Reading Notes With Fingers

I love my wife Maria. I love that she teaches music. And I love that she shares ideas with me. A couple of weeks ago, Maria gave me a whopper of an idea that I’ve already incorporated into my teaching.

Maria teaches band at Prescott BASIS School. Before the students are given instruments, they are all reading notes. She leads them on a historical journey of how music notation evolved, from early plainsong up to the 5 line staff we know. But, by the end of this 2 week journey through the history of music notation, all of her students can identify notes on any line and ledger line on any clef: The G (treble) clef, the F (bass) clef, and the C clef. They can do this because they can navigate the circle of thirds up and down, if not by memory, then at least by counting their fingers. And that was the idea of hers that I loved: using the fingers to navigate the circle of thirds.

The Importance of the Circle of Thirds

The Importance of the Circle of Thirds

Along their musical education, most piano students learn the circle of fifths. They probably develop some fuzzy connection between the circle of fifths and keys: G Major has one sharp and its tonic is a perfect fifth above C; D Major has two sharps and its tonic is a perfect fifth above G; etc. Perhaps they will learn that the order of sharps is an ascending circle of fifths, and the order of flats is a descending circle of fifths. If they are very lucky, they will begin to understand the human ear’s affinity for the circle of fifths and its implications on tonal harmony (think ii V I).

But, for all the glory that the circle of fifths deserves, I believe that the circle of thirds should be taught to our music students long before the circle of fifths, because the circle of thirds is the foundation of reading music and building harmony.

Google Docs with Embedded Music

Google Docs with Embedded Music

Frequently I want to make a music worksheet that contains formatted text and music examples. You can do this with Sibelius, but I find it cumbersome. There is a way to do this with OpenOffice and LilyPond, but it is difficult to set up and, I found, subject to stop working on subsequent updates to OpenOffice. So, most of the time, I resort to exporting graphics from Sibelius into Microsoft Word documents. This means that my document data is scattered between multiple Sibelius files (assuming I save them) and one Microsoft Word document. Updating the document with new or edited music examples is not always easy.

Today I discovered a tool that allows you to edit and embed music directly within Google Docs (also known as Google Drive). This keeps the text and music within the same document, and they can be edited easily for future changes.

Eye Spy on the Piano

Eye Spy on the Piano

This is a fun little game to reinforce note names that I sometimes do for group class or young musicians.

I keep a bowl of small items that I’ve collected from around the house.  Things like a rubber band, a screw, a clothespin, a paper clip, a dog biscuit, a piece of gum, or anything else that I think might fit onto a piano key.

I will then lay out the items on the piano across several octaves. When the child comes into the lesson, they are fascinated by the decorated keys.

The Accomplished Learner

The Accomplished Learner

A few years ago, I took the weekend course Suzuki Principles in Action (SPA), a continuing education course for experienced Suzuki teachers. Rather than being a “here’s a bag of tricks you can use in your studio” kind of course (what I had expected), it was a “let’s look at the bigger picture” kind of course. It significantly changed how I approach teaching.

In the course, the concept of The Accomplished Learner was presented. The term “Accomplished Learner” gives a concise label to what we all want our students to become: Accomplished musicians who have become active and independent Learners.