Getting The Most Out Of Practice: Part III

By Jeff Comas


Reading music is an activity in three and sometimes four dimensions;

  1. Pitch (highness or lowness of the sound),
  2. Rhythm (when notes are played & how long they last),
  3. Dynamics (the volume of the music played),
  4. Timbre (sound quality- this is often dictated by instrument indicated but some instruments can vary their own tone).

Note Names.

In this article we’ll deal with learning to read pitch.

The challenge of learning to read music varies with a student’s age, and to some extent their learning style. However, the method of learning that I will describe here can be effectively used by almost anyone. I have been advocating this practice for most of my nearly 25+ years as instruction. My students who apply this technique learn to read music faster and with greater ease. Those who do not experience more confusion when trying to sight read, their progress is slower, and the process is more frustrating.

The idea here is actually pretty simple. A note (pitch = a sound at a certain frequency of vibration) is to have a three-way association. 1. The name (a, b, c, etc.) of the note (sound) should be associated with the note’s location on the musical staff and with the location (or a fingering for some instruments like saxophone or a trumpet) on the instrument. 2. The note on the staff should be associated with its letter name and with its location on the instrument. 3. The note on the instrument should be associated with a location on the music staff and a letter name. Pretty simple, right? But how do we make those associations clear?

…the method of learning that I will describe here can be effectively used by almost anyone.

To be able to effectively read music, the student needs to be able to recognize a note’s abstract symbol (written note) instantaneously, like we recognize the letters of the alphabet or numbers. One key element of achieving this is to thoroughly learn the notes’ names.

Here is a great way to accelerate the process. Say the names of the notes as you play them. If you play a brass or wind instrument you will have to sub vocalize (think) the note names. Keep doing this until you can look at a note and instantly recognize it by name and know how to play that note on your instrument. It works pretty fast. Every day spend 5-10 minutes saying the names of notes in melodies you play and/or work with flash cards if you can get a helper. Want to make this activity even more beneficial? Then sing the notes’ names. This not only teaches you the names but also helps you associate the relative pitches, literally right in your head. How awesome is that? Try it for one week. I’ll be astounded if you don’t see dramatic results.

Next time we’ll look at reading rhythms.

Till then, let it be easy.

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