Students who read finger numbers instead of notes. : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I recieved about four students recently who read the finger numbers but do not read the notes at all. If the song changes hand positions, the continue playing without any recognition. Are there any suggestions toward getting them to read the notes? How do you avoid teaching by reading finger numbers? Thanks!

-- Erika (, January 21, 2003


Erika, Can you tell us a little more about these students? How long did they study piano with their previous teacher? What level are you currently trying to teach them at? Do they seem to know the letters, at least on flashcards and on the keys, even if they don't seem to play by notes in their songs? My first impulse is to say they need to back way up so you can really hit hard the note names as well as intervallic reading. I have some flashcards I like from Hal Leonard; there is not only a stack of traditional flashcards (notes on staff to identify), but also some cards which show only 2 staff lines, with 3 notes that move in some combination of repeat, step, or skip. I like to use these to emphasize to students that even though they don't need to think of every letter name as they play, they DO need to recognize how the notes move. I have students play from these "mini-staffs" using various fingerings and in various locations on the piano. I've also had success with a book from FJH entitled "Step, Skip, and Repeat." Also, although it's not something I like to do for a prolonged period of time, I like to highlight hand moves in the student's music in the early levels. (use a yellow highlighter, red pencil, or whatever catches the student's eye.) If that doesn't get them to realize they need to move their hand, I will even draw a red stop sign above the measure, and write "STOP and THINK." I tell my students I would prefer they totally stop and disrupt the rhythm, and figure out exactly what comes next, rather than plow ahead and have their fingers "memorize" wrong notes.

-- annie (, January 22, 2003.

Erika, That is exactly why I teach from the Music Tree books. It uses an intervalic approach to learning to read, rather than a positional one. Students learn some "landmark" notes (middle C, F below & G above), then learn other notes by identifying the interval between one of these notes and the new note. After all, that is how "experienced" pianists read music. We don't stop to figure out every single note in a chord; we recognize the intervals. I think that students who learn to play in C position, G position, etc. are at a real disadvantage. They play songs more quickly but at the expense of learning how to really read, which as you have seen, only slows them down later. Good luck to you.

-- Laurie (, February 02, 2003.

A very difficult situation. Some ideas:

1. Erase/white out any finger numbers in new pieces they learn. Or switch to a new book that just doesn't have them.

2. Note flashcards.

3. Have them name the notes--either "point and name" the notes on the page, or "play and name" the notes as they play the piece.

4. Teach reading by interval. I like to make pieces with no clef at all for this. Then I just tell them "first note is G" or whatever. This forces them to look "between" the notes; to read notes as groups.

5. Helping a student with this problem is often very difficult and frustrating for both you and the student. So have patience, help the student/parent have patience, EXPLAIN the importance of note reading and how worthwhile it will be to spend time now developing that skill, try every trick and teaching idea you can think of, to keep the student engaged and interested, while developing this basic skill.

Hope this helps!

-- Brent Hugh (, February 03, 2003.

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