Reply To: Teaching Note Reading in Orchestra

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I agree that it is about teaching the whole staff, and a systemic approach – rather than just memorizing notes as they appear in the method book.

I’ve had pretty good success with the following, both as an elementary teacher in the past, and now as a middle school teacher trying to remediate those kids who come to me and still can’t read.

Know the alphabet
Memorize the positions of the open strings on the staff
Upward motion, through the alphabet
Spaces – 0,2,4; Lines 1,3 (for violin and viola)

At the beginning of the EE book (numbers will refer to that book, since you mentioned that is what you use), on the very first pages with just D and A.
After they practice, I will take a black marker and fill in the noteheads in a few numbers to see that they can still play them.
Talk about how they knew which was which (placement on the staff)

Next, talk about alphabetical order.
What would be the letters on the A string (ABCD)
What owuld be the letters on the D string (DEFG)
What would be the letters on the G, C, E strings.
They aren’t going to play them right away — but they always understand what the notes would be when it is approached alphabetically.
You can deal with sharp, flat, and natural later, these are just the basic letters you will use.

As you get to the pages with the fingerings, I understand why they do 3 down first to set hand position.
However, I think it is confusing for note reading purposes. I have them extend the idea above by laying down fingers one at a time and saying letters.
One above A is B, two above A is C, three above A is D. Again, you can deal with sharps and naturals later. Or, go ahead and show both finger patterns right from the beginning – – I think it helps later when they’ve been staying in one finger pattern too long anyway.

When you get to #30 area of the book, those pieces for me are about reinforcing this reading strategy. Notes go up – ADD fingers.
Notes go down, LIFT fingers.
Special attention needs to be given to going downward from an open string. Teach this as a actual seperate concept that needs to be overtly taught.

When you turn the page to the next few (33,34,35,36) – – for me, those are in the book to actively teach reading strategies for SKIPS.
Spaces are 0 and 2 (add 4 in there later). Lines are 1 and 3. This works in 1st and 3rd position, and seems to come in handy later in Middle school as well when they are first trying to recognize notes in 3rd position. Obviously, it doesn’t work beyond that into other positions. But, by the time a student is that advanced, they should be reading pretty fluently and I’ve not found it to add any confusion.

So, the first one there (don’t have a book in front of me…working from memory) has upward and downward motion with one space skip.
Teach the 0-2 pattern. Have the student circle the space skip. Have them practice moving 0-2-0-2-0-2 with their fingers.

Next one has a line skip. Teach the 1-3 pattern. Circle the line skip. Practice moving fingers 1-3-1-3-1-3

Next one combines space skips and line skips.
Sing: Space skip, Space skip, down up up
Line skip, line skip, down up up

A BIG part of this part of the book is active teaching of reading strategies.
I believe very strong in NOT teaching things like face and every good boy does fine.
In a real reading situation, do we really want kids having to change note reading systems every other note?
Alphabetical works far better, makes clef changing very simple when that time comes later (just learn a new starting point), and makes ledger line reading very simple as well. It’s all the same system, rather than having to start over.

Each time you get to an area of the book that teaches a new string, review and reinforce these reading strategies.
#93 – G string – – where is it on the staff.
What are it’s letters – GABC
One above G is…two above G is…
Up up up add fingers, down down down…lift fingers
Space notes 0 and 2 (and 4), Line notes 1 and 3

Do it again when you hit the C/E string

I’ve had very few kids who were putting in any kind of work and effort at all that weren’t successful learning to read notes when these strategies were carefully and sequentially taught. For some, it might seem like overkill. A lot of kids can just do the “magic” method. Look at the note and it magically pops into your head. But, it doesn’t hurt them to be this intentional about it, and these strategies help reinforce good note reading skills for later clef changes and position changes as well so it’s better for them in the long run than a set of memorized isolated facts that won’t apply to anything else later.