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WHAT has to happen for my child to be successful READING MUSIC?

The following is from Jill Hannagan, author of Music Makers At the Keyboard.

Lay the groundwork first:  Most parents want to know when their child is going to learn to read music.  Reading is a worthwhile goal, but it is too often at the forefront of music education at a time when the emphasis should be on nurturing a child’s musical foundation.  Having your child enrolled in Musikgarten classes is a wonderful way to ensure your child’s musical aptitude is being fostered, since that is best done through singing and movement activities.  All of the pattern work we have up to this point in Musikgarten classes is laying the groundwork for being able to read and understand musical notation.  As I’ve written in previous emails: 

“I want to take a few moments to remind you where I am going with these patterns in later Musikgarten classes.  You will notice that there are 4 basic sets of patterns that I use in all of this year’s classes.  That is because these 16+ patterns form the basic building blocks of the music language; in fact, you might think of these as the keys that your child will use to unlock the code of traditional music notation.  As soon as your child is able to echo the rhythms in the context of the steady beat, or echo the tonal patterns in tune, they will learn special language for these patterns.  This will be done for the children who are ready, while those who are not will continue to answer me on a neutral syllable (“ba” or “bum”).  Next, we will begin to aurally find these patterns in the songs we sing.  The following year in Music Makers: At Home in the World they will see these patterns in notation; and in the next year in Music Makers: Around the World, they find these patterns in written music.  In Music Makers: At the Keyboard it all comes together for them, as  they are able to look at the music in the book and sing the songs represented by the notation.  Simply stated, they are able to read music with comprehension!”


Visual After Aural and Vocal:  This means that this year we will be seeing for the first time some of the familiar patterns we have been echoing.  We will practice writing them and then composing with them, using either the cards in the folders or our own drawing of the patterns.  We may experiment with playing the patterns on an instrument while “reading” the pattern from the card or drawing – in other words, having the printed version of an already-familiar-pattern in the environment as we play the patterns.  Just as we start with words that are already familiar to us when learning to read, we must start with patterns of notes that are already familiar to us when we learn to read music.


Graphic Notation:  Graphic Notation, or pictures of sounds (like the blue cards from Home Place), is an ideal way for children to represent sound in order to be able to recreate it at a later time.  Since the children are not ready to work with all of the intricacies of traditional music notation, these “pictures of sound” are ideal.  It allows children to write music before they are able to correctly notate it, much the way young children are encouraged to write stories using inventive spelling.


By using simple drawings, your children are able to notate duration – is it a long or short sound; pitch and contour – it is a high or low sound and in what direction does it move; and volume – a narrow line depicting soft sounds and a bold line depicting louder sounds.

The blue Graphic Notation Cards that are part of the home materials are great examples of pictures that represent all of those musical elements, and they also are a great introduction to reading music.  By actualizing the sounds represented on the blue Graphic Notation Cards, your children are turning symbols on the page into sound, which is exactly what reading music is all about!

Addendum by Nan Croney:  

In a Nutshell:  It is of utmost importance that sufficient AURAL, ORAL and MOVEMENT foundation has been laid BEFORE jumping to WRITING/READING, or seeing patterns in notation.  

When this foundation has been laid, it will lead to True Music Literacy, which is being able to see what is heard, and hear what is seen.  

Would a literate person have to type a sentence into a computer and then hit a button to have the computer "speak" the phrase before they could know what it said or give it meaning?  Of course not!  So why would we think that a musician who must go to an instrument to play what is written in order to know what it sounds like, is musically literate?  This is NOT true literacy.  

This AURAL, VOCAL, and MOVEMENT foundation is what will enable true music literacy, and it is where we need to focus most of our energy.  

Sing, chant and move! If your children have this as their regular diet, they will be able to read, write, and create music with a deep connection and understanding, which will bring them to want to have music in their lives. 

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