Tag Archives: Mary Had a Little Lamb

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #30 Guest Speaker’s Tips on Reading and Sight-reading

I reached out to a very special person who is going to speak to you in this post via one of her videos. Please allow me to preface her appearance with a few thoughts and words of my own.

Two practice activities that are very often mistakenly regarded as being synonymous:

1. The practice of learning to read and sight-read music.
2. The practice of learning to play songs using a “sight-enhanced playing-by-ear” approach.


After learning the names of the piano keys, teaching beginner students to focus on note reading in 5-finger positions, starting with the “C Position“, is and has been a widely-accepted practice for years. It’s how I was brought-up and many of today’s nationally recognized traditional method books use still this methodology. I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of this method and I use it with my beginner students. I also use it with some of my intermediate and advanced students who wish to go back to fine-tune or brush-up their music reading skills.

Did I say advanced students? Yes! That’s right! Some of the world’s most well-known and formidable musicians are/were not good “readers-of-music”.  From Irving Berlin to Billy Joel. From Glenn Gould to Erroll Garner. From Bela Fleck to Sir Paul McCartney.  There are loads of musicians who’ve been up-front and very honest about their music reading abilities which, by their own words, range from not-so-good to not-at-all.

As evidenced by their very successful careers, it’s easy to see that the ability to read music is in no way THE determinative factor as to whether or not you’re going to become an excellent player/musician or have a successful career.

Nevertheless, there are many musicians who, in their heart-of-hearts, later come to know and realize the importance of what they’re missing.  Hopefully, many of them will also know and realize that it is never too late to go back and get any of the things which they may have missed during their formative years. Just go back and get it! It’s as simple as that! Put it on a “Bucket List”, then find someone to help get it done! If you’re just starting out, then get it done right now so that you don’t have to go back and do it later. 

So, whatever the reason, if learning to read music is a high priority item on your list of objectives, then I recommend that you find a teacher/coach like me, my guest speaker, or someone you may know to guide you through the maze of activities that lie ahead of you. Don’t go it alone! It is difficult to do this alone!


The core component of “sight-enhanced playing-by-ear” lies in the key phrase, Playing-by-ear. Playing-by-ear happens when you use only your ears to recreate the sounds (melodies, chords, rhythms) you hear. It’s a wonderful skill to have and I encourage you to develop it to the best of your ability. Later on, playing by ear is often enhanced by other things that you may learn in music theory such as intervals and “note reading”. With this method, you’ll frequently find yourself working on small sections and segments of songs… perhaps 2, 4, or 8 measures at a time. As long as your objective is to “learn to play the piece”, this approach is very good! Using written notes to assist you with your playing by ear activities is what sight-enhanced playing-by-ear is all about.

However, learning to play songs that way is NOT at the center of what learning to read and sight-read music is all about.   

Guest Speaker Video

Watch this video and spend the next 10-minutes with my guest speaker. Listen to her share some of her thoughts and tips on how to improve your reading and sight-reading music skills.  She spells out her reasoning as to why you, and piano students in general, should slowly work your way through level-appropriate music.  Everyone who is serious about either learning or brushing-up sight-reading skills should check out what she has to say. She is a real treasure!

Of all the tips and points that Margaret makes in this video, I’d like to emphasize the fact that consistent, daily work in this area is what will move you along. Practice well and be patient. 

See you next post.

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #12 Musical Tonality & The Zodiac: Are They Connected?

12 Notes / 12 Houses / 12 Signs

Three facts are stated in the subtitle of this post. There are indeed twelve notes in the octave, and the Zodiac has twelve houses and twelve signs.  With that stated, it’s easy to understand why people might be curious as to whether or not there is some kind of mystical connection or cosmic correlation. However, over many years, Sir Isaac Newton and others have tried and failed at scientifically linking the chromatic scale to the houses and signs of the Zodiac. So although I find the question interesting, I have no scientifically-based answer to give you.

Nevertheless, you can still have some fun with the concept in an unscientific and light-hearted way, and view your daily horoscope too, just by using the chart below during your daily practice. The on-board rhythm section accompaniments will help you play some of the essential rudiments and other practice items through all 12 keys.

Unichords (Unisons), Major and Minor Dichords, Trichords, Tetrachords, Pentachords, Scales, Triads and Seventh Chords and their inversions, and songs that have short simple melodies like  “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “London Bridge” are some of the things you can practice along with the chart’s virtual rhythm section accompaniments.

Click and hover over the graphic’s hotspots to explore the possibilities. Have fun!

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The musical tones were assigned to the Zodiac signs by coupling the ascending notes of the C chromatic (where C represents #1), with the ascending numerological order of the Zodiac signs (where the 1st house and Aries represent #1).

1st house = Aries = C
2nd house = Taurus = C#/Db
3rd house = Gemini = D
4th house = Cancer = D#/Eb
5th house = Leo = E
6th house = Virgo = F
7th house = Libra = F#/Gb
8th house = Scorpio = G
9th house = Sagittarius = G#/Ab
10th house = Capricorn = A
11th house = Aquarius = A#/Bb
12th house = Pisces = B

The main purpose of this post is to provide some fun and entertainment for those of you who are doing the serious work of practicing and improving your musicianship and for everyone else who comes here simply curious about the title’s question. You are welcome to visit this page as often as you like to use the accompaniment tracks as  part of your music practice and/or view your daily horoscope updates!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #10 Why Do Beginner Music Lessons Start with C instead of A?

Over the years, many of my beginner students have asked why their music books and music lessons start their teaching methodologies with the letter C instead of the letter A.  They feel that since the alphabet starts with the letter A, and since the first seven letters of the alphabet represent the names of the seven basic tones of our musical system (A, B,  C, D, E, F, and G), why shouldn’t their music books and music lessons start with the letter A too?” Good question!

point to A (front view close)point to C (front view)point to C (side view)

The short answer is easy! Major scales are upbeat and happy-sounding scales and the “Cmajor scale has proven to be less confusing to lots of beginner students because it is the only major scale that contains natural keys only– no black keys or accidentals.  

Now there is a scale that starts with the letter A which doesn’t involve any black keys but it is a minor scale.  So, in fact, beginner music lessons could very well start with the letter A. However, that would mean a beginner’s first musical experience would be based on a minor scale.  The minor scale experience is fine for later on, but you don’t want the minor backdrop to be the first musical experience for you or your kid, do you?  Of course not! Listen to what the minor experience would do to Mary Had A Little Lamb and see what it does to your kid’s mood! 

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I hope this short answer helps explain why I feel that beginner music lessons start with C instead of A.  

Now the longer answer involves taking a look at a little more detail because questions like “What are natural keys?” and “What are accidentals?” need to be defined and examined.  If you are an absolute beginner, let me start your music “edu-ma-cation” with a miniature lesson on piano key names and how the “black keys” first appeared and came to be known as accidentals.

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The world’s first “piano” keyboards did not have any black keys at all! From one end to the other, there were white keys only! Now imagine the challenge of distinguishing one key from another if you were playing back then on a piano that had a sea of all white keys! Not an impossible task, but I’ll bet it was a real challenge nevertheless. More importantly, as a few centuries passed and the piano keyboard layout with the 7-note music system remained unchanged, the limits that the 7-note, natural-key-only music system was having on melodic and harmonic composition were becoming clearer to musicians and composers. Some type of break-through was needed. Eventually, black keys came to the rescue! The 5 black keys are the original accidentals.

The 7 natural keys combined with the 5 black keys that were added centuries ago, are two key elements that help form the 12-key semitone music system that we use today. Our present system still offers seemingly infinite possibilities, so we should all keep practicing and composing. Let’s get back to work!