To keep a student from looking at the keyboard too much, take a
sheet of poster board and cut a little semi-circle out of one end
for the neck. Attach ribbons on either side to tie around the neck.
Occasionally, use this for simpler reading to break students' habit
of looking down so much. This makes students feel and listen for
the notes-some habitually look for every note even before looking
at the music!
-Robin Stewart, Littleton, Colorado
When teaching beginning reading to students-we present the clefs
as street names and the notes as houses, with specific addresses.
Just as students know their families live on particular streets
with particular addresses, they also know they have neighbors who
live certain distances from them. We follow up with a game that
uses little Matchbox cars finding the correct houses (notes).
-Music Learning Center, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio
My best theory and rhythm-reading students are those that play
pop music. Don't insist on classical music as the only legitimate
course of study. With pop music, not only do students apply their
study of chords, arpeggios and so on, they play sophisticated
rhythms. And by "jamming" with their friends, they are learning
collaboration, improving their listening skills and just having
fun. There is more to pop music than meets the classically trained
eye and ear.
-Submitted by Lana Robotewskyj, Sun Prairie,
One of the reasons students pause at bar lines is that the notes
on either side of the bar line are usually printed further apart
than the rest of the notes. As these notes appear further apart
visually, the student thinks there must also be more time between
them so she plays them further apart. Therefore, as soon as staff
reading is introduced, I warn the student that only the value of
the note determines how long it should take to get to the next
-Submitted by Jeanne Martens, Jeffersonville,
If I suspect a student is playing by ear rather than trying to
read the music, I turn off the power on the digital piano and
carefully watch the notes he is playing. This is a little bit
harder with a more advanced transfer student, so I have him play
one hand at a time. I tell the students, until they learn to read
note directions and intervals, they will have to play with no
sound. They soon buckle down and learn to read!
-Submitted by Jeanne Martens, Jeffersonville,
When students have a difficult time understanding the concept of
notation, I write out (or have them write out) the Grand Staff,
where they can see that the musical "alphabet" is continuous,
moving from below to above middle C. Then we sing one of their
simple pieces, pointing to the notes as they move up and down the
Grand Staff. This provided a breakthrough for one young student,
who before the exercise could not understand the relationship of
what she was playing to the printed music.
-Submitted by Melanie Braun, Flagstaff, Arizona
For beginning students who have difficulty tracking the correct
number of repeated notes, draw a different colored line under each
-Submitted by Connie McFarlane, NCTM, Anchorage,
Look for ways to bring sight-reading into each lesson. Use short
music examples that are at least two levels below a student's
current level of learning, and give them time to scan the score
before playing. Ensemble music played with another musician or
recorded accompaniment gives a steady pulse to keep up with. Solo
music can be tried alone, or students can be challenged to play
every other measure as you fill in the missing part. Students who
sight play the right- or left-hand part of newly assigned piano
music have a head start on home practice. The more advanced the
students, the more detail you should expect in their sight playing.
You, as the teacher, will instantly see what concepts your students
have mastered and where they still feel uncomfortable.
-Submitted by Lezlee Johnsen Bishop, NCTM, Salt Lake City,
Sharps are higher and to the right. Some are black, and some are
white. Always play the very next key on the right. Flats are lower
and to the left. Some are white, and some are black. Always play
the very next key on the left, and you know you're on the right
-Submitted by Billie Leach, NCTM, Shreveport,
At a student's first lesson, we go over the alphabet backwards
from G to A. I tell the student to learn it during the week and to
see how fast he or she can say it. It really is helpful for
recognizing descending notes.
-Submitted by Susan Schilke, Oregon City, Oregon
For elementary students, a cure for stopping at measure bars is
saying, "Now we must not stutter? Right?" Most students do not like
the word "stutter," so we get to work fixing it.
When a student's fingers seem to go in a different direction
than the music is leading-talk to him or her about the thinking
process. I often will guide a student (even the youngest) to
consider how his or her eyes look at the music, then a message goes
to a special part of the brain that in turn tells the fingers to
press the keys shown in their music. Also, I encourage the student
to concentrate so his or her "brain thinking" will get more
exercise, and the correct message will go to the fingers. My
experience is that the students gain a new perspective on
developing keyboard skills and began to understand the power of
-Submitted by Karen Krueger
In the fall, when elementary and intermediate students return
for lessons, I find they are a little rusty on the note reading.
Drilling with intervals is very helpful to bring them up to speed
and increase their confidence in note reading, for example,
identifying seconds, thirds and so forth.
-Submitted by Nancy Nicholson, NCTM, Providence, Rhode
With parental permission, write finger numbers, LH, RH, treble
clef and bass clef directly on a beginner's hands and fingers for
quick orientation, vivid experience and evidence that a piano
lesson has been encountered.
Cut a copy of an eight- or twelve-bar piece into one-measure
pieces. Students can then try to reassemble it in a logical
fashion. The results are sometimes hilarious, and the finished
product can be used for sight reading.