Once you trained your eye to differentiate between line notes and space notes (see my previous post about how to learn to sight-read), the next stage is to deepen the understanding how a series of notes on the stave correspond to the movement of them on the instrument you play. But before you start playing them on your chosen instrument, there’re a few more things to do away from your instrument. It’s to recognise whether the next note is going higher or lower than the one before, then how much higher or lower? Before going into the detail of interval (distance between two notes), I usually start with a simple writing game with my young learners. You don’t need to have knowledge of intervals at this point. I simply ask them to write:

1. A line note anywhere you like on the stave
What can you see-writing drill-1
2. Another line note a little bit higher than that
What can you see-writing drill-2
3. Another line note higher than that (that’s where you start using your imagination as you go outside the 5-line stave zone!)
What can you see-writing drill-3
4. A space note higher than that.
What can you see-writing drill-4
5. Another space note a tiny bit lower than that
What can you see-writing drill-5
6. A line note massively lower than that!
What can you see-writing drill-6
7. A space note a tiny bit lower than that without going away from the stave.
What can you see-writing drill-7
8. A line note a lot lower than that.
What can you see-writing drill-8
9. A space note higher than that but still away from the stave.
What can you see-writing drill-9-1
10. Now join all the notes to see what sort of shape appears!
What can you see-writing drill-9
Often, I ask little ones to come up with a title for the shape that appears. The best one I had so far was ‘The Bottom of the Sea’! This game is a first step for the learners to look for shapes in written notations in the music. So, it’s not a pointless exercise at all in my view. It also encourages them to use their imagination they don’t often get to use in learning the rudiments of music.

This writing game encourages the learners to apply what they already know from the previous line/space note recognition game I introduced in PART I where they saw notes with ledger lines to go higher/lower pass the 5-line stave area. No explanation is required because they’re already aware what the ledger line does in practice!

Along side this writing exercise, I also introduce the concept of going up a step or down and a skip up or down on the piano, like a staircase. Then, transfer that onto a paper to show what it looks like on the stave. It looks something like this:

Musical Staircase-steps

Tracing over the staircase under the notes can usually guide learners to grasp how notes are going up on the stave related to how they’re going up on the keyboard. Using the knowledge they already have, I ask them to colour only line (or space) notes. Colouring reveals a pattern of stepwise/skipwise motion on the stave:

Musical Staircase-steps coloured

Stepwise motion is always alternating between line and space note
Skipwise motion is either space notes only or line notes only

You can apply that on the keyboard (white keys only to start with) and do a few games related to step/skip to reinforce the understanding of the concept of these two intervals. ‘Doing’ always seems more meaningful than verbal explanation, and most of all, you can save time!

Obviously, these types of exercises and games I mentioned above are overlapping with introducing how to learn to read notation. At the time of working on these concepts, my students don’t have music to learn from notation just yet but they have a plenty of tunes to play by rote or ear. That’s another thing, without being comfortable with an instrument of your choice to play a few tunes well, you’ll probably struggle to get better at sight-reading as well. So, it’s important that your playing skill is there before start working on sight-reading!

In the meantime, why not try to see if you can train your eye to ‘catch’ quickly stepwise/skipwise motions in the printed music. And play them on your instrument to work out how that feels under your fingers?

In PART III, I’d like to explore more about pattern recognition (visual) in relation to executing them on the instrument (kinaesthetic). Though, another invaluable skill not to be forgotten to develop is being able to ‘hear’ in your mind what you see (aural). This skill only comes in time when you learned and played enough repertoire and you have a wide range of melodic and harmonic shapes in your aural vocabulary so that some ‘guessing work’ comes into play. This is a topic I can talk about in another time in length.