Piano safari: remedy for sight reading difficulties

Happy Chinese New Year! In Chinese society we use an animal to represent each year. This year is the year of dog. And I take this opportunity to introduce you a piano method system that also use animals as concepts: piano safari.
Piano safari is an innovative and progressive piano method system. It consists of 3 levels covering from total beginner to around abrsm grade 3. I am impressed by their emphasis of the importance of “sound before symbol” pedagogy concept. This is reflected by the extensive use of pattern pieces since lesson one. Pattern pieces are those music with lots of repeated patterns and are learnt by rote. They are challenging yet much more musically mature. My students like them very much because pieces in low grades especial in pre-grade are too childish and dull. Pattern pieces help students to be focus on music itself, develop keyboard geography sense, hearing sense, musical sense, memory skill, and as a result sight reading skill indirectly and surprisingly.

Piano safari also includes pre-staff notation like other popular piano methods such as Alfred piano methods. It introduces black-keys only and white-keys only pieces progressively. And for 5-line staff reading, they use intervallic reading approach around treble G and bass F notes. Specific note identification is left in level 2. Moreover sight reading cards sets are available for each level.

Another impressing feature of piano safari is that they use animals to symbolize piano techniques, named animal techniques. I also use pattern pieces to cope with technical difficulties such as hand shape and hands together issue.  It is a big topic so let me discuss it in due course.

I start using piano safari since last summer. At first I heard this system in Facebook piano pedagogy discussion groups. Later I attended a piano pedagogy seminar last summer. The speaker just asked us if we had heard this method. I teach in Hong Kong but it is pity that so far this method is not available here. So I order books on their official webpage directly.

Piano safari method system is somehow unconventional when it compares with mainstream score reading-centered approach. I feel satisfied with this innovative method system. I teach in music centre and need to come across with transfer students frequently. Some are indeed sight reading dyslexia but most of them simply because they are used to play by ear. In low grade as the music is simple this kind of piano learning is fine. However, I find students under this kind of piano learning usually have very chaotic and weird sight reading mindset. So gradually they will struggle with learning new pieces from the score when the pieces get more complex. And some even do not care if they have played correct notes from the score. By this way students lose their patience and interest in piano playing very easily. I use this method system mainly as remedy for transfer students with sight reading difficulties so as to reset a more systematic sight reading mindset and hope they can regain their music interest.

Demonstration videos, teaching guides and more information can be found on piano safari official webpage https://pianosafari.com/

Copyright © 2018 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved

 

Advertisements

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 ......"

Rules:

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

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