This week I was inspired to write about whether or not it is important to learn to read music. In today’s world, there are millions of YouTube videos and online tutorials that show you exactly how to play your favorite songs. While this is easy and convenient (and not always a negative thing!), it begs the question: do students really understand music when they learn this way?
At Music SO Simple, we stress the importance of learning to read music for a few reasons. I often compare learning music to learning how to read. When you are young, you learn about the alphabet and combining letters to make different sounds. It takes years to expand vocabulary, form sentences, and eventually be able to read a book. Now imagine being taught to read a book by simply repeating a sequence of words without understanding how they create sound together or what the words mean. Which way would YOU rather learn how to read a book? When learning to read music, you learn fundamental symbols and rhythm, gradually learn different notes on the staff, and then you learn longer and more challenging pieces as time goes on. Simply put, the ability to read music provides a deeper understanding.
Now, I am not discrediting the power and importance of good ear training, which also takes years to develop. I am also not saying that learning to play a piece by ear is inferior, but if you know how to do both, then you at least have options based on your learning style. I myself occasionally need to hear someone play a passage that I am working on, so I am thankful that we have resources available like YouTube for help. I truly believe that both skills go hand in hand- if you can recognize intervals and patterns on the page and have solid ear training, then you will know what it is supposed to sound like before you even try to play it.
The ability to read music simply opens doors that ear playing by itself cannot do: if you can only play by ear and there is no recording of a piece you want to learn, then you wouldn’t be able to learn it. Our aim is to create well-rounded musicians with both skills. Feel free to read our blog on the 40 piece challenge to see why reading new music constantly fosters independent learning and how it builds stronger musicians!
Everytime we get to the beginning of the year, we sort of “reset”, whether it be the beginning of a school year, or calendar year. I’ve had a lot of parents asking me lately how best to get their child back into the groove of practicing after the holiday break. So, here are a couple of my own thoughts.
For one, I think it’s great to take a little break from the piano during the holidays. Of course, we love our students to play for family, but I like the idea of my students getting a little break from regular practicing. The downtime is really essential to prepare for what’s coming ahead in the spring semester. With the exception of Spring Break, we go straight through until May with little time to rest: there is Honor Roll, Theory Test, Achievement Auditions, and the May Recital. Without this previous downtime, our students would most definitely lose motivation and would not make it through these important events!
Secondly, I think with all of these upcoming studio activities and the teacher’s new-found energy (teachers appreciate Winter Break too!), students naturally get pumped about the spring. It’s these events and incentives that help motivate our students. Honor Roll rewards our students for the work they put into their studies. The other part of the reward is merely preparing and participating in the special events.
Point being, I strongly believe that both teachers and students need a little down time before gearing up for a huge semester. We had a great break, now it’s time to set our goals! Our students will need a little extra encouragement and reminders to practice, and it make take a couple of weeks to really get back into the groove. Help them by establishing a routine for practice- set reminders to practice and then, be their personal cheerleaders! By the end of May, they will be so proud of how hard they worked and all they accomplish. This is what we gain by learning an instrument!