The Kind of Music Beginners Need

A beginner of any age needs music which is written consistently with the way he thinks.

Even though a beginner desires to read and execute everything on the page, his brain is very busy with things a seasoned musician does without thinking: smooth elision between notes, forming the hand to familiar patterns such as triads and scale fragments, hearing "in a key," reaching for black notes, and so on, to say nothing of note-reading, counting, dynamics, and articulation!

If the beginner can't do all of this, he begins the lamentable habit of ignoring parts of the notation.

Since the beginner can process only a limited amount of information from the printed page, it's best to cut back on the directions which occur there.

Another thing I recommend is to use oversized notation. Four measures per score and four scores per page is a good visual size for a beginner, even an adult.

Remember that length intimidates beginners ("Oh, my gosh! How will I ever learn a whole page!"). Keep the pieces short.

Overall, shorter is better because the student has a sense of completion more frequently. We want to foster a sense of accomplishment early to make it a part of the student's constellation of positive experiences playing the piano.

The entire grand staff should be used on the music page, even if there are notes on only one staff. The beginner needs to learn to see the treble clef notes in relation to the bass clef staff and vice versa.

Do not use any eighth-notes. Also see the file on teaching counting to help you simplify written music for beginners.

Your goal is to keep the score uncluttered - - and there inviting rather than forbidding - - and filled only with things your beginner will be physically able to do.

Of course, the music won't "look right" to you because you are looking for all these details and the music will appear barren without them, but, trust me: the beginner won't miss them at all.

And having them absent from the page means he'll be able to do a much better job of reading the notes and rhythm.

Be prepared to write some stuff for your beginners. And when you do, think like a beginner. Eliminate anything that is at all superfluous. There is a limit on the number of things printed on the page that the beginner is able to read, decode, and do. If there are too many marks on the page, beginners start ignoring some because they can't cope with so many. Rather than let them think they can ignore markings at will, it's better to eliminate anything that isn't absolutely essential. Learning to "see" all the different elements of notation is a learned skill. The music might not "look right" to us, but to a beginner, it looks just fine. He'll strive to do everything he sees provided there's not too much detail early on.

copyright 1996-2002, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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