Cool Cast of Characters Live On in the Imagination, connecting Musical Staff to Keyboard
On Right Brain Music’s website it says: “Learn to read music in less than 30 days with the Right Brain Music Note Learning System. By incorporating humor, vibrant colors, and pictures, into each of our products, we have created a system that will enable music students of all ages to learn much faster, and retain the information much longer, than they would through traditional left brain music learning methods.” Click here for more on Right Brain Philosophy
The Right Brain Music Note Learning System ($54.99) (This is the full system and there is a mini version Right Brain Music Mini Kit “The Essentials” ($34.99) as well as some items of the system sold separately.)
The Right Brain Music system has 26 very colorful and memorable characters that represent notes from the the first ledger line (D) below the Bass Clef to the first ledger line (A)above the Treble Clef.
Here is what the system does and how I used it with my students . (This approach varied with each student in terms of how much I introduced per lesson. For most I divided it up over the course of 2- 4 lessons) :
Right Brain Music Flash Card Set – These double-sided cards are like little character scripts for the system, bringing each one to life. Also, they often give clues to their unique placement on the staff (like below).
(How it works: One side of the card is held so the student is looking slightly upwards at one of the 26 characters featured on, above, or below the grand staff. The teacher reads or the tells the short story on the back. These cards sparked my creativity as a storyteller as I shared about each character, the same way I used to read ‘in character’ to my sons at night when they were little. My students often chimed in to add to the character story or make connections with other people, places, and things they know.
Like in the video on the Right Brain website, I told my students to take a picture of the character in their brain. Then I used a series of prompt questions I heard from the video, and some of my own to help them identify and recall the detail of the character and its placement on the staff:
- What does the character (ex. Burping Bride) look like? Tell me about her/him (story details).
- Is she on or near the Treble or Bass clef?
- Is she/he on a line or space note?
- What number line or space? (This also gave me an opportunity to talk about spaces and ledger lines above and below the staff in applicable.)
I also helped them reference landmark notes (Treble G, Middle C and Bass F) with the appropriate characters. Making reference to the landmark notes was a personal addition of mine that I feel really helped. We would find them both on the staff and then immediately on the keyboard to help reinforce that connection.
The Right Brain Music system really allows endless possibilities for the skills and creativity of each teacher to come into play!
I found the more creative I was with the system, the more the student had fun, made connections, and ‘got it’. (This also helped me gain insight about how each student views the grand staff as a whole. This insight continues to inform my teaching showing areas which areas/notes and concepts to work on, such as intervals, etc.).
Right Brain Music + Passionate Teacher + Eager Student = a musical SCORE!!!
(Can you sense my enthusiasm?!)
I started out introducing the cards sequentially and then the idea came to me to have the student randomly pick a card with their eyes closed (I held out a fan of flashcards). I noticed the excitement increased with my students once I started doing this.
They loved the randomness and ownership of selecting each card. It was my experience that this random approach worked with both those students who were new to note reading and those that had some experience. It’s good to know that both the sequential and random approach work – so I will keep both in mind to use depending on the student.
Then I had them use the static cling character stickers…
Right Brain Music Piano Sticker Set (reusable, safe, static cling stickers) – How it works:
Have the student put a corresponding sticker on the keyboard so that a connection is made between the location of the note on the piano and it’s position on staff . I found that once they started finding a few notes, and made a few relationships (such as the landmark notes) as well as other notes, a lot of it was like connecting the dots, so to speak.
I also placed the Music Note Reference Chart on the piano stand so it would be a reinforcing visual right front of the student. I’d have the student find and point to the character on the staff before we found it on the piano.
Sometimes I would purposely interject and pull out a character flashcard that was an octave below or above one that they already selected. This way, for example, they could start seeing and playing where the different F’s live on staff and where they live on the piano.
Also whenever there were 3 stickers placed in a row for example, I’d ask about the middle character (ex. Buff Broccoli – As I pointed, I asked: Who are Buff Broccoli’s two neighbors ? And they would answer: “Astronaut and Caribbean Crocodile!”. (Sometimes I’d have to help them with some of the names, however, they remembered most of them).
Then I moved them to the…….
Laminated Note Card (grand staff) with Pen (dry erase marker). Before I had them draw the note or character on the staff, we reviewed everything one more time. I challenged them to do it from memory and had them make eye contact with me as they proceeded to: Name and describe the character, tell the placement on the staff, etc.
Only if they needed help remembering, I’d have them look back at the Music Note Reference Chart and the piano keys/with stickers for a quick review as I guided them. By the time they picked up the dry erase marker to draw the note or character, they had great confidence in their ability to draw the note on the correct line or space. I had to rein them in sometimes and have them just draw notes, when time became a factor, since drawing the characters took more time. But oh what fun!)
Then I introduced them to…..
Right Brain Music Practice Book, Levels 1 & 2. The practice book helps to transition the student into playing notes on the staff with the Right Brain Music characters. (Also, I’m curious to see what other Practice books Right Brain Music comes up with.)
How I used it:
I had my students put their hands in a Middle C position to play a 5-finger scale. First I had them ‘announce’ the name of the character outloud AS they played the corresponding key. Then I had them go back and just play the scale while reading the notes/characters. It got really fun when when they got to a contrary motion 5 finger scale R.H./L.H. I had them ‘announce’ the characters as they played the scale, naming them from bottom to top on the staff just like they would read music.
They loved this challenge and rose to the occasion. It really reinforced everything they had already learned and put their recall of the characters/notes to the test!
Right Brain reminds me of something I learned in sales and marketing a long time ago:
“Facts tell. Stories sell.”
That is really it in a nutshell. The pictures and stories of each character SELL. The students’ brains are ‘buying into them’ and remembering them.
How does Right Brain Music translate to regular written music? Beautifully. Yes, note by note, character by character. It’s great to see this knowledge translate into playing actual written music. I knew it would, but I was so excited to see this in action!
One of my students was recently sight reading a new piece. (We had just done a quick review her notes using Right Brain.) When she got to a measure of the new piece that she was having trouble with, I pointed to the particular note she wasn’t sure of (treble C) and asked her ‘Who lives there?’…meaning which character lives on that note or spot on the staff. She didn’t remember the name of that particular note’s character, but she remembered the preceding note in the measure (treble G – Grumpy Grandpa!)
Then I pulled out the Music Note Reference Chart and pointed to Grumpy Grandpa. My student , glanced at the chart then quickly looked back at her music, and without hesitation started naming the characters from treble G up to treble C (and said, Oh it’s something Crocodile, right?!!…I know, the note is C!!!) Yes, I told her, C for Caribbean Crocodile!! She then went on to play that measure of the piece. She remembers now that she can quickly think in terms of the characters to help her with notes as needed.
Other students were also able to use the Right Brain characters to help them with their notes while reading written music. As needed I’d pause and have them refer to the Music Note Reference Chart to point out the corresponding Right Brain Music character/note they they needed help with in the moment. For fun I would say, “This commercial break was sponsored by….., ” and have them say the names of the character(s) that correspond to the notes.
There seems to be a sort of mental muscle memory that takes place with this practice associating these characters and their stories to the notes on the staff and the keyboard. Their minds (and mine ), are creating a photographic memory for the characters. We can practically hear the stories in our minds. It’s really a brilliant system…simple yet very effective.
The static cling keyboard stickers came face down on a peel off sheet – this makes it harder to see the characters that way. I would like to see them come face up if possible like on the website (a small thing, but it’s much more user-friendly that way). I got my students to help me put the static cling stickers face up on the sheet they came on.
No storage container(s) for the system other than the mailing package it came in. While this is certainly not a deal breaker, I think some type of box, bag, or container especially for the cards, would be a nice touch. Clearly so much thought was put into the great concept and design of the system itself. It’s also very well constructed but, like anything else, must be taken cared of to last.
If providing storage packaging for the system would increase the overall cost too much, I would suggest that teachers find something appropriate to organize and store the system in. This will help keep things more organized and more user-friendly.
Speaking of boxes, perhaps Right Brain Music will consider adding a board game at some point to their product line. A corresponding board game would be great fun for students to play periodically, whether in a private or group lesson setting. Maybe the board game could use the matching game cards with it.
By the way, the feedback from students and parents about the matching game cards is:
“There are so many cards!” “I only got through half of them.” I loaned the entire set of matching game cards to one student to take home once she she completed going through the rest of the system in her lessons. In the future, I will separate the pairs of cards and only give either the set of Treble Clef characters or Bass Clef Characters at one time.
A Miniature Music Note Reference Chart/Poster could be helpful for students to refer to as needed while practicing written music at home.
Right Brain Music App – Perhaps they might consider creating an app for the iPad and other devices, for example, that can, at the touch of a button provide a easy melody line piano arrangements (using the characters and providing audio play back as well). This can be used as a learning and practice tool to further reinforce note reading skills. Just an idea (but I believe this could be a very effective additional product offering).
Note to Teachers:
It is important to monitor and adapt the Right Brain Music system, depending on each students’ attention, abilities, and interest. For some students, I only introduced a few notes per lesson (this was typically with the younger ones). Others did not want to stop, so we went longer and covered more notes in their lesson. After about 3 weeks, everyone had gone through all the notes with some review for reinforcement (both in the lesson and by using the matching card game that I sent home with some of them).
Who is the Target Group for Right Brain Music?
I feel this system can work for all age groups. “He reminds me of my brother!” said one of my teenaged students as she looked at the Gross Gorilla card. She and other teenaged student (both 15) told me they loved the Right Brain Music system and did not find it babyish when I asked out of curiosity. They both said they found it “interesting, fun, and very helpful.” One was brand new to note reading and the other was previously having challenges with bass clef notes.
I haven’t used it YET with any of my adult students, however, I have a sneaking suspicion that most would be open to it, if presented in a way they can connect with it. (ex. I would approach it with the intention having them let their hair down so to speak and tapping into the child inside who likes to play. I do believe that it would work with many adults because it’s easy and fun. I believe if it helps them learn to read music better then it’s a good system for any and anyone, regardless of age.
So does Right Brain Music deliver on their 30- day learn to read music claim? My honest answer is basically YES because it does help lay a SOLID note reading foundation and actually gets the students reading notes right away.
It will, of course, take ongoing reinforcement with the system and practical application through the student reading lots of music to develop full note-reading proficiency. My students’ experience has shown me that the road to note reading proficiency is definitely MUCH smoother, faster and fun with Right Brain Music!
Disclaimer: I received materials from Right Brain Music, LLC in exchange for this honest review.