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







Game for extending attention and memory span

This is an era of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Thanks the rise of smart phone, we like reading whatsapp messages and facebook, and even watching clips anytime and anywhere, such as crossing the road! And how about kids? Well, I find that they are more impulsive than us! I used to teach piano to early age students. But as I teach them over years, they gradually turn into teenagers. So I miss teaching early age students for certain years. Recently after the graduation of my old students, new generation of students starts. I start to teach several piano beginners. They are around 5-7 year old. They tend to get bored easily when doing some activities such as reading which are static and need higher degree of concentration. And the situation is worse than my old generation students.

Piano playing involve the integration of physical and mental coordination of our body. Some of my pre-grade students feel chaotic when they read two staves simultaneously.

Yesterday, during the piano lesson one of them teach me the following game:

The game starts with saying

"Yesterday I ate/drink ......"


This game involves at least two persons.

We take turns to say what we ate (or pretend to eat 🙂 ) yesterday, but each one have to repeat what all other say before adding your part.

There is a tricking rule that we need to involve quantifiers for what you’ve eaten. And the quantifier must start from one and grows cumulatively. Furthermore quantifiers serve as memory cues in this game.

The game runs like this :

Me: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice.

Student: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice and drink two bowls of soup.

Me: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice, drink two bowls of soup and three bars of chocolate.


My little student said the quantifier reaches 20 when they play this game at school. I tried two rounds of this funny game to this little student. There are lots of fun and laughs when we imaginatively include some strange stuff within the game. Then she played score with two staves more easily than before the game.


Of course this funny game is not for you to do confession on what you really ate yesterday. Instead , I hope this can serve as dessert during piano lesson and extend students’ attention and memory span poco a poco. Improved attention and memory span can in turn helps us memorizing music faster and more accurately. This game also can act as preparation to the melody and rhythm memorization in ABRSM aural tests (for example aural test 4A-8A, and rhythm recall test at the end of aural test in Grade 4-7) . And the game can even improve our sight reading indirectly.

Sight reading involves a process called “read ahead“. There is usually a time lag between we read the notes on the score and realize (play) the notes on the piano. The time lag depends on several factors such as how you are familiar with the piece, your musical understanding and playing technique, your familiarity with keyboard geography, and the difficulties of the piece you play. In order to compensate for the time lag we are trained to read a bit ahead while we play. So overall we play the piece continuously and on time while we are reading the score.

Extended attention and memory span somehow expand our cache capacity of the brain. So we can process more information simultaneously and more fluently. In turn, this facilitates “read ahead” process in sight reading.

Hope you enjoy the game!
Copyright © 2016 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved