Very young children sometimes have a difficult time learning how to read music. Their attention is diverted from the sound the instrument makes (and the physical act of making that sound), to trying to read symbolic representations of those sounds from a sheet of paper. Some students start spending a great deal of time “in their head” trying to process the notation. They may stop listening to the sounds they create due to the internal chatter of that processing.
I’ve found that teaching reading can be made more fun by using selected software programs. This allows the student to drill note reading away from their instrument. The student can practice note reading with fun drills that they look forward to. After drilling for 10 or 15 minutes with the software, the student can move on to practicing reading with their instrument.
One program I use was introduced to me by one of my students. “Eek! Shark” (makingmusicfun.net) is a fantastic web-based program for teaching very young students. However, I have found that many “young at heart” teenagers really enjoy using “Eek! Shark” as well.
“Eek! Shark” is a web-based program, allowing students to practice anywhere they have internet access. This is great for situations like vacations, travel, and visiting other people’s homes. If the student’s instrument cannot travel with them, it will still permit them to practice some of their skills. The program is also free, which is great for everyone’s budget.
In“Eek! Shark” the student plays the role of an octopus who is catching coins with a treasure chest. The coins are falling from a ship that has run aground on a reef. Each coin has a note name written on it. The note caught must match the note displayed in the upper left hand corner of the screen. If a student catches the wrong note, a shark will appear. Accumulate three sharks and the game ends. The student is also under a deadline, having to catch fifteen coins before clock runs out on the round they are playing. With each successful round, the amount of allotted time will be shortened. So they begin round one with 120 seconds to catch 15 notes. Round two will decrease in time to 15 notes in 90 seconds.
Eek! Shark” works well with younger students because of the bright colors, large text, and the exciting pirate themed music. I’ve seen one little girl get so excited playing the game she was jumping out of her chair when she caught a coin. I attribute the majority of her reaction to the game’s background music. It entertains younger kids and it adds lot of tension to the clock count down.
“Eek! Shark” drills both treble and bass clef notes (but not simultaneously). The program also allows the user to select the range of notes being tested. This feature is useful for very young students. Whenever a guitar or bass textbook introduces a new string or a new set of notes, a student can configure “Eek! Shark” to test on the new notes exclusively. They can also drill the new notes in combination with notes they already knew
“Eek Shark” has also proven frustrating for one or two of my very young students (5 and 6 year olds). This is because the game can go on for so long, it may not seem win-able. I have had students reach the end successfully and win. But students with shorter attention spans may become easily discouraged and give up, feeling like this is a game that cannot be finished.
“Eek! Shark” also requires somewhat precise mouse control. If the cursor drifts off the playing area (which is easy to do when a child is excited and trying to win a game), the octopus will no longer respond to your commands. This can be discouraging for younger players until they figure out the cause of the malfunction.
To help prevent this, I usually introduce the game at lessons. For the first round, I let the student call the notes, and I will catch the coins, making it a team effort. I will show the student what happens when the cursor drifts out of the area of play. This allows them to understand what is happening if they encounter the same situation at home. On the next round of play, I ask if they want to catch the coins. They usually eagerly accept and begin a round of play on their own.
The Bottom Line
“Eek! Shark” has proven flat out addicting for some young students. The benefit is that a student’s note reading skills often dramatically improves less than a week after I have introduced the “Eek! Shark” program. I am consistently amazed at how much improvement a student will make after I get them started with “Eek! Shark”. If you teach young students how to read music, I highly recommend this free program, available at www.makingmusicfun.net.