Each I LOVE to Read Music!™ product includes the following complete introduction. You can also download the introduction as a PDF file.
An Introduction to the I LOVE to Read Music!™ Literacy Method
Some music educators won’t even consider the “hear-play” methods of teaching music (Suzuki, Mother Tongue, etc.) because many students trained this way don’t learn to read music as well as their traditional-method counterparts. The critics sit impatiently through a beautiful performance and can hardly wait to say, with raised eyebrows, of course, “Yes, yes, but can he read music?”
It is a problem. Suzuki students generally play expressively, accurately, and with gorgeous tone, but because they memorize every piece, they seldom get enough practice in reading “what’s on the page.” Playing in ensembles becomes almost impossible as students grow up, so they often feel a lack of self-confidence in orchestra situations. Poor reading teens tend to shy away from playing in ensembles or even before, especially when they don’t want to depend on a parent practice coach anymore to decipher the notes and rhythms.
Even traditional music students often can’t read music as well as they can play it. When they face some of the more difficult repertoire, they sometimes get discouraged, not being able to figure out the complex rhythms and notes.
In I LOVE to Read Music!, master Suzuki teacher Denise Willey has designed a music reading and sight-reading method to be used alongside the Suzuki (“Mother Tongue”) as well as other more traditional methods. While students are learning to play in tune and with fine tone and musicality using the hear-play repertoire and technique, they are at the same time receiving effective instruction (taking only minutes a day) to develop excellent music reading and sight reading skills—with the added bonus of developing such a fine ear that most of them are thought to have perfect pitch!
The program is based on a set of specially-designed Complete Reading Flash Cards. The first lessons include the actual note reading, using a unique sequence of singing the pitch on the card to identify it, solfegging the tone with the do, re, mi syllables and hand signs, plucking the pitch on the instrument, and then playing it on the piano. A set of flash cards is designed for each of the string voices. Students learn to read the notes in all the beginning positions on the instrument, until they recognize and can play them instantaneously, practicing their deck of 10-15 cards three times each day at home and at the lesson. Later, the children can progress up through high ledger line notes for violins, and other clefs for viola, cello, and bass (see Handbook for Teachers and Parents, by Denise Willey and Cathy Wilson).
While learning the note cards, students begin the music reading exercises in Music Reading Primer, taught with a method especially designed for this pedagogy. Students sing the names of the notes out loud as they play the little etudes, and count out loud as they play the rhythm exercises, through the entire book. The etudes in this reading book start with LARGE child-friendly note sizes for young eyes, and move slowly and thoroughly through every note, with steps, skips, string changes, and chromatics, giving all of the notes adequate practice. Snatches of familiar songs are hidden in the lines of almost every page, delighting the children who discover them by reading accurately. The rhythm exercises start with basic rhythms, but progress to the more complex, until students are playing rhythms as difficult as you’d find in most ensemble repertoire. As in the entire method, the instruction and practice only take a few minutes each lesson or day, so the students can work mostly on performance repertoire.
After the happy students pass off their note cards, they move right onto the key signature cards. As they learn the cards, they learn to look at a key signature and automatically say, for example, “This is the key of Gb Major or Eb minor, six flats, Bb Eb, Ab, Db, Gb and Cb,” and so on through all fifteen keys. We’ve seen five and six-year-olds do this. Think about it: how many college music majors can do this automatically, with all major and minor keys? Mrs. Willey says, “Children can learn anything!” During this time, students also work their way through a scales routine, basic, advanced, and three octave scales, in different rhythms, bowings, and repetitions, always prefacing each scale with, “This is the scale of G Major, one sharp: F#,” or the like. They also complete elementary theory lessons, in the Music Theory Workbook, one exercise a week at home, which is checked and corrected at the lesson.
After getting the key signature flash cards down cold, students go right on to memorize the intervals, naming them, (perfect 5th, minor 2nd, tri-tone, etc.) and singing them with solfege syllables. After those, come the musical terms and signs, which the children usually polish off in short order, working on about 10-15 cards at a time. Included is just about anything the students will find on a page of standard orchestra literature, including tremolo, sul ponticello, senza sordino, measure repeat signs, and dozens of others. Little kids can learn anything, small bites at a time.
While working in Music Reading Primer, students begin to sight-read the lovely little etudes in Sight Reading for Strings, adapted from Franz Wolhfarht’s Easiest Beginning Elementary Method, playing duets with the teacher. The teacher reads the never-practiced student line with him, counting out loud. On the repeat he/she plays the teacher’s part, while the student “holds his own” on the student part. When they come to the end of Sight Reading for Strings, they go back to the first and the student reads the teacher’s part, while the teacher plays the student line.
After the Primer is finished, then the student continues to progress through Advanced Reading Etudes, and Advanced Reading Rhythms, learning different clefs, reading in upper positions, and practicing more complex rhythm patterns, while continuing in Sight Reading for Strings and the other Flash Cards.
If children begin these short and easy flash cards and music reading lessons right along with their early hear-play lessons, they’ll be ready to sight-read anything put on the stand of a high school orchestra. In fact, they will undoubtedly be reading much better than their schoolmates, full of self-confidence, and ready to lead the section and serve others. If this happens before beginning orchestra in grade school or junior high, the student may opt to take up another instrument in the orchestra (violinists might try viola, or cellists, the bass, and so on,) while other students catch up.
No more leaning close to your stand partner in orchestra, trying to copy his fingers and bowings! When students reach the age when they want to play in ensembles, when they want to break away from Mother’s tutelage, when they want to play music with their friends, they’ll be splendid and independent players. This excellent method prepares students for a lifetime of playing and reading sublime and exciting music, embracing both superb hear-play technique and a solid background in music literacy and sight reading, allowing the well-trained musician to say truly: “I LOVE to read music!”
Sight Reading for Strings
Follow these easy steps:
1. Begin when the student can read the notes of all open strings, first fingers, thirds, (fourth for cello), and maybe some second and low second fingers in the Complete Reading Flash Cards, and is on approximately lesson #15-20 in the Music Reading Primer. Some older or already-reading students can start before that, and some younger ones might need to wait a little longer.
2. Turn to lesson 1 and point out the two different parts, one for the student, one for the teacher. Show your student how to skip the teacher’s line to go on to his/her second line, and continue reading the student’s line. Point out the repeat sign.
3. Go through the piece with the student and teach terms and signs that s/he may not know, such as new notes and terms like con sordino, sul tasto, or other, unusual dynamics, D.C.’s or D.S.’s and Codas and Fines, repeat measure signs, (etude #108, measure F), notation “shorthand,” (see etude # 111, measure F), tricky rhythms or notes, shifting, etc.
4. Have him name the time signature with the little jingle: “3/4 time. Three beats to a measure, and a quarter note gets one count.” Then with your bows actually on the string, have him count out exactly one measure of beats out loud and start playing on the next first beat. If he has been practicing the rhythm exercises in the Primer, this will be easy. You do this with him for a while, so he will gradually begin to look ahead for sixteenth notes, dotted rhythms, or other “tricky” items. That way he won’t set the tempo too fast, so he can get it right the first reading. When the reading is “easy” and not scary, beginning sight readers feel capable of doing it, and this helps dispel the “I’m not good at this” attitude.
5. Around Etudes #15-20, (the first few selections use accidentals instead of key signatures,) have the student start naming the key signature and sharps or flats of the selection, i.e., “This is the key of D Major or B minor, two sharps: FG and CG.” If they are already learning the key signature Flash Cards, this will be easy. Sometimes they can play a quick scale in that key, just to get the finger patterns in place. You can explain how to tell if it is minor. Sometimes they “change their vote” if it sounds minor after they start playing. You can also point out raised leading tones, sharped or naturalized notes, that usually signal the relative minor.
6. Play the student’s part with him the first time through, and on the repeat, play the teacher’s part, leaving him to “hold his own” on his own part. Do just one or two little selections a week, and mark his initials where you will begin to read at the next lesson. If the selection is “too hard,” we work our way through it, but then leave his initials there, so we can read it again next week. Sometimes just the week in between will help, but don’t go on to more difficult reading until s/he can read it nearly perfectly. If an older student is reading already, we might read a whole page a day, but never skip any. At the end of every sight reading section, always express delight and amazement at his good sight reading, and tell how much you the teacher love to sight read. “Don’t you love it?” “What a fine sight reader you are becoming!” Keep things positive, and he’ll be willing to do it again next week. . It just takes a couple of minutes. At first, spend about two to five minutes a lesson, and the same amount at home, doing the flash cards (1 minute), the Primer, and now the sight reading.
7. Have the student procure a class string method book to sight read two minutes a day at home: Muller Rucsh, String Explorer, String Builder, All for Strings, etc. There are many from which to choose, and they are inexpensive. They usually start out with open strings. You can do a whole page in two minutes. As it gets harder, go to a half page, or even just a few lines a day, so he will be sight reading every day at home. Sometimes you can get through all three books by the time the student finishes the Primer. When the student moves on to the Advanced Reading Etudes, s/he will be reading enough at home to discard the method books.
8. On some of the scales, such as #47 or #64, you might play the teacher’s part with some or all of the students, especially the older ones, and then on the repeat, let him do it on his own while you play the easy scale with him. Make sure he can read it before you try this, or let him take the scale the first week, and then on the second week, he can take the harmony and you take the scale. It’s very satisfying for a young person to be able to sight read the teacher’s part. On the etudes at the end of the book (for young teens in book 4-6 who take hour lessons), read the full two pages; s/he will be reading 15 minutes a lesson, which includes the Reading Flash Cards, (now with intervals, signs and terms, and theory,) Advanced Reading Etudes, and Advanced Reading Rhythms, and of course, the Sight Reading for Strings. And here’s one of the best secrets to good sight reading… when you finish the book, (after about three years), have the student start it over, but this time he reads the teacher’s part, and you play the pupil’s, doing at least a page or two each week. The kids love it, and they become amazing sight readers. An advanced student who does this will be able to sight read about anything put on the stand in orchestra, training these students to be of service in leading their sections because they are such excellent readers. When presented with auditions which require sight reading, they will be confident and eager for the challenge. Advanced viola, cello, and even bass readers can read the Sight Reading for Strings for VIOLIN after they finish their alto and tenor clef SRS books. They will become SPLENDID readers in treble clef.
9. For further information about sight reading with this method, see I LOVE To Read Music!, Handbook for Teachers and Parents, by Denise Willey and Cathy Wilson, and accompanying DVD, with demo students.