My husband, Steven, is a classically trained musician. He’s taught many children how to play the piano using the ubiquitous Alfred books. They learn to read the notes using those mnemonics we’ve all heard, like “Every Good Boy Does Fine” or “FACE.” For the most part, each new student progresses pretty quickly through these simple tunes. However, he came to a roadblock in 2012 with a little girl who wanted to learn to play but just couldn’t learn the notes. While her sister moved through book after book, Ashley (not her real name) stayed put in Book 1 for months. Ashley practiced diligently. She put effort into her skills. She was an engaging, bright girl. What was going on?
Steven told me that Ashley had to start at the bottom of the staff and use the mnemonic to figure out every single note. Even if Ashley had been working on the piece for weeks, it was as if she hadn’t seen it before. Because the notes were always unfamiliar, she could not put the piece together in a polished, fluid way. This was not what little Ashley had been expecting from her piano lessons. She began to be very discouraged, and so was Steven!
In the meantime, Ashley was struggling with reading and spelling. Her reading was slow and labored. She often missed little words and the endings of longer words. If she figured out a word on one page, it was no guarantee she would recognize it on the next. No matter how much she studied her spelling words, she forgot them on test day.
Finally, her parents and teachers learned that Ashley was dyslexic. Sequencing was difficult for her, which explained why she could not remember the notes on the staff. Steven put away the Alfred books and began teaching her to play by ear. The result? A relieved and happy piano teacher and a thriving, creative pianist.
Has your musically inclined child struggled to read music? What methods have worked best for your child?