Some thoughts on music notation

Last week in a piano lesson, I explained to one of my students that the direction of stem of music notes changes with their location in lines and space of music notation. She asked me why she should obey that rule. Aha, that’s a good question. When we learn the instrument, we must also learn how to read the score. We are asked to memorize pitch names, different type of note duration and other notation rules in 5-line staff music notation system. We just have to obey and memorize them hardly.

In these few years I come across with students with dyslexia. What we think simple tasks are actually difficult for them. Through teaching them piano I know more about the hidden design of music notation. For example, one of my student have spatial problem. She feels messy with right/left and up/down concepts. For example we read and play notes of the notation from left to right. And the pitches of piano gets higher also from left to right. When the notes go with piano the same direction, for example ascending scale, she can manage to play. But when the notes are presented not in the same direction as the piano, for example, a few ascending notes follows by descending notes,  she will get stuck. The situation even gets worse when both hands also need to play notes in different directions.

Hope this year I can spend more time to investigate more on this topic.

By the way, today is the first day of Chinese New Year. Wish you all stay healthy and happy in this rooster year 🙂 .

Copyright © 2017 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved








Sight reading resources: Note reading game

Sight reading is among the topics that make piano teachers feel head-ached. Sight reading skill is highly essential in music learning. But not all students are in-born sight readers. So we have the sight reading training from the very beginning.

In pre-grade, we are concentrated on note reading training. Pitch names of notes on the 5-line staff and different types of note durations are being taught. In traditional approach we use note spelling exercise (paper work) and flashcards in note reading training. But students get bored easily through this approach. So here I share the note reading game that use during the piano class. It is also fun to use this game to sense the musical contour and have some exercise during the piano lessons kinetically.

Step 1
Firstly introduce 5-line staff without clefs to students and tell them that notes are either in lines or space. Then write semibreves within each space and altogether we get four semibreves on the staff.

face pure

Ask students to freely assign four different body movement/percussion for these four semibreves in bottom-up approach, for example tapping on the floor for the lowerest semibreve, then clapping on the knee and clapping hands for the following two semibreves and clapping on shoulder for the toppest semibreve. This approach resembles the rationale of musical notation that notes are getting higher in pitch when they are “climbing” up the staff.

After I learnt from my students their own version of body movements we re-do these four different body movement/percussion together for the randomly assigned semibreves, for example:

note game pure

Students can feel “ups and downs” of musical contour physically.

Step 2

Tell students that pitches must come from notes on the staff with music clefs.  I prefer to introduce treble clef first and tell students that we often use F-A-C-E to facilitate memorizing pitches in treble clef.

treble face

This time we redo step 1 with speaking out corresponding pitch names simultaneously.

note game treble

Step 3

This step suits those who can identify pitches but tend to overlook accidentals as just black keys nearby. Further developed from step 2, ask students to do movements only involving right hand side for notes with sharps and left hand side for notes with flats, and remaining both hands for no accidentals.  This step also resembles another rationale of piano notation that sharp (#) means raising the pitch a semitone higher (moving towards the right) while flat (♭) means the pitch a semitone lower (moving towards the left ).


advanced note game treble


This game suits pre-grade to intermediate level students, and especially for extrovert kinesthetic learners. Hope you enjoy this game!

Copyright © 2015 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved