Parents who have no musical background may have the feeling that helping their kids learn to read music notation is going too far. They could help them with the key names and the finger numbers without having played the piano before, bur reading music?
In this post I will show you a few ways to help with the first stages of understanding the principles of music notation. If you know how to read music you may want to read this anyway, to get an idea about how it could be explained to the student.
Music is written, basically, on a ladder. Climbing up the ladder indicates climbing up with the pitch, climbing down the ladder means lowering the pitch. The ladder has lines and spaces. Note heads are circles that either fit in the spaces between the lines or are placed with the lines going through their middle.
Playing the white keys on the piano from the lower notes upwards one after the other is like stepping up the ladder from a line note to a space note. Line- space- line -space etc. Playing the white notes in skips (leaving out a note in between) would be skipping on the staff, either from space to space or from line to line. So we have steps (line- space- line -space) and skips (line- line or space- space)
If the ladder would be too long, it wouldn't be possible to see at a glance where the note head is placed, making music reading a slow and clumsy business. It took hundreds of years to come up with the formula we have now, that has 5 lines and 4 spaces. This is called a staff.
For piano notation we have two staffs, one on top and one underneath, with a bigger space between them. This is called the grand staff. The top staff is for the right hand (upstairs hand) the bottom for the left.
Here are four activities for reinforcing the understanding of the up/down and steps /skips principals on the keyboard.
1. Take a little pawn and get it to step up,( moving from one white key to the next door neighbor from the left side to the right) and down the piano, then get it to skip up and down the whole keyboard.
2. Take two pawns, one for the parent and one for the student and place them on both sides of the piano. Step towards one another and see where you meet. Do the same with skips.
Next, you can focus on the same principles but on the staff.
3. Take an A4 white page and draw five lines with big gaps between them and place the page in front of you like a board game. Take the same pawns you used on the piano keyboard and have them step and skip on the page.
4. Now you are ready for the "remote control" game. One pawn on the page, the other on the piano. If the page pawn goes up a step, so will the pawn on the piano, etc.
These activities will help the student prepare for the actual naming of the notes on the grand staff.
- How to help children learn the finger numbers
- Learning the piano key names
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