Learning to read piano music can be one of the most challenging tasks that faces every piano student.
Although one person might find this task to be less difficult than the next person, the fact remains that in order to learn to read music, you have to actually spend some time reading lots of it. It’s like you’ll never learn how to swim if you never get in the water!
My first car was a 1955 Chevy that looked very much like the one pictured just below.
It eventually developed transmission trouble and it wouldn’t move. James Ballard and Emmett Kendall, two mechanics who’d given me a job as a teenager in their gas station / car repair business, came to my house and towed the Chevy back to their garage, which was only a half-block away from my home. While I was working hard at tending to the pump customers that day, they disassembled the transmission, then they showed me the malfunctioning parts that had caused my car to break-down. By the time I got off work, they’d fixed my car and I was “back in business” cruizin’ and playin’ the radio with no particular place to go!
End of Story
Now you might ask, “What does that short story have to do with reading piano music?!”
Well, the lesson I took from that experience was that if there is a problem that has caused or is causing a break-down of any sort, somewhere in the mix of my life, deal with it by “towing” the problem into my figurative garage (my mind), take it apart, analyze it, identify the source of the problem, fix it, put it back together and move on!
By applying that very simple methodology to my teaching techniques, I’ve been able to help lots of people improve their music reading abilities for years and I can help you too.
During the course of my teaching career, I’ve found, more often than not, a major cause of my students’ music reading problems stemmed from their inability to read and play rhythms fluently!
Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm!
Reading rhythm is the sole focus of a class I teach titled, “Rhythm-a-ning”. Understanding rhythms and developing the coordination to execute them with either hand is the center-stage activity in this class. There’s a reason why the piano is considered a percussion instrument and sits in the percussion section of an orchestra and not the string section.
Reading music, even at its most elementary level, involves decoding information from two main streams of data synthesis, the rhythm stream and the pitch stream. If you’re having trouble deciphering and executing the data from both streams, your work on effecting a solution will be twice as difficult if your approach is to work on solving the problems you’re having with both streams simultaneously.
So the basic idea behind rhythm-a-ning and pitch-a-ma-ning is to separate and isolate the two main component processes of music reading, rhythm execution, and pitch placement, then reintegrate the two skills at a later point in time after thoroughly working on each of the areas of concentration. The separation and isolation approach allows you to then focus 100% of your attention on working to improve and strengthen your weaknesses in each one of those two main problem areas independently.
I feel it is a lot easier to work on one problem at a time than it is to work on two or more problems simultaneously. This is a less stressful strategy and with this approach, your probability of success tables are tilted more in your favor and the odds of your success rates are increased exponentially.
Watch this sample video of Jason reading and playing the rhythms of a piece by one of my favorite classical music composer/pianists.
With patience, determination and hard work, Jason is now doing a pretty good job of rhythm-only reading through many musical genres like classical music, ragtime, hymns, pop, and jazz. He can see and appreciate his own improvement in this area which, in and of itself, is a very powerful factor in keeping him self-motivated to continue his work in this area.
Now there’s no reason why the same thing can’t be happening for you too! So get in touch if you need assistance in this area. I can help you! The main provisory is that it is you who has to practice and do the work! This is not about me! It’s about you! So contact me so we can get busy.
See you next post.