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Strategies To Teaching Children Music Without Overwhelm

Teaching music to children is highly rewarding yet extremely challenging if you have never done it.  There’s so much information to cover.  Where to start?  

As you progress in learning any new skill, fact or process, new vistas reveal themselves.  It’s like climbing the mountain of progress.  When you were at the bottom, you couldn’t even see that there were lakes, rivers, and other towns in the distance. Again, as you climb higher, you can now see over the next mountain range and then again new valleys and maybe even the ocean!  

mountains-344797_640

The key to mastery in any subject is to know what you don’t know!

The path to mastery looks something like this crazy list below.  Try to follow along.

  • You don’t know – you are basically a newbie
  • You know – now you know, a little
  • You know you don’t know – you begin to realize what you don’t know
  • You don’t know what you don’t know – then you start to see there are things you probably don’t even know about
  • You know what you don’t know – ah, you figured out what you need to learn
  • You know you know – you have achieved some competence
  • You don’t know that you don’t know what you don’t know – but you still have blind spots.  You don’t even realize it!
  • You know that you don’t know what you don’t know – but now you know there’s a possibility of something else
  • You know what you don’t know that you didn’t know you even knew existed – and you now have something else to learn
  • You know you don’t know – and it never ends!

As a music teacher, I want to guide my student up the mountain.  But looking at that mountain can be very intimidating and scary!  To prevent being overwhelmed, I use blinders of a sort.  Something to get them not to look at the final goal, but to see just the next few steps in front of them.  

Strategies to Prevent Overwhelm In Reading Music

1) The Spotlight.  

One of the techniques I have used in the past, was a focused flashlight to shine a light on the small passage I wanted the student to focus on in the sheet music.  

A quick aside, I have often been the first person to notice a child’s need for eyeglasses.  Because I see the child every week and am seeing how they focus their eyes or if their nose is buried in the pages, I can usually alert the parents well before the school teachers or nurse.

2) Post-It notes and Pies

I should own stock in 3M already!  I go through reams of these every year!  The power of Post-Its is that they are removable and opaque.  I can cover up the entire page leaving just a “window of focus” for my student to see.  It has been hugely successful as the student then says something like, “Oh, is that all?  That’s easy!”  I can then either move the window or widen it as we progress.

For my younger students, I tell them that learning a song is like eating a pie.

What kind of pie do you like? What’s your favorite flavor of pie?

We go through all kinds of flavors. I’ve heard everything from apple pie to

pumpkin pie, to weird ones like salt caramel apple or oatmeal custard!  

Some strange pies out there.

Then I ask them, “Do you eat the whole pie in one bite?”

“No! Of course, not.”

“You take a slice, right?

“But do you eat the whole slice in one bite?”

“No.”

“We take a bite, so here’s a little forkful.”

I then cover up the whole page and leave just a little “forkful” of music.

This can lead to fun rewards like a slice of pie if you practice well this week.

3) Bigger Is Better

By copying just a passage of the music and enlarging it to a huge size, it looks ridiculously easy!  I have done this with beginning music readers.  I also use it for memorization games.  You can see this previous post about the Hat Game/Dice Game.

4) Simplified Arrangements

Most of the sheet music for popular music is just not suitable for early beginners.  By using a music engraving software you can re-arrange the piece for your student.  Most of my young ones can’t spread their hands an octave, so just delete.  You can also enlarge the staff, colorize note-heads, do system breaks, and page breaks in more logical places.   Another thing is you can strip out any confusing symbols or terminology until you are ready to cover it.  For example, you may not want to use the word ritardando just yet, maybe write in “Slowing Down” instead.   I will devote a future article about tips for simplified arrangements.

What are your favorite strategies to scale the mountain of mastery?  Please share them in the comments below.

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