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I am currently teaching five young piano students using the Piano Adventures curriculum (which is the method I learned by) and so far I am really in love with those books! However, two of my students have recently been causing me concern by developing the same exact problem. They have super slow sight-reading and often hit wrong notes without realizing it. Also, they pause for a long time at the end of each phrase and no matter how many weeks I assign- "Practice counting out loud and taking out all the pauses between measures", it never gets better.

They also seem to have no sense of note duration and pretty much never hold down a note longer than it takes to strike the key. I've explained to them many times about note duration, (demonstrating, counting, and then playing along with them, having them count out loud, etc.), but as soon as I leave them on their own it all goes out the window! They seem to have not sense of what music is at all and I am started to get very frazzled at the end of the teaching day.

Any help would be greatly appreciated! They are both in the red level (level 1) of PA, and I have them doing the lesson and theory book, and I have one reviewing with some of the later songs in Primer Performance.

  • Not expert advice but from my experience learning piano I wonder if it might help to reach out to other resources, like perhaps a Suzuki book, just for specific exercises. Suzuki has timing and rhythm exercises and also emphasizes listening to the same things that one is playing, so the student hears how it "should" be played. Suzuki does not help as much with sight reading, IME, though, but might be just the thing for note durations. – Todd Wilcox Apr 12 '16 at 16:55
  • Depending on how young exactly your students are this behavior may be normal. If they are very young, group singing, rhythmic orchestra, and learning by example (as per the Susuki method like suggested by Todd), may be the most appropriate approach, not sight reading and counting. – José David Apr 12 '16 at 19:06
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Try playing a few tunes that they know well, but with different timings. Ask them to recogise the tunes - which will be impossible.That's the time to explain timing! Also, play long/short notes for recognition purposes, as a game. then introduce middle length notes and so on. Sight reading is NEVER going to be successful when done by students on their own. How can it? If no-one is around with some expertise when they 'try' to do it, it's a complete waste of playing time, so far. Later, when some skills are available, it takes on a different mantle, but for now, it's pointless.

What's worked well with my pupils on sightreading is to clap the rhythm out first (me counting). Also, use words for different note values - minim = walk, crotchet = jog, etc. With sightreading in the early stages, there are at least 3 things to do at once - read note on dots; find note on keys; hold down for appropriate length of time. It's all too much for a lot of youngsters, so split up the task.

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When your students aren't "getting" something, then you need to devise other ways of explaining it. If you're frazzled (and any teacher gets that way), take a step back and start working with your intuition and imagination. How else could you explain?

Teaching is learning, and learning is teaching. As you find new ways to get them to understand what you're trying to show them, you learn things about how their minds work. You have to always be learning from your students, if you're to always be teaching them. You'll want to keep that in mind as you deal with the frustration.

One suggestion comes to mind. Think about how a child learns to read written words. While there is some learning of the sounds that letters make ("sound it out," our teachers would say), there is also the process of learning to associate written words with spoken words by rote. (Sounding out "rough", "cough", "dough" and "through" has limited value, for example.) So, try taking a song from the book that they already know, and have them learn to play it by ear. (Melody only perhaps.) Work with them to get it correct. Then show them the music in the book and ask them to play that, explaining that the music is a dressed up version of what they've already played. This should help make the association between the written music and the actual music clearer. As you relate the written score to the tune they know, things might begin to click for them.

Once they get the association between note values and rhythm, then you can begin challenging them more. Sight reading requires this understanding, of course. By the way, someone once said that the only way to get good at sight reading is to sight read! So yes, they have to do it. But they need to be able to read first.

One more thing. Sell, don't tell. :)

  • +1 for teaching is learning! Absolutely. I probably have learned more from teaching tham I ever learned by being taught! – Tim Apr 13 '16 at 7:29
  • It has been said that knowledge is gained in four phases: receive, learn, apply, teach. :) – BobRodes Apr 13 '16 at 7:30
  • Yes, I've always thought that to teach something well, you need to understand it, so learn it better yourself. And if it's difficult, it'll give you empathy for the poor *** who has to learn it from you... – Tim Apr 13 '16 at 8:32
  • I've found teaching to be an endlessly creative process, where I constantly have to come up with variations on how to explain things. There's some process of emotional connection that has to happen. (cont) – BobRodes Apr 13 '16 at 8:58
  • One of my brothers teaches high school. If a cell phone rings or he catches someone texting in class, he confiscates the phone for the duration, explaining that it isn't the student's fault, but the cell phone's, and that the phone's punishment is to be put in "cell phone jail". One student presented him with a wooden "cell phone jail", complete with cell-phone-sized cells, that now hangs on the wall of his classroom. To me, that sort of goofiness is an example of connecting emotionally with the students. – BobRodes Apr 13 '16 at 9:00

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