reading

  • How can I get my piano students to play musically?
  • Will they ever learn to truly perform rather than just play?
  • How can I help them to become more confident music readers?

These are some of the challenges that Alison Mathews has addressed in her new book “Doodles” published by Editions Musica Ferrum.

Aimed at beginners to around grade 3 (ABRSM), this chunky book contains 128 little pieces of 4-8 bars (measures) arranged in four difficulty levels.

Now the interesting part! Rather than name each piece, Mathews has provided a small picture, often an emoji, hence the title “Doodles,” which is meant to inspire a mood in the music student. She has also given lots of interesting directions like, “playfully – fish are chasing in the coral” or “fast and furious – what else could you do to make it sound stormy?” I love how at the centre of these short activities the emphasis is on performance. The pupil just simply can’t resist but will soon be inspired to create their own pieces. Watch out John Williams, we will all be writing shark music at this rate!

An interesting feature is the use of the same pieces at each level but with increased difficulty and technique. This a great way to help a student see how to develop a composition. I can see my pupils having lots of fun improvising with these pieces and using them as the basis of their own compositions. Young pupils love engaging their imagination, so this book will inspire them not only to be better readers of music but more importantly, to play with feeling and understanding.

Lots of different playing techniques are explored through the pieces and are an intrinsic part of each song. Legato, staccato, dynamics, tremolandi and glissandi are all represented. I’ve even picked up a tip for helping young pupils to play a glissando without hurting their fingers by using a roll of sellotape!

My only criticism is that there are no key signatures used. I’m very keen on introducing a sense of key very early in development but this is a “minor” grumble compared with the fantastic way that musicality is being taught here. Maybe this is an issue that could be addressed in later editions or subsequent volumes.

For its ability to inspire musicality in such a fun and engaging way, this book gets a big thumbs up from me.

To purchase the book, click here.

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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.

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