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Teaching Note Names (Part 3 – additional thoughts and ideas)

January 10, 2011
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Happy New Year! (I know, I’m a little late on that…but I still wanted to say it.)  I have been super busy adding materials to the Online Store (more information on that later) so I’ve fallen a little behind in my blog postings.   But, even though it’s been a little quiet around here I have still been thinking about you, and working hard for your benefit!  I hope that your holidays were filled with happiness and that you’re back in the swing of things and enjoying your piano students again.

Getting back to our discussion on how to best teach note names, I previously analyzed the differences between using jingles vs. landmarks and intervals.  In this post I’m going to focus on what to do once a student has (tentatively) learned sections of, or all of, the note names on the grand staff (and/or ledger lines) in order to solidify and speed up their note name recognition skills.  Each student learns differently so I don’t use the same exact method of implementation for each student, but I do have a basic grab bag of ideas that I can use and/or change up in order to fit each individual student’s needs.

Memory Aids

Some students do really well when I point out additional “clues”, such as patterns or relationships between notes.  It’s kind of like making up a clue to help remember an answer for a test question.    The patterns that I most frequently point out include:

  1. The 5 C’s and how they relate. I point out that middle C is in the middle of the staves (obvious, I know, but helpful for students to hear none-the-less), that Bass and Treble C’s  are each on the 3rd space up/down on the staff, and that both ledger line C’s are 2 ledger lines above/below the staff.
  2. Inversions.  I point out inversions between the various notes.  For example, from middle C – Treble G is a 5th, and from Treble G to Treble C (3rd space up) is a 4th.   Likewise, from middle C – Bass F is a 5th, and from Bass F to Bass C (3rd space down) is a 4th.  4ths and 5ths are inversions of each other.
  3. Interval Relations.  Similarly, I point out relationships between intervals, such as from middle C – Treble G and middle C – Bass F are each a 5th apart.  In other words, from middle C to each of the defining clef lines are equal distances.

Speed Games

There are a variety of ways to create games aimed at increasing note name recognition speed.  For example:

  1. Present a student with a certain number of seconds per card, then show the student a flashcard (counting out the seconds in your head or using a stop watch).  If the student gets the note name correct within the allotted time then the card goes in one pile.  If the student does not get the note name correct, or does not get it said within the allotted time then the card goes into a different pile.  At the end of the game see how many flashcard he got correct.  Typically if my student gets more correct than wrong I provide him with some kind of reward or prize (pennies, m&ms, marshmallows, sticker, high-five, etc).
    When a student first begins playing this game you will need to provide a longer amount of time per card — perhaps 8 seconds or so.  As the student improves the time gets less and less. Ultimately you want a student to get the correct answer within 1-2 seconds.  And, yes…it can be done!!  🙂
  2. A similar game is one done on paper instead of with flashcards.  Provide a note name worksheet, and a pencil, to your student and then designate a certain number of seconds in which the sheet needs to be completely filled out (something like 1-2 seconds per note, added together for a total time).  For example, if there are 20 notes on the worksheet and you are providing your student with 5 seconds per note then the total length of time your student has to complete the worksheet is 1 minute and 40 seconds.  When your student is poised and ready to go you say “go” and then keep track of the time with a clock or timer or stop watch.  When the time is up see how many notes the student correctly identified and wrote the name for.
    In the beginning if a student gets over half correct I will count that as a win.  Over time of course the rules become more rigid — the number of correct notes names required increases to 60% correct, then 70%, 80%, 90%, etc, and the length of time to fill out the worksheet becomes less.  Ultimately you will give your student only 1 second per note name.  So, if your worksheet has 20 notes on it then your student gets 20 seconds to complete the worksheet.  And…yes, it can be done!!  🙂
  3. Note Name Bingo. This is a fairly common game, but fun anyway.  To speed things up just determine the rate in which the game is going to go.  Instead of waiting for students to scan the card for minutes on end, pull out a new note name every 5 seconds (or so).  If the student missed the previous note name then…oh well.  It’s a great motivator for speeding things up — no one wants to miss out on something potentially fun!  It’s called providing incentives.  🙂

Practice Saying Notes in Music (Game version)

Have you ever noticed that students can do really well recognizing note names on flashcards, but then have difficulty reading the notes in their music?  There is quite a difference between flashcards and sheet music.  For example, with flashcards there is only one note on the card, and the note (and lines and spaces) are really BIG.  Plus, with flashcards the clef sign is always right next to the note, which makes it easier to figure out what line or space the note is on.  In contrast, with sheet music there are lots of notes close together on the page, the print is much smaller, and notes can  be several measures away from the clef lines.  This all makes it more challenging for a student to recognize the notes in their sheet music.

So, the best way to overcome this challenge is to have students read note names in sheet music as well.  I start with students right away on this.  Once I have taught the very first landmarks (middle C, Treble G, and Bass F) and the student has learned those note names, I whip out a bunch of music (NOT familiar to the student) and we practice reading notes.  This activity can easily be turned into a game too if wanted/needed (depending on the student).

If a student only knows 3 notes (as outlined above) then I have him look for ONLY those 3 notes in the music.  The  music may have a whole bunch of other notes on the page, but my student is only looking for middle C, Treble G, and Bass F.  When he finds one of those 3 he’ll point it out and say the note name.  Now, if I want to turn this into a game I can do a variety of things, such as:

  1. “I see 8 landmark notes on this page.  Can you find them all?”
  2. “How fast can you find all of the landmarks notes on this page?”
  3. “For every landmark note that you can find within x-seconds you’ll get a penny.”
  4. “For every landmark note that you find and say correctly you get an m&m, and for every note that you don’t find or say correctly *I* get an m&m.”  Students love to beat the teacher at a game, so this is great motivation for a student to want to focus and think well.

Depending on what the reward systems are in your studio you can give a student marbles for a reward jar, stickers on an incentive chart, treats, money, a note on the “boast” board, etc.

Every time a student learns a new note or set of notes whip out the music and look for all of the notes now familiar to your student.

Practice Saying Notes in Music (Non-game version)

With each newly assigned piece of music that you give to your student, have him read the note names on the pages.  If he doesn’t yet know all of the notes automatically he should still go through the process of figuring them out.  If your student reads the note names 1-3 times before every practice and lesson then before long he will know all of the note names for that piece.  It really does work!

The ideas here are not limiting.  And, they can apply to group lessons, theory workshops, recital activities, etc. just as well as in individual lessons.  The only difference would be that students are competing with each other instead of with themselves only or with you as the teacher.  In a group competition the student who gets the most correct wins.  Competitive students LOVE to play against other students (instead of just the teacher).  It’s just way more cool.  🙂

For more game ideas and rewards/incentives for students check out our GAMES and STUDENT AWARDS AND INCENTIVES pages.

2 Responses to Teaching Note Names (Part 3 – additional thoughts and ideas)

  1. Leslie Elmer on January 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Wow! Your lessons are really terrific! Some of your landmarks I have never realized before – in all these nearly 50 years! Your information is so valuable.

  2. Brian Farley on June 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Well done – I did not think anyone else taught like this, but I’ve always taught the clefs for note position plus mirror images of landmark notes between staves although I use top line of G clef=F and bottom line of F clef=G, instead of ledger line Cs. I also use words for students to find notes on the piano/keyboard such as CAT, BAGGAGE, FADE, EDGE, etc.
    I’ve got a few other helpful hints at http://www.easyduets.co.uk/reading-music-musical-notation.html and similar pages on the site.

    Cheers,
    Brian

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