space on the staves. I remember being taught this clue: On the top staff the big fancy "G"-looking thing at the beginning of the staff curls around the line for G.

Then I had a cardboard "map" that stood up against the fallboard and had the letters printed on drawings of the keys. You lined middle C on the cardboard map up with middle C on the piano keyboard. So for example, when I saw a middle C note on the page, I looked at the cardboard map and found the key on the piano keyboard.

I don't know how long this process took. A couple of months, maybe? I was about 9.

Certainly I was taught about pitch intervals, octaves, etc. But learning by singing would have been disastrous for me.

For one thing, I sing so poorly that I can't match a pitch to save my soul. For another, after two years on the piano I went on to wind instruments. Singing while playing wouldn't have been possible. I could already read music, but I quickly associated the note (letter) on the staff with a finger combination on the instrument. As on the piano, it was basically "I see D on the page, here's how I get that D out of the instrument."

To be honest, BostonTeacher, I never heard of do-re-mi until I saw The Sound of Music.

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#2249398 - 03/20/14 10:30 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: Saranoya]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Hi Saratoya,

thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. You have gone to the root of the problem as I see it and it's been really helpful to see what I need to do next.
I have been writing you a long reply but I just lost it. shocked
To summarize, thank you for letting me know that the reading system is in fact intervallic singing, so that I won't be as strict with my students if they don't know the note name of the key they are playing. This is going to be nice for them and for me !
What I also was saying in my response was that i don't think that singing note names slows down the process because you sing internally and anyway you can't possibly sing everything because it's harmonic reading so how do we sing 4 or 5 notes at the same time? We don't do that. It's much more complicated than I initially thought.
Singing enhances the playing experience and expressive power. I think the concept of teaching to sing before to play in Europe comes from the notion that all instruments are an extension of the human voice. If you look at the origins of notated music, you will find it was all sung music . the first ensembles back in the renaissance imitated voice choirs, the instruments were meant to be like human voices or to accompany human voice.


Edited by BostonTeacher (03/20/14 10:37 AM)

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#2249403 - 03/20/14 10:36 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BrainCramp]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Originally Posted By: BrainCramp
BostonTeacher,

I'm not a teacher, but an adult learner. For what it's worth, here's how I learned to read music in New Jersey:

I did have piano lessons as a child, and that was where I learned to read music. It was much as Saranoya describes:
Originally Posted By: Saranoya

Now, I'm guessing that for most of your students, learning to read music wasn't like that. Their first introduction to music notation probably went something like this: "This note on the ledger line in the middle of the grand staff is called middle C. Here is how to find middle C on the piano ...".

I learned the letter corresponding to each line and space on the staves. I remember being taught this clue: On the top staff the big fancy "G"-looking thing at the beginning of the staff curls around the line for G.

Then I had a cardboard "map" that stood up against the fallboard and had the letters printed on drawings of the keys. You lined middle C on the cardboard map up with middle C on the piano keyboard. So for example, when I saw a middle C note on the page, I looked at the cardboard map and found the key on the piano keyboard.

I don't know how long this process took. A couple of months, maybe? I was about 9.

Certainly I was taught about pitch intervals, octaves, etc. But learning by singing would have been disastrous for me.

For one thing, I sing so poorly that I can't match a pitch to save my soul. For another, after two years on the piano I went on to wind instruments. Singing while playing wouldn't have been possible. I could already read music, but I quickly associated the note (letter) on the staff with a finger combination on the instrument. As on the piano, it was basically "I see D on the page, here's how I get that D out of the instrument."

To be honest, BostonTeacher, I never heard of do-re-mi until I saw The Sound of Music.


Thank you for sharing your experience BrainCramp. it is helpful to understand your process as this is what most people do here. I was just missing a part before but know I get it.
I wanted to tell you that it is normal that you didn't know about do-re-mi, because only singers use this system. When I was in college they called it "solfege for singers" I believe it is a requirement if you want to take a music degree, or maybe it is part of Ear Training. I guess it depends on the school.
As Saratoya said before, in Europe children don't start playing an instrument until they have spent at least one year learning to read music. Most schools won't even let them take instrument lessons if they haven't gone through that process. This is not true in the UK though. In the UK they have the same system as in the USA. I don't know about other countries ! It would be interesting to know thumb


Edited by BostonTeacher (03/20/14 10:36 AM)

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#2249446 - 03/20/14 12:07 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
dumdumdiddle Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 1265
Loc: California
I teach all of my piano students to read notes in solfege first, then letter names much later. I use a solfege-based method, teach them in groups, and include singing as a key activity. Having taught both letter names and solfege to beginning students since 1980, I prefer solfege. My experience has been that students play more musically and have better developed musical ears because of the solfege base.
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#2249455 - 03/20/14 12:27 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
tedrp Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/26/13
Posts: 17
Pardon my ignorance (I learned music reading using letter names and only know of solfege theoretically) but in countries using fixed do system do people ever refer to titles of works by solfege? Is a piece in C major ever called Do major? I realize that the music publishers, at least in certain countries, do not use such letter names but are solfege names ever used that way in casual conversation?

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#2249474 - 03/20/14 01:17 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: tedrp]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Ted,

I have friends in France who NEVER refer to their pieces by name. For example, Beethoven's tempest sonata last movement is (sung) "re-fa-mi-re".
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2249477 - 03/20/14 01:25 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Hi Boston,

I have to agree with you. Hearing/singing also strengthens the learning process so people learn the music more fully, and tend to think of music as a linguistic process rather than an abstract skill.

I take it that what you are really noticing in your students is not that they don't know the pitch names of the the notes they play; most likely they do. Rather they don't hear them in their heads in the same way or to the same level of sophistication or discernment as you do.

I've always thought that early music education was done backwards in this country. When I have beginners, I start them by making them learn pitch names and intervals, doing rhythm exercises, and doing simple sight singing for two or three months before they ever touch an instrument. By the time they get to the piano, their reading is strong enough that they don't usually need much help from me with those things. And they actually have some listening skills which can easily be built on as time goes on.

Saranoya:

"I think the most important thing for a pianist to know is where a note is located on the piano; not what it's called, or what it's going to sound like."

I disagree. That approach will make you into some kind of pianist. But it won't make a musician out of you.


Edited by laguna_greg (03/20/14 01:32 PM)
Edit Reason: thought of something
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2249481 - 03/20/14 01:35 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter namesm [Re: tedrp]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Ted,

The answer to your question is yes. When you (people accustomed to the letter naming scheme) say that something is written in C sharp minor, we say it's in the key of do kruis klein. Unlike movable do solfège, fixed do solfège is really just a different naming scheme that otherwise follows all the same rules your letter names do. All it is is translation, where A = la, B = si, C = do, and so on.

Countries where the solfège naming scheme is used do seem to teach music through sight-singing more often, but even that is not absolute. I hear that in the Netherlands, sight singing is taught using the letter names.

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#2249513 - 03/20/14 02:54 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: laguna_greg]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: laguna_greg

I take it that what you are really noticing in your students is not that they don't know the pitch names of the the notes they play; most likely they do. Rather they don't hear them in their heads in the same way or to the same level of sophistication or discernment as you do.


Yep. My point exactly.

Originally Posted By: laguna_greg

Saranoya:

"I think the most important thing for a pianist to know is where a note is located on the piano; not what it's called, or what it's going to sound like."

I disagree. That approach will make you into some kind of pianist. But it won't make a musician out of you.


I am not trying to argue that instantly knowing where a given note is on the keyboard is the *only* thing that's important when playing the piano. If you can also "hear" that note internally before you play it, great. But unlike singing, or playing an instrument like the trombone or the violin, playing the piano does not *require* one to "pre-hear" pitches in order to learn to correctly produce them. A piano student can produce the correct pitch every time even without any kind of internal pitch representation, assuming (s)he knows the location of that pitch on the keyboard, and his/her instrument is well-tuned. It may be *nice* to also have some sense of what the music will sound like, and those who do have that will almost certainly make better musicians. But it is not absolutely required. This is why I think that for a piano student, the notation-location association is the *most* important one to be established. Which is not to say that notation-name and notation-sound are not important, too.

Here's where I'm coming from when I argue the above:

I was taught to read music the same way most everyone around here is: by sight-singing for a year before applying my newfound reading skill to actually playing an instrument. Prior to that, I'd had two years of violin and a few scattered piano lessons using the Suzuki method, at an age when I was not yet deemed old enough to read. I'd also learned to play simple folk tunes on recorder and bagpipes by ear, because there wasn't any sheet music for that (why would there have been?). And I'd sang in a few children's choirs where we learned all the songs by imitation.

Because of all of those early experiences, I am (still) a listener much more than I am a reader. But I'm also "blessed" with a complete lack of anything remotely resembling absolute pitch. I can memorise most music I hear without much conscious effort, then sing it (or just a single voice of it) back to you in a completely foreign key, and I won't even know. So when you put me in front of a score and tell me to play it on the piano, I will "hear" the score in my head (because I was taught to sing scores before I was taught to play them). I will, almost unconsciously, memorise that internal sound representation. And when you ask me tomorrow to sing or play it back to you, I will attempt to do so (not looking at the score, but listening to my memories, because I am a listener by nature), but I may do it in the wrong key. This is because when I memorise something, I memorise the overall "sound shape" of it, but not where it is on my instrument, or what the notes it is composed of are called.

I actually think that, for me at least, it would help *a lot* if notation were more "anchored" to keyboard location than it is now. I think I'm getting there, but it's slow going. And if I ever had a child and he or she wanted to learn to play the piano, I think I would insist on them learning that "notation-location" link first, or at the very least, at the same time as everything else. Because I think that'll make reading so much easier for them than it is for me!

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#2249520 - 03/20/14 03:06 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: Saranoya]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Hi Saranoya,

I find that it's a two-edged sword. Pianists are at a distinct disadvantage because they don't "have" to listen to or hear anything. They can just hit a key without any thought or consideration at all. Many do, and it's a serious limitation.

There are shortcomings to either approach. But I vastly prefer to work with students to overcome your problem, as opposed to the way kids are trained in this country. I really do! If kids aren't trained in any listening/hearing skills in some way similar to your own training across the pond, it's very difficult to get them to the point where they can "hear" anything, or really "think" in music. And their music-making and composing very obviously suffers for it.

BTW, I have it on good authority that having absolute pitch is highly overrated. But good relative pitch is a godsend.


Edited by laguna_greg (03/20/14 03:07 PM)
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2249529 - 03/20/14 03:21 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
Diane... Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/06
Posts: 3450
Loc: Western Canada
Well I have found that every student must be doing music "theory" (Mark Sarnecki's Music Rudiments; beginner, intermediate, advanced), along with their music. Working their sight reading with their actually writing the note is what I found to help the most.

Just makes them know their notes that much easier when they have to write the notes on the score and then add good sight reading practices to know if they know their notes or not.
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Jazz/Blues/Rock/Boogie Piano Teacher


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#2249535 - 03/20/14 03:31 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
Diane... Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/06
Posts: 3450
Loc: Western Canada
I know this is little off topic, but he has a secret to sight reading which I think is absolutely crucial. Best 7 minutes and 42 second I every spend. Take a listen to what he says. Hope you get the "aha" moment I did!

I think we forget what is so important to music lesson!



Check out his other videos at "LivingPianoVideos" on youtube!!!


Edited by Diane... (03/20/14 03:33 PM)
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Jazz/Blues/Rock/Boogie Piano Teacher


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#2249548 - 03/20/14 04:02 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: laguna_greg]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: laguna_greg
BTW, I have it on good authority that having absolute pitch is highly overrated. But good relative pitch is a godsend.


I've always maintained that I consider my lack of perfect pitch a reason to be grateful smile. The people I personally know who do have elaborate pitch recognition abilities, seem to consider them a nuisance more than anything else. I've heard of many things that are more challenging than you'd expect for those with perfect pitch, none of which are a problem for me. But then, I also once managed to learn an entire Eric Satie piece in the wrong key. I'd memorised it off the radio, but I couldn't remember what it was called or who had written it. So I didn't realise I was remembering it (and learning it) wrong, until I played it for my teacher.

Let's just say, my trust in my musical memory has been rather shaky since then. I'd really rather learn to religiously adhere to the score while practicing. But listening is *so* much easier than reading for me that it's not even funny. Once I've memorised a score, reading feels like torture, even though I *want* to do it.

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#2249567 - 03/20/14 04:37 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
PianoStudent88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 3181
Loc: Maine
What did your teacher say? "Wow that's great! What amazing musicianship to be able to do that! Would you like to also learn it in the key Satie wrote it in, or are you happy with it as is?" Or "Lots of work you've done, too bad you made a glaringly awful mistake and it's all in the wrong key. Let's get out the score and learn it the RIGHT way, because nobody could possibly enjoy what you're playing right now."

By your subsequent supreme doubt of your musical abilities, I have to wonder if there were elements of the latter in her response. Or is that an internal script you supply yourself, and could you imagine moving towards the former script?
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#2249592 - 03/20/14 05:28 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: PianoStudent88]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
What did your teacher say?


The teacher I was with at that point considered me weird from the very beginning. She said she'd been able to play things by ear and from memory when she was younger, but "they had beaten that out of her" as she was going through conservatory. When I met her, she was completely unable to play anything other than short fragments without a score in front of her. But she was also the person everyone called when they needed an accompanist last minute, because *with* the score, she could play nearly anything on the spot.

I was mostly playing very simple things when I was with her: Mikrokosmos volume 2, little minuets from the likes of a five-year-old Mozart, a few random pieces that she reluctantly let me pick out for myself (or which I would just come to class with and tell her: here's something I've been working on), and my first Bach. The fact that I consistently came back playing these things from memory the week after she'd assigned them drove her nuts. She wasn't entirely wrong: I hadn't yet learned, back then, to memorise in a way that would allow me to pick up anywhere in the piece (or at least in more than a couple of utterly logical places) after something went wrong. It forced me to start over from the beginning every time, which ... got old fast, especially for her.

When I played the Satie in the wrong key, her response went along the lines of: "See! That's what you get for insisting on playing without a score."

With my current teacher, I am slowly learning to pick up anywhere in a piece, both with and without use of the score as a memory jogger. For a while now, I've been working on a Chopin Nocturne, the first page or so of which I learned before I'd seen the score. Much like the Satie, I had first heard it on the radio. I didn't know exactly what it was, and for a long time, I couldn't play it well enough for Shazam to recognise it. I also didn't dare go to my teacher with it, because I thought she was going to tell me I was crazy for even attempting that piece at this point. But she didn't.

I enjoy trying to play the various strands of music that are floating around in my head all the time. Sometimes they're things I've heard before, like Chopin and Satie. Occasionally, they constitute "new" music. But I still think it would be easier, and make me a better piano player, if I could just sit down with a score and play whatever's on there.

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#2249762 - 03/20/14 11:12 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: laguna_greg]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Originally Posted By: laguna_greg
Hi Boston,

I have to agree with you. Hearing/singing also strengthens the learning process so people learn the music more fully, and tend to think of music as a linguistic process rather than an abstract skill.

I agree with this. I too think of music as a language. However, I got in trouble in academic circles for saying that. Science has dominated musical academia for the past 50 years at the least.


Originally Posted By: laguna_greg

I take it that what you are really noticing in your students is not that they don't know the pitch names of the the notes they play; most likely they do. Rather they don't hear them in their heads in the same way or to the same level of sophistication or discernment as you do.


No,it's not that. I gave up on teaching to sing a while ago . What I was concerned about is to give them a good reading foundation so that they could be prepared for any musical situation. However, I am now rethinking the whole solfege versus letter names... I think I will reorganize the lessons to teach them to sing after all because I am realizing how important it is to me. If I had kids I would want them to sing too, so now I have to be consequent .

Originally Posted By: laguna_greg

I've always thought that early music education was done backwards in this country. When I have beginners, I start them by making them learn pitch names and intervals, doing rhythm exercises, and doing simple sight singing for two or three months before they ever touch an instrument. By the time they get to the piano, their reading is strong enough that they don't usually need much help from me with those things. And they actually have some listening skills which can easily be built on as time goes on.


Is it difficult to "convince" them or they actually come to you because of your approach?


Edited by BostonTeacher (03/20/14 11:41 PM)

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#2249770 - 03/20/14 11:35 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
BostonTeacher Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/18/14
Posts: 40
Saranoya,
You remind me a bit of a new student of mine. He started about 2 months ago, ( he's only aroybd 10 years old) he had taken piano lessons for one year with a couple years break in between. I was teaching him 5 finger melodies in different positions and the other day he says: " I practiced something on my own" and plays me the first page of For Elise. He played it very well by the way. His dad plays it and he picked it up from him. What am I supposed to say? Of course I was thrilled. I encouraged him and told him to continue playing the piece but also to play the homeworks I give him. Going back to the 5 finger melodies felt very strange though but since he needs to improve hand coordination we'll have to stay on it a bit more.
If I were your teacher I would have applauded your Satie even in the wrong the key . A jazz pianist would tell you to transpose it in the 12 keys, lol
What happens with students who have good ears is that they don't have patience to read the scores . I don't know if that's your case but you will see if you take your time you can read most scores. Take small fragments and focus on hand gestures. That's my advice but I don't know you so it's hard to tell.

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#2249772 - 03/20/14 11:37 PM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Originally Posted By: BostonTeacher

Is it difficult to "convince" them or they actually come to you because of your approach?


The beginners don't know enough to ask any of the right questions, nor do their parents usually if they are young. So I just tell them that this is how it's going to be, take it or leave it. I've had a few people who had some hesitation at the beginning because of lessons they had earlier in their lives with other teachers. If they can hear it, I point out to them that they don't know enough yet to form an opinion, and they'll have to trust me for a little while to see the results. I'm simply not interested in teaching any other method, so they can look for another teacher if they really don't want to do it my way.
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2249796 - 03/21/14 01:34 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 622
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: BostonTeacher
What happens with students who have good ears is that they don't have patience to read the scores. I don't know if that's your case but you will see if you take your time you can read most scores. Take small fragments and focus on hand gestures. That's my advice but I don't know you so it's hard to tell.


Lack of patience to read scores? Oh yeah, definitely me!

I actually "ran into" a score I could more or less just sit down and play, the other day. It was new music, so I'm pretty sure I'd never heard it anywhere. I told my teacher and she said "yeah, well ... I never thought you really *couldn't* read. You just always pick pieces that are too hard for you to read."

Where by "read", of course, we don't mean just look at a score and get a general idea of what's there. We mean sit down at the piano and play it, while following the score.

You say take small fragments and focus on hand gestures. I'm pretty sure that's not going to teach me to read, because it's what I do now to learn my pieces that are "too hard" to read all at once. And the problem is, if I have to *practice* to be able to play something, then of course I'll have it memorised before I'm even done practicing!

I memorise the more "complicated" stuff by virtue of having to practice to get it right. The stuff that is simple enough for me not to have to practice, I'll have memorised by the end of the first try *because* it is so simple! Neither approach *really* teaches me to read.

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#2249800 - 03/21/14 01:49 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Good morning. This is such an interesting topic, unfortunately I don't have time this morning to flesh out my thoughts on the matter but I do want to say that I have taken the opposite direction from you, BostonTeacher. I moved to Europe from the US as an adult. Learning solfège has been like a revelation for me, like finally realising what it means to read music. I encourage you to continue as best as you can to relate your teaching in Beantown to your European musical formation, it represents an incredible enrichment for the students who have you as the professeur, they are quite lucky, even if they don't realize it.

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#2249815 - 03/21/14 04:58 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: BostonTeacher]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5500
Loc: Orange County, CA
If solfege is so good and important, then how come voice majors have difficulty in college music theory classes?

Just a personal observation.
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Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2249874 - 03/21/14 09:43 AM Re: Teaching how to read music- solfege versus letter names [Re: AZNpiano]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
If solfege is so good and important, then how come voice majors have difficulty in college music theory classes?

Just a personal observation.


Well AZN, that's because most singers are never taught well by their teachers until they get into a serious college program. Most cannot read and cannot count time before then, and don't think it's terribly important anyway. Their poorly developed technical abilities are a whole other area of contention as well.
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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