Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes?

Posted by: James Weinberg

Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/21/14 10:19 AM

I have a high school girl who memorized Pi to 190 places (you know, 3.14 etc.) but has terrible note recognition skills. She's now in 3A after a tedious climb through the Accelerated books. I have a bright 2nd grader whose mom says she's at the top of her class but can't remember the guide notes from one week to the next! Is this just a visual learning impairment--an inability to process abstract symbols? They both are interested in music and have studied with me for several years, so I'm perplexed. I'm thinking of trying the Faber flashcards for the 7 year old. Has anyone used them with success? The 10th grader, hmm, I just don't know. confused
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/21/14 01:57 PM

I have this same scenario with many students - all different ages. I don't believe it has anything to do with learning disabilities or with the materials we're giving them. I have used flashcards for many students, it works somewhat, but for many it does nothing at all. I think is has to do with focus. These students are simply not focused on learning their piano lesson each week. They are probably over-scheduled with activities and parents probably barely check their assignment, if ever. It's as though they believe they can come for a single lesson each week and learn piano by osmosis. I try to let them know that they should be coming back each week with their weekly assignment completed, practiced, and ready to play. They should be ready to move on to the next assignment. But many students spend 1-3 weeks on a simple concept piece, and even then may not have it accomplished. In reality, if the student does not go home with the intention of reviewing, practicing, thinking, listening, or if their home situation is such that they cannot spend the time on their lessons, they will most likely not progress well. JMHO from years of teaching such students.

Having said that much, I will state that I am currently on a mission to get kids to know their notes by memory. They have all memorized the treble clef line notes, they are currently working on bass clef line notes. They all did in in one-two weeks. Now, getting them to apply that knowledge to the notes in assigned pieces is the next challenge. It's just another way to reinforce note-reading. Having a studio-wide focus shakes things up a bit and motivates most of the students. The trick is to apply it well and make it stick. Not easy.
Posted by: SharonAdelle

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/21/14 03:34 PM

I have kids with the same problems of learning note names and for some I think it's because it all came so easy to them in the beginning. They are bright and the concepts were easy to catch on to so they didn't have to put any effort into learning. They also tend to have a good ear so they kind of memorize their pieces instead of really learning to read the notes.

I equate it to the way I learned more advanced math when I was young. I took up to Calculus in high school, but really had no clue to what I was exactly doing. I knew with a formula you did this, or that....but I had no idea why or what it meant. I was going through the motions, but not thinking.

I use the games on musiclearningcommunity as much as I can for these kids. It's basically like flashcards, but they don't feel like it is and with the many different games they don't feel like they are drilling the same thing over and over again. I've also used the notespeller books from the Fabers. It took me a while to realize that especially with young ones I do need to make sure they are really seeing if the not is on a line or space and WHICH line or space. I also use the Music Ace computer game and sometimes go back to the games to see if they can beat their score to reinforce note names.
Posted by: John

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/21/14 04:09 PM

My own preference is to work on spatial orientation at the keyboard and not worry about naming the notes in the beginning; based on my belief that "who cares if they know the name" if their finger reaches up and plays the note in the wrong octave. I also know that seeing a note and finding the exact location on the piano can be done without knowing the name.

Here's my "basic" format, adapted for each student as needed:

Introduce Grand Staff, turn it sideways and use a worksheet that has the staff and a piano keyboard aligned together.....I think I got these from Adrienne McKinney's site. They are EXTREMELY useful!

I teach the 5 C landmarks, and for quite a while this is literally the ONLY note name I refer to, often relating all other notes to their distance from a C.

Then, and this is paramount, we work diligently on finding these 5 C's by touch ONLY. Here is where I believe true note-reading skills get a solid foundation, since we're getting oriented to the ENTIRE Grand Staff, and our fingers see these 5 notes and get a tactile sense of what they feel like on the keyboard (left of 2 black keys). Of course you need to work on touch training from the FIRST lesson; if it's a game you will see smiles and an eagerness to improve.

I refer to Middle C as "Belly Button Area", both Treble and Bass C as "Shoulder Area" (roughly), and the High and Low C's as "Outer Space", but ideally get the student to name the 3 places with their own language.

With a flashcard progress chart, you can introduce the 5 C's, then introduce D and B (steps), then A and E (skips), and then introduce F and G later.

In my experience, if you make the chart fun and have some simple incentives, children REALLY respond to this even though their current pieces may not contain some of these notes, but ideally you introduce some short sightplaying flashes for reinforcement.

Just like the adage, "telling is not teaching", I think "naming is not finding" is also true!
Posted by: Christi

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/22/14 11:37 PM

Thank you to all of you who said you have problems the same as me. I feel like I'm not teaching right when none of these kids can answer my simple questions. But, hearing you have the same problems, I'm wondering if the kids process information different nowadays because of the ipads, ipods, and iphones. They just don't want to have to think. I like the idea of memorizing the notes as one teacher suggested. I think I'll try that and give them a star on a chart when they can do it. I also have them use my Ipad for the app "Music Notes" while they are waiting for a sibling and these kids still are not quick with note reading especially in the right octave.
Posted by: Louise Mann

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/23/14 11:22 AM

This is one of the reasons I looked into Music Mind Games and I think the alphabet games and staff games (esp learning the 5 Cs) have been helpful. But another tool has been extraordinarily helpful lately -- the iPad/smart phone app, Flashnote Derby! Whenever I see that look of puzzlement coming into their faces about note names or where they are on the keyboard, we do a couple of quick games of Flashnote Derby using those notes they are working on. It seems to help their understanding no end!
Posted by: Lilla

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/23/14 11:47 AM

Christi, the idea to have all the kids memorize line notes came from Bernard on Pianostreet. If you are not familiar with Bernard, check it out. He no longer posts, but all his posts archived. He has many step by step suggestions, including a through lesson plan (lesson 1, lesson 2, etc.) Here's an example: http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=2260.msg90216#msg90216
Posted by: SharonAdelle

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/24/14 11:45 AM

John, I've used your game of finding all the C's on the keyboard. Belly button, shoulder, reach out with their eyes closed. I don't do it as often as I should, but the kids enjoy that challenge and It's helpful for those that mix up the octaves.

It's kind of amazing that the longer I have been teaching, the more I realize that those beginning concepts need so much reinforcement. I think in the way that kids learn through play and start learning by playing with blocks, scribbling, all those toddler play time things, but they don't get "doodle" time on keyboards very much. If they did, then they would get that spatial awareness of the keyboard much earlier. so many kids are almost not allowed to touch a piano as a toddler for fear they will "break" it or something. They need to experiment with sounds. I try to tell parents that even doodle time at the piano is worthy

It's wonderful to pull ideas from this board! Thank you smile
Posted by: John

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/24/14 01:38 PM

Good to know, Sharon! I've seen students benefit from having the Grand Staff introduced gradually alongside their rote and pre-reading pieces. Plus they LOVE any activity if it's a fun game! I also draw in 1 or 2 lines to some pre-reading pieces that only use DO-RE-MI, so they start to see that basic line-space-line stepping pattern.

I've yet to find the PDF online that has the grand staff clefs already printed, but this PDF at Adrienne's site has the staff lines WITHOUT clefs and the sideways keyboard that lines up, so students may draw the clefs themselves. This worksheet is INCREDIBLY helpful and may be used over and over to drill landmarks:

Go HERE and look for "KeyboardStaff2_revised".
Posted by: Christi

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/26/14 01:57 PM

Thank you for the Piano Street link. It was very helpful. I appreciate your taking the time to list it for me.
Posted by: CJKitty

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 02/28/14 04:07 PM

Hi Everyone!

These posts have been helpful to me. I also have students that can't seem to remember notes. Just yesterday I had a student who seemed to be doing ok, till yesterday's lesson, at which time she acted as though she'd never seen the notes before! After talking with the parents, I discovered she is not practicing. This seems to be an ongoing problem with other students too. They want to come for lessons but don't put any time into it during the rest of the week. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: bmbutler

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 03/03/14 10:41 AM

Have also had that happened. It usually all comes down to a child not practicing regularly. I usually lay it out bluntly to the parents that this is a team effort and if they aren't going to get involved, we have reached an impasse.
Posted by: SillyString

Re: Why Can't Smart Kids Remember Notes? - 05/29/14 02:50 PM

TCW Resources has a game called The Note Nabber. I allow beginners to use a chart showing the names of just the landmark notes. You get to review note names each week and have fun with it! It's one of the most popular games in my teaching bag.