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Most of you will know EXACTLY what I am referencing here.

If you were trained as a musician in the last 30 years, then this is most likely how you learned to read music.

If you are a musician, trained recently, and don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that I am glad for you.

Because this is not how to learn, or to teach, reading music.

“WHAT?! But it worked for me!!”

your instant reaction

I know, I know and hear me out.

Why are we so obsessed with teaching concepts through metaphors and structures that have NOTHING to do with what they actually mean? Western staff notation is an inherently logical system, that we teach through acronyms that have no conceptual connection to it. Rather than learning the patterns of ‘space, line, space’ or even more importantly, the connection to the SOUND of an instrument, we learn an acronym.

And don’t even get me started on how difficult that is for our smallest students – I’ve already written about that enough!

The big problem is, you know how to read music. You’ve been reading music or years.

So my question to you is this: what process do you go through when you read music? Do you name each individual note? Or do you follow the patterns, and the rules of how it works?

My challenge to you is this: teach music the way you read it.

As a successful reader of music, your strategy works. I could offer more advice here, but at the end of the day, you are the expert. Read some music. Write down what you do. Explain that strategy to your students. It’s one more strategy that they didn’t have before!

There is a resource we have made just for this moment! Find it here. If you want to, you can buy the whole pack, catering to Years 1 through 6. If that’s not your speed, we have the ones tailored to other year levels available in the shop!

Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

This post was originally published October, 2021.

fingers on piano keys

To teach or to play?

So you want to include games in your music lessons, but don’t know where to start?

I’m certain that all music teachers have felt the same at some point or another.

The biggest worry that we all have is that we play games that are not connected to learning, that we are wasting precious minutes just to make sure we are the ‘fun’ music teacher. We really are skilled at overthinking music teaching.

The problem often lies (as it usually does) in not planning effectively. Worried that a student is looking bored, you jump in and fix the boredom with a quick movement game. Concerned that a student is not listening to you, you make up a game to incorporate and alter their misbehaviour.

Over time, this leads to lots of music games being incorporated (which can seem fantastic) but not much time spent at the instrument, or focusing on any particular skill.

The only question that you need to ask yourself to solve this problem is this:

“What skill do I want my student to learn from this music game?”

Maybe it’s reading music, or identifying notes, musical expression, or playing from memory.

If you can answer that question, you’re on the right track. If you can’t, spend some time looking through your student’s lesson notes. What can you see you keep on reminding them to do?

Incorporate it into a music game.

What skill do they seem to avoid working on the most?

Incorporate it into a music game.

What skill do they seem to struggle the most to understand?

Incorporate it into a music game.

Every teacher incorporates games differently, according to their space, instrument and personal style. Just remember, as long as you are focused on what your students are learning, you are getting it right!

Now, a treat for all of you wonderful music educators. We have created a music education resource here at the music educator for our youngest students – a collection of four games to get any music teacher started on incorporating games into lessons. For a limited time only, download it for free! If you want more information on how we make and structure our resources, check out this post.

Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

This post was originally published September, 2022.

Which came first: the rhythm or the melody?

Ah, the age-old question.

The first time I realised that this was a matter of contention was when I was on a student placement (as a classroom teacher, not a music teacher). The music teacher was talking about how she never introduced pitch until Grade 3 (age 8), because children simply didn’t understand it before that. According to what she was saying, she only worked on rhythm with children in the first few years of school.

Now, in her defense, she did in fact do a lot of singing with her students. What she really meant was that did not teach the western structures surrounding scales, melody and harmony.

Was she right?

At the time, I was horrified. And I have to say that I hope you’re a bit horrified too.

Why, I wonder.

You, as a music teacher yourself (or an enthusiast, anyway) will probably already have an answer.

To state it plainly, to teach rhythm without any mention of melody, would be like telling a child to only eat the skin of an apple, and leave the rest of it.

Musicians and teachers are responsible for spreading the same idea beyond just rhythm and melody; we separate timbre from melody and rhythm as though they are not entirely dependent on one another.

I’ve mentioned before that students are excellent listeners. Even if we are not teaching them about either melody or rhythm, they will most certainly hear it. And independently play with it, and wonder about it.

Music is not a science experiment that can be separated into discrete parts without destroying the whole. It’s the interaction of sound that goes beyond the labels that we put on it.

Now, this might make you feel a bit overwhelmed.

Does this mean I have to teach everything all at once?!?

Yes, and no. Don’t overthink it. You are not teaching something that doesn’t already exist. When you sing a simple tune with your students, they’re already hearing rhythm, melody, tone, expression, all of it! And as excellent listeners, they will understand a lot by being exposed to music in a variety of forms.

One particularly useful tool in covering multiple elements of music at once is teaching a canon, such as ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’. I’ve created a simple (and cheap!) resource and guide to use in music lessons to play with combining melody into harmony, altering rhythms and giving some creative license on the way. Find it here.

Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

This post was originally published September, 2022.

audio e guitars guitars music

What’s in a Resource?

Our shop has launched!

And now that it has, we decided that it was time to explain how the resources at the music educator work.

The aim of all music resources sold on this website is to make music teachers jobs easier, every day. With that in mind, let’s explore exactly how we are doing that!

First of all, every resource we create comes with a ‘How to use this resource’ page. As a professional yourself, chances are you could always figure out how to use a worksheet, play a game or teach a lesson. But why should you spend that time working it out? This part of our resource tries to make your use of our resource as straightforward as possible.

Secondly, when you use one of our resources that involve note reading (on a grand staff), that there is colour coding involved. This is purposefully entirely random. As so many people have differing associations, colours were chosen simply to support students who that would find the correspondence helpful. The simple work around is to print it out in black and white!

Thirdly, there is a consistent use of both solfege (in fixed do for the resources currently available) and alphabet names. Sometimes there are separate worksheets with either option, or there are both options printed. The simple reason for this is that both systems work (in their different ways), and both can be used to wonderful effect. There is a more extensive post about this here.

The next feature is the frequent inclusion of learning intentions/outcomes. This is to, again, make your life easier in knowing that you are teaching your students as well as you possibly can.

Lastly, there is our (much easier to read) Terms of Use. Although we have our proper one here, this one clearly explains what we expect from the use of our resources.

Want to see what we mean? Pop over to our shop to find out!

Why I Discourage Perfect Pitch

I’ll never forget the look that I shared with a friend of mine after one of our first University music tests.

It wasn’t even a high stakes situation. It was simply a pre-assessment to determine what class we should join for our aural studies. As you learn really quickly in a music degree, it’s not about where you start, it’s about how hard you work to get where you want to go. So even though the test wasn’t easy, we all left free in the knowledge that it didn’t determine any of our final grades.

We all went to get the obligatory midday coffee, and one student just couldn’t resist it. He had to have his moment of glory.

“I know he didn’t ask for it, but on that final transcription, I included that it was in A Major, just to show that I knew it.”

Now, to give context, many of the rest of us had struggled on the final task. It was 5 bars of piano music, with no key signature, time signature or starting note. I don’t remember managing to get much beyond the base line. (Remember, where you get to, not where you started).

He then went on to talk about his perfect pitch.

And that was just one of many times I felt like I was an insufficient musician because I didn’t have this one magical thing. Because the assumption is that perfect pitch equals an astoundingly brilliant musician.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

As a short disclaimer, there are those people who have what is scientifically described to be perfect pitch, where they can identify what I will hear term ‘pure’ notes. They are a very rare subset.

What is usually meant by perfect pitch is that you can hear any sound, and say what pitch it is without any further support.

It essentially means having a perfect memory for sound.

Here’s the problem though: what sound are they remembering?

More often than not, the sound of a piano. The sound of one flawed tuning system, that itself admits to not being ‘in tune’.

The sound of one instrument that is not used by the entire globe, that informs whether sound is ‘correct’ or not.

The sound of one scale, that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather has been developed by only certain countries in a musical history that itself only remembers a small part of what happened. Because the politics, the racism, the knowledge holders at the time didn’t in fact record everything, or even know everything.

You can hear that I’m passionate about this; it even sparked the founding of an arts collective. If you want to hear more about it, check it out here.

The point is that sound is not perfect. The note that you might call ‘wrong’, or the scale that you would call ‘incomplete’ forms the foundation for a whole genre of music you have never heard.

So I discourage perfect pitch. I insist on singing without the piano, often starting on a completely random note, just to expand the concept of what sound and music is.

If you have perfect pitch, I am not here to tell you that you don’t have a skill that can be useful. But I am here to challenge you, and how you teach.

Perfect pitch is not the end game.

Adaptable, effective musical skills are what we are all after. Expand the sound world, build the tools to use it, and you will produce incredible mini musicians!

Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

This post was originally published September, 2021.