Archives for posts with tag: reflex

Alphabet Song Book_1

As I explained here, the basic idea of this book is to help piano beginners (aged 7 and above) to get started with learning how to read musical notation.  I thought I’d share how I’m using this book in the lessons.

The contents are simply laid out so that students can get on with work on a need-to-know basis. The intention of this book is to help the piano beginners grasp how learning to read musical notation works, by repetition, writing and creative activities. The book also leaves enough space for students and teachers to explore other details of piano study when ready, such as experimenting with dynamics, articulations, phrasing, tempi, etc.

Page 4
The use of four-colour strip for the piano keys is inspired by the Colourstrings. I find it the most useful tool to make the ocean of black keys and white keys on the piano looks somehow manageable. Here’s a template to create a four-colour strip, which should fit on any standard key-sized piano. Make sure to open the file in Acrobat Reader and print it out as an ‘actual size’, not ‘fit to page’).  I use self-adhesive book cover vinyl (cut to 2cm square) to paste four strips together (much stronger than standard cellotape, I find).

 

Page 2 & 3
Keyboard orientation.
I’d usually introduce BAG only for young children. The reason being that the first half of the book is focused on learning the melodies based on BAG.

 

Page 5
An example of rhythmic patterns appeared throughout the book is introduced here in a 4-bar rhythm tune. Students can experiment with it by creating a tune using these rhythms, starting with one-note playing (any note or position across the keyboard!). Then, with two notes, then three, etc. Teacher and student can try a ‘call & response’ improvisation game; for example, the first 2 bars played by the teacher, followed by the  the student playing the next 2 bars.

The key thing to remember here is to sing the rhythmic syllables (e.g. short-short-long) whilst playing the notes, with a steady pulse. Each heart shown on the page represents one pulse (beat).

Pulse in music is like our hearbeat; you can’t hear it but it’s always there ticking and you can feel it. Ask your student to tap each pulse as they sing the rhythms. This is the first ear-eye-hand coordination exercise!; tapping one thing and singing another at the same time.

 

Page 7 (the first BAG tune!)
Start with one-hand playing, right or left hand. Find the hand position using the keyboard guide.   Remember to sing the rhythmic syllables (NOT the letter names!), this exercises the skill to be able to follow two different information at the same time. Complete writing the rhythmic notation above each letter name. From the next page on, dotted guide line for the rhythmic notation disappears. It’s students’ job to remember to write in rhythmic notation above each letter name from page 8 onwards. It encourages students to be constantly aware of the note value attached to each note.

Students also could play the tune with both hands to develop the coordination.

 

Page 13
Practise writing
B note on a single F (bass) clef stave. Learn to write the same note in various note values here. Keyboard guide now has the Middle C position marked in. Have students try finding the B note below Middle C on page 12. Make sure which clef stave students should be looking at, top or bottom.

 

Page 14
From this page onwards, students can write rhythmic notation with the stem pointing downwards if they wish to. Why is the note upside down? The answer is on page 11 where students practised writing notes on the great stave. Refer to it again and have them explain why!

Also from this page onwards, students have a chance to remind themselves of the new note they’ve just learned, by spotting it amongst other notes.

For one bar on this tune, the letter names disappears and are replace by the B notes written on the F (bass) clef stave. Ask students what notes they are; they would know what to play there. Make sure students are still singing rhythmic syllables whilst playing the notes. Finally, ask students how many B note they can find in this tune.

Also I’d experiment with dynamics at this point when students are getting used to playing some tunes. Loud (forte) and soft (piano). Let students decide which bars (measures) they wish to play loud and soft and add dynamics markings accordingly.

 

Page16
Pattern recognition
. Can students find repeated melodic patterns in this tune? Once they recognise them, they can be aware of playing the same thing twice. Economical reading skill!

A new note, A, to practise writing on the F (bass) clef stave. I’d have students compare it with the B note and explain the difference (line note, space note, where on the stave, etc.)

 

Page 17
Time to experiment with articulation here. Legato playing. What’s legato playing? Basically, imagine your fingers are your legs doing a walking action on the keyboard; one finger presses the key, and then the next finger presses but the link between the two fingers slightly overlaps before the first finger releases the key, so that the two notes sound connected rather than disjointed. The arch marking to indicate legato playing is called slur. Write a slur marking over the first three notes to be played legato. Ask students to write some more slurs in!

 

Page 19
All the letter names now disappear! But students know which note is B, A, G note by now. Although it’s important recognise each note in letter name, it’s equally important to be able to see a group of notes as a pattern. B-A-G looks like a smooth downward slope. B-G-A is more ragged. It’s a useful exercise to drawn students’ attention to the patterns in each tune. I’d also challenge them to find BAG in the tune; circle the B-A-G pattern and sqaure the backwards BAG, G-A-B pattern), not only within a bar (measure) but also across the barline!

 

Page 22
Composition
page! The first 8-bar tune is to consist of two 4-bar tunes that students have learned in the previous pages. Choose 2 pages to copy or transcribe. If students choose from page 7 to 13, the notes are all in letter names, so they have to trascribe the letter names into notation, which is an exercise itself to test their knowledge on these three notes, BAG. The second 8-bar tune is to be composed by students.  This is a creative test to see how imaginative students can be to come up with yet another tune consisting of 3 notes only. Be prepare to be surprised!

 

Page 23
Appearance of the D note on the G (treble) clef stave. From this page on, the tunes will be laid out on the double staves (great stave). Usually, the top stave is for the right hand, the bottom stave is for the left hand. Warning here!: G (treble) clef doesn’t mean ‘right hand’ and F (bass) clef doesn’t mean ‘left hand’! G (treble) clef simply refers to the area above the Middle C. In some music, the left hand does play the notes above the Middle C on the keyboard. In that case, you’ll see G (treble) clef on the bottom stave as well as on the top stave.

Up to the previous page, students could play the tune with both hands in unison but from this page on, the both hands’ positions are set specifically as indicated.

It’s another good point to experiment further with dynamics; Soft (piano), medium soft (mezzo piano), medium loud (mezzo forte), loud (forte), gradually getting louder (crescendo) and getting gradually softer (diminuendo). Perhaps in the faster speed when ready.

It’s also a good time to introduce the real names of note values for short, long, twice as long, etc.  In my piano studio, I use American name rather than British, simply because it makes more sense and it helps students understand the concept of time signature when they get to it.

The second half of the book covers more BAG tunes with two added notes, E & D (ED). Go over (again) page 3 to get familiar with all FEDs across the keyboard. Work through the pages to the end likewise as suggested for the first half of the book.

Alphabet Song Book 2 (for piano) will explore triple time (3/8 time rather than 3/4 time), and more words, FED, EGG, Cs and A-B-C in addition to BAG, and delve into the concept of basic time signatures. 2/4 and 3/8. It’ll be available soon.

Happy reading!

First of all, the obvious question is what sight-reading really is.

It is a skill where you play or sing as many correct notes with rhythmic values as possible without loosing the undergoing pulse and deliver some sort of musical sense from a written music score you haven’t seen before.

Suppose you’re given a new piece of written music, if you start reading by identifying each individual note and ignoring the rhythmic value, that’s not sight-reading. That act belongs to the process of ‘learning the notes’. Then what does sight-reading actually involve? In sight-reading, you don’t have time to learn the individual notes before you play what’s written. Sight-reading skill depends on how quickly your brain can process the patterns you see on the score into certain hand/arm movements, which are picked up by fingers. So, the first thing you need to do is to change the way you see the series of notes at a time. I say, ‘pattern recognition’ is the first and the most important elements in developing sight-reading skill.

So, what does pattern recognition mean? It’s basically recognising the distances (or intervals, in a technical term) between a series of notes. But to get there, firstly you need to be able to clearly ‘recognise’ whether the note you see on the stave is either a space note (a note sits between 2 lines on the stave, or dangles down from a line, or sit on a line) or a line note (a line goes through a note) as quick as you can.

You could start by picking up any written music you have and test your quick recognition skill. Let’s say, let your eye pick and follow only the line notes from the beginning to the end of the music. You don’t need to identify the name of the notes, just recognise the pattern of the note. Does your eye follow the line of notes smoothly without stopping? If not, no worries. It’s just that your brain is not used to process the information in a new way yet. All you need to do is to train it by doing this drill over and over until you get used it, and then you eventually speed up quite significantly. This sort of game-orientated drill is very useful. (Dr. Kawashima might call it, ‘sight-training’!) It doesn’t take much of your mind strength, so you can do it even when you’re tired. In fact, it actually wakes up your mind, as you’d notice. For that reason, I often do a similar drill game with my very young pupils. So, in my teaching practise, sight-reading skill building begins after a couple lessons in before they can even read music! I have this set of cards (about 25) I made which look like this:

line-space notes

What do you see here? Some cards have one note; line or space note. Some have two notes; only line or space notes. Or both.

As an example, here’s how I do with my young pupils:

Stage 1
I hold the cards, and show one card at a time and let them ‘say’ which kind it is, line or space note. (To start with, I use the cards that have only one note, then two notes of the same kind mixed in later on)

Stage 2
Now pupils hold the cards and place them one by one into 2 groups onto the floor, one side is for the line notes only, the other for the space notes. For the first time, saying which kind it is (this is to check if they say what they meant, sometimes brain thinks the right thing but it comes out wrong) and the second time, without saying which kind it is as they place each card onto the floor. Remembering to put the cards in the correct places as they go along is another organising skill, which is worth developing.

Stage 3
I mix in another kind of cards, which have both line and space notes. I call these cards ‘odd one out’. And do the same drill as in Stage 1 & 2. In making the card into 3 groups, I ask them to put the ‘odd one outs’ in the middle. And when they get better at it, I time it with a stopwatch to show how quickly they can finish the game. This definitely brings their focus level up and usually speed up significantly!

This game-orientated drill seems like a trivial process but it’s actually helping to develop a reflex movement of muscles linked to visual input. That’s one of the very basic elements you need to possess to be able to sight-read efficiently.

In part II, I’m going to talk about the next stage of learning how to sight-read, ‘recognising the intervals’. Still no real ‘reading’ (naming the notes) involved there yet!