[Harp-L] Reading Music

Hellerman, Steven L. shellerman@xxxxx
Thu Nov 1 16:53:14 EDT 2018

I wrote extensively on this subject several years ago here on the harp-l, particularly regarding my own experience . In short: As a kid and teenager I was told by teachers that reading music was essential for playing any instrument. "Yeah, well people like the Beatles are geniuses", said the guitar instructor when I raised the subject, " but you need to read music".  In my 15 year-old mind, that meant "people like you, who don't have natural musical talent like, say, the Beatles, need to read music if they want to play." It was no fun so I -- assuming that I had no natural musical ability -- quit those tedious guitar lessons. I was 43 when I discovered that I could indeed play some music, first on the harmonica, then a little guitar. I play completely by ear, though I know enough theory to know what harp to use in what keys, and to figure out the chords to songs on the guitar.

There are millions of people (mostly female) out there who as kids were taught piano with an emphasis on sight reading. The vast majority of them quit altogether when their Mom said they didn't have to do it anymore. It just wasn't any fun. And perhaps the majority of those folks (mostly female) who might still play would be completely lost without sheet music. Still not much fun, one would think.

Anyway, hope you all get my point.


Message: 1
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2018 08:11:24 -0400
To: harp-l <harp-l at xxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] Learning Music
Message-ID: <4E8A4389-FB68-4719-9500-210663AA8D33 at xxxxx>
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I thought the notion of a child learning music for the first time may be apropos to the discussion on modes, positions and music theory. As a child, my parents sent me to a piano teacher who used the Schwann (sp?) teaching system. In principle, it was intended to teach the student to both learn to read music and to play it on the piano at the same time. I did terribly with this method and my hypothesis is that it?s because it tries to teach one to read while it teaches one to play. If we look at how children acquire spoken language (my field is related to linguistics), we see that they learn to speak years before they learn to read.

In my mind, teaching a child to read music before we teach them to ?speak? music is akin to teaching someone to repair a carburetor before we teach them to drive the car. It?s my belief that we should teach music to children by showing them the sounds and sales (the alphabet of music) and then add a little theory at a time. When they?re ready, teaching them to read music will make sense to them as the symbols on the page will already correspond to sounds. A child can do a lot just knowing scales and playing around and figuring out what sounds good to them. Formalizing the mechanics of music before the student has an aural vocabulary causes confusion and expects to train two separate parts of the brain at once.

This is just my opinion but we?ve observed similar problems with teaching math to kids and we lose a lot of students due to backwards teaching methods.

Happy Hacking,


Message: 2
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2018 10:55:14 -0400
From: The Iceman <icemanle at xxxxx>
To: cdh at xxxxx, harp-l at xxxxx
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] Learning Music
Message-ID: <166ca9f1183-1ec5-8fbc at xxxxx>
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I concur with Chris....some of the most fun I've had has been teaching a few youngsters.....some may remember Sunny Girl, who I began teaching when she was 6....descriptive words/ theory/etc was not necessary with someone so young....it was like direct music from one mind into the other....for instance, she would play something, I'd say 'no, not exactly, it's..." and then I'd play it correctly. She'd look at me with a puzzled look at first, then that flash of understanding would cross her face and she'd say "Oh, you mean like..." and then play it back correctly...minimum words, maximum understanding non-verbal flow.

Best to start'em young, but start'em with effective teaching style. Less words, more action!

The trouble with adults is that they insist everything be explained to them using lotsa words! They lose that "open like a sponge" innocence of youth as they age.

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