Because I like to research things obsessively before I begin (like reading 10+ parenting books while pregnant), I’ve been researching how to teach my daughter to read. Reading about the steps of learning to read has inevitably lead me to ponder on the similarities between teaching reading (totally new to me) and note reading (which I’ve done many times as a violin teacher).
Here are some of the similarities I’ve discovered:
You need to listen before you read. Read board books and picture books to your child every day and they will learn to love to read and what good language sounds like. Listen to music every day and your child’s ear will be familiar with standard chord progressions and other musical norms. (Sing seven notes of a scale to a kid who listens to a lot of music, and what will they do? Sing the tonic!)
When I prepare to read a new piece of music, I look at the key signature, time signature, tempo, and composer. Already I have a good feel for what it may sound like, as it will probably be similar to other pieces I’ve studied with those same characteristics.
Keep reading to your child after they’ve learned the fundamentals. The percentage of kids who read for fun plummets between age 8 and 9; a statistic strongly correlated with the age that many parents stop reading aloud to their kids. Reading to independent readers keeps them in books. Their listening comprehension is usually above their reading comprehension, and so they can often listen to more interesting books than they can read. Reading books with parents is a comforting, loving ritual that will make them love to read.
In a similar way, a child should not stop learning to play by ear once they can read music. They can likely perform more difficult, interesting music than they can read. And definitely don’t neglect listening to music outside their repertoire; listening to music that is beyond their ability to read or perform also keeps them motivated to continue learning.
Teach sight words. When I read books I don’t sound out any words, unless they’re in a foreign language and less familiar to me. I recognize the words without “reading” them because I’ve seen them so many times. Similarly, I don’t think about individual note names as I sight read music, unless it’s atonal (basically a foreign language) and less familiar to me. Just as a child learns to instantly recognize simple words; a child can learn how to recognize scale and chord patterns that will help them read quickly and accurately. When you teach a child to read words, you may start with flash cards of individual letters to learn the sounds, but then you move on to flash cards of sight words.
When you teach someone to read music, don’t stop with flash cards of individual notes; quiz them on the finger patterns of every scale, major and minor, and make sure they can pick out every instance of the tonic, dominant, and leading tone in the music. Make sure they can quickly see what a third or fifth looks like and feels like. When they can quickly see those notes in the upcoming measure, their brain can fill in quite a bit of the rest.
Worksheets are lame. Worksheets are a necessary evil every now and then. However, the love of reading and music comes from the doing of it. Children can learn a surprising amount just by casually talking about what they’re seeing and hearing. While reading aloud to an early reader, you may point out their first initial every time it occurs on the page.
For an early music reader, you may leave the music out on the stand while they play their piece and help them recognize how the rhythmic pattern is written or how often they plan an open A. While reading aloud to a more advanced reader, you may talk about imagery and the hero’s journey. While teaching a piece to a more advanced music reader, you might discuss sonata form or how different keys change the mood.
These are just a few of the many similarities that come to mind. Please share any others you can think of in the comments!
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