Teaching errors are tricks by teachers and published methods to make reading music notation or understanding music theory easier for beginners, with no basis for continuing study. One example is labeling the keys of the piano. Some electronic keyboards and even methods for beginners come with letters that you can put above the keys or paste on the keys. Sometimes parents tape names on the keys. However, at lessons it is very easy to teach students to name the white keys the right way by their position in the two and three black keys and to feel them by name under the fingers. Tactics like these to make teaching easier in the short-term, actually cause students to fail overall and create many bad habits in the long-term. It is important to prevent teaching errors because they are the primary reason students eventually lose interest and become discouraged due to lack of real musical knowledge.
THE ERROR OF MNEMONIC DEVICES
The most common error in teaching reading are the popular sayings for memorizing the lines and spaces of the staff such as the saying, "Every Good Boy Does Fine." This is a sad representation of music education since the staff is actually read alphabetically line to space, and should be taught alphabetically from the beginning. For example if you put a letter between the sayings, you will see the alphabetical order of the staff: E f G a B c D e F. Still. . . many teachers of private lessons, classroom music, band, orchestra, and choir give sayings to their students to name notes. Why? No one learns to read music by memorizing sayings. Be aware not to pass this trick down to your student. It is important to realize that these sayings for reading the staff were invented in America, and are only used in America. Nowhere else in the world is reading music taught this way.
THE ERROR OF REMINDERS IN THE MUSIC
Teachers often mark the music by writing reminders in the music such as note names and counting; or they circle and highlight certain notes or musical symbols to draw the student's attention to them. However, when students are asked what these marks mean, they will say, "I don't know." Worse yet, if they are actually looking at the reminders, the musical notation becomes invisible. In this case, what are the notes for? Many published methods have these reminders in the music. You should be concerned if your teacher or the method book writes reminders that duplicate the musical notation students are supposed to be reading. Also, other musical signs for expression and dynamics are incidental and should not be emphasized at the beginning stages of learning to read. These signs can be learned in an instant at any time, while reading notes is a long and complicated process.
THE ERROR OF NAMING HAND POSITIONS
Examining the first note to decide where to start is the first step to independent reading, However, to save time at the lesson, teachers will often help students place their hands on the keyboard or name a hand position, such as "C position and G position". In fact, most of the modern American piano methods "teach" using this short cut by naming positions for students in the music book. Students who use these methods will ask, "Where do I put my hands?" The outcome of naming positions is students read superficially by shapes and, as a result, become lost once they have to think out of position. Those who learn from these methods, usually suffer a transition period in which to relearn how to read.
THE ERROR OF FAMILIAR SONGS
A common tactic by teachers and parents to try to keep students interested in music is to give them melodies to play that are already familiar. However, familiar songs can create a barrier to learning because students are tempted to play them by ear and not by reading. Playing by ear is far easier than reading notes. If you are looking for recreation, familiar music is just fine. But using familiar songs for the purpose of teaching reading or learning more about music won't work. Actually, a sign that students have fallen behind their grade level of reading is the desire to play familiar songs. Students who are reading at grade level do not seek familiar songs to keep their interest. The solution to this dilemma is found in the conservatory program by giving students variations of familiar songs that still require them to carefully pay attention to notes and technique.
THE ERROR OF COUNTING ALOUD
When learning a new piece at the lesson, we have one chance to read it right. However, when it comes to rhythm, there are many frantic efforts made by teachers to correct rhythmic mistakes. The reason for this problem is that once a rhythmic mistake is made, it is locked into the student's finger memory and almost impossible to correct. Actually, reading rhythms it is quite easy to get right if the teacher guides the student's eyes slowly across the printed page to control exact notes and values. Then, playing along to help students gradually play faster to internalize the beat and develop the skills to smoothly. These two steps work all the time. Other efforts are not so successful include counting aloud as students play, having students count aloud as they play, writing counting in the music, moving to the beat with the body, clapping, tapping, or sing along.
THE ERROR OF HELP AT HOME
Teaching reading is a delicate balance that needs to be controlled at the lesson. Parents are not expected to help students learn their assignment. Sometimes students ask for help as a diversion when they don't really need it. If they really need help, they should wait until the next lesson and ask the teacher. Parents should not help with practice, but they should help with the written homework and go to "imahovland.com" for an explanation. As far as playing other things outside the curriculum, students are welcome to play whatever they want at home. Some students want to play more, and others don't. If they do play more, it should be music that is easy enough to sight read without help. The ability to sight read happens naturally as students progress to higher levels of learning, and their music from the lower grades starts to look easy.
THE ERROR OF LOOKING UP AND DOWN
The most tempting and frequent mistake made while playing is looking up and down at the keys. As students play, they must look up at the page and never back and forth from the page to the keys or memorize their music to make it easier to play. This is the single most harmful habit that prevents students from learning to read. Reading music is tactile, which means the player learns to recognize a note and simultaneously feels where to play it. Players who look up and down at the keys, or are dependent on memorizing their music, will never be fluent readers. Try it sometime. Read a book looking up and down on every word, and you will understand the disorientation and comprehension problems that students experience when they look up and down as they play!
At Hovland, we want to provide parents and students with an exact instruction that can guarantee the time and money for lessons is well spent. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about your student's progress or our process of instruction; I would love to address them.