Helping music students become better readers

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

Benjamin Franklin

Don’t you find that your students are more successful at learning the music if they have looked at the score first before setting off?

If left to their own devices, some will jump straight in and be quite surprised when they’ve reached the end to discover there was actually an F sharp or B flat in the key signature! It’s perhaps like trying to reach a new unknown destination without using a map or Sat Nav. Just setting off and hoping for the best may not always be the best approach!

For more advanced students, your approach to analysing the score beforehand could be quite detailed. But how do you introduce this with your younger beginner students? It may be as simple as checking which fingers and notes to start on if a pianist, or looking for patterns in the music.

I have made a fun interactive activity called ‘Who Ate My Cake’ designed for this very purpose. Students learn the six pieces and search for clues to who committed the ‘crime’ and stole the King’s cake, in both the sheet music and the accompanying online game.

Before learning each piece, students look for things like patterns in the music or what a tempo word might mean. In the example embedded above, they find themselves in the attic of the castle and can see a message in a bottle. But without the special code hiding in the sheet music, it’s not possible to break the bottle with a sword and see the clue inside!

In a piece like ‘Secrets of the Suits of Armour’, students look for repeating patterns and colour in specific parts of the music which match. If they can work out the code, these guardians of the castle will reveal a secret clue hidden by the King.

Activities like this are not only lots of fun, but encourage students to look more carefully at the music and hopefully become better readers in the long run.

I started using ‘Who Ate My Cake’ for in person lessons just before lockdown but have also used it in my online teaching too, and it has been ideal for music lessons given via Zoom or Skype using the screenshare function. I can colour in and annotate the scores while my student does the same with their own crayons, and they can easily share the online game with me as they explore the castle and pick up clues.

It has been so popular, I have just released a version for treble instruments (such as flute, saxophone or clarinet) as well as the original editions for beginner piano and also early elementary piano.

Hope you have fun teaching or playing it!

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