Music Tip #13    From Carol Worthey

What Is The Missing Link in Learning to Read Music?

Carol Worthey

Knowing the actual sounds of the intervals. [See Music Tip #12 The Real Definition of "Interval"] Without training the ear and mind to recognize and name the different building blocks of melody, the student will have a missing fundamental and often will stumble, not knowing why. How can one learn to read music without really understanding what one is reading about?

Suppose you were taught to read words before you had ever HEARD a word spoken. Suppose you were taught to read words but no one ever taught you HOW to write the words down. No, when it comes to learning to read (words), you have already become familiar with the sounds of the letters, and you are taught to WRITE down words as well as read them.

Unfortunately, artificially force-feeding the music student with "This is what the Treble Clef looks like. Don't ask questions, just repeat after me!" leaves someone lacking the real thing that a symbol such as the Treble Clef is representing. But sadly this is the way most music teachers teach music notation, divorced from the real, audible perception of sound and divorced from the practicing of writing-down skills.

Let's teach our very young children to recognize a half-step and a whole step, a minor third and a major third the way we teach them to see and call out the names of "red", "yellow", "blue" and "green." Toddlers well taught can learn intervals as easily as they learn colors. In fact, there are less variables in learning to read music than in learning to read [words]; in music there are eight different letters used, while there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. Without knowing the basics of music, children grow up without really understanding HOW music is a language. We are raising musical illiterates without training their ears to hear and know what they're hearing.

Of course, after teaching someone to recognize the intervals which make up the horizontal (melodic) content of music, that student is better prepared to understand chords and the teacher can proceed to train recognition of the vertical (harmonic) elements of music.

But what is omitted from the way most teachers teach Harmony? They do not teach the FUNCTIONS of the various chords, how this chord or that chord functions to tell a story, to create tension or release, to create drama and mood or suspense.

Why do music teachers neglect these subjects? Most of them weren't taught them or weren't taught them well, so the teachers themselves do not understand.

Next: Who Is Easier to Teach, The Beginner or The Advanced Student?