Need urgent help for my daughter!

February 9, 2018, 2:07 AM · Hello everyone!
My daughter (just celebrated her 12th birthday)have been playing the violin for around 5 or 6 years (can't really remember when she started) now.
Her teacher said that she's very talented (practice for two hours every day) for only playing for 5 or 6 years (playing Mozart rondo in c major and Bach sonata 1) the problem is that she thinks she's terrible at sight-reading and rhythm. Since I absolutely don't know anything about music I can't help. We want her to audition for a orchestra but sight-reading is a part of the audition. I also noticed her violin teacher tells her a lot that she's rushing. She freaked out yesterday telling me that she can't count in her head or out loud. Not even the basic rhythms, she told me that she would count the rhythm instead of the beats . As a mother I want to help her as much as possible but I feel desperate because I don't know anything about music.
Thank you so much for reading.

Replies (31)

February 9, 2018, 2:16 AM · Her teacher needs to go over reading with her, and assign her relevant reading material.
Edited: February 9, 2018, 3:13 AM · Does she take music theory classes? She should have been taking those for some years now, are there any available where you live? I think there are available music theory classes also in the web., other people know better.

Do you have a metronome? She is old enough to practise with metronome, almost everyone needs metronome practise, that is an easy way to internalise beats.

And one learns to sight read by sight reading, there is no other way. Start with what is easy for her to read at the moment and then do it every day. Lots of books for it, would help to get good recommendations if you could say what level of music she can sight read at the moment. It is probably a lot easier music than she is playing, but thats the level to start.

With my daughter we practise sight reading and theory about 25 % of the total practise time though she takes suzuki classes. She is way younger but that gives you some idea how important music theory and sight reading are, at least to some people. Theory and sight reading is not something children start to do by themselves, they need someone to guide them to it. Be it a teacher or a parent.

One word though, probably the situation is not as bad as she thinks and probably she can count. And sight reading is learnable as she probably really wants to, so no reason to fret :)

Edited: February 9, 2018, 5:10 AM · My advice is that she need to practice with the metronome and various rhythm patterns all the time, even when she is practicing scales and bowing exercises. It will help her develop a natural pulse in her. This is very important not just for basic musicianship, but it is essential prior to developing good sight reading skills.

Rushing and getting ahead of the pulse happens with 85% of the musicians in the world. Having talent is good, but it is a waste if she rushes all the time. It will keep her from becoming a good musician.

February 9, 2018, 5:13 AM · Hi Maria,
Firstly, thank you for your answer!
No, she never took music theory classes and her old teacher didn't teach her any theory at all.
She uses metronome but she said that it doesn't help that much. How do your daughter practice sight reading and theory? I don't know if she really can't count at all but she told that she was horrible horrible at counting in her head when she's playing.
Thank you again :)
Mary
February 9, 2018, 5:14 AM · Thank you Y Cheng!
February 9, 2018, 5:38 AM · Mary, Im not good in answering spesifically as Im a pianist and my daughter is young, but we used ” I can read music” books they are very good and you dont need to be a musician to use them as a parent. Dont know if they are too easy for her though, Im sure people will tell you here, what comes next after those books as I just write lines for my daughter to read and dont use books at the moment.

Music theory has to be age appropiate, but basically it starts with reading and listening to notes, different rythm structure and hearing octaves.

When I did my training when young I started theory classes when age 8 for an hour each week with exams and such in a sort of conservatory type establishment. If your daughter has talent she needs formal music theory at this age, ask other parents around there, google conservatories, you can even email a teacher in the nearest conservatory and ask and maybe you could write from where you are and some people might know what is available there.

And of course ask her teacher, but there are so many teachers out there, one cannot really rely only on the information of one teacher, have to do some backround checking too. (Teachers here probably hate me for saying it, but that is how it is, not every teacher is a good one amd if you know nothing of music you probably cannot tell.)

Edited: February 9, 2018, 6:03 AM · Not sure if there are any available in your area, but Dalcroze eurhythmics classes might be worth considering -- among other good things (like ear training, solfege, improv), they would include the study of rhythm. These classes can be great fun and very useful -- and are often offered for young children, older children, and even adults.
February 9, 2018, 6:06 AM · Maria,
Thank you so much! I will try to find a music theory class for her!

February 9, 2018, 6:06 AM · Sean,
Thank you so much !
February 9, 2018, 7:31 AM · seconding the recommendation for dalcroze eurhythmics - the classes focus on different ways of feeling, counting, and internalizing rhythms.
I think in the US music theory tends to be taught less to kids than in other areas - unlike Maria's experience, I didn't have any formal theory training until summer programs in my mid-teens.
February 9, 2018, 7:40 AM · Irene, I dont live in the USA, but in Europe, which is the explanation.

In my country we have many conservatorylike music schools, which follow an approved curriculum which includes music theory and boy we are lucky, maybe that is the explanation, why there comes many conductors besides other musicians from my country though we are small. Well rounded musical curriculum, partly state funded, so its cheaper and so within reach of many. In the USA it sounds like its all a matter of money and luck to get a good musical education for the children :(

February 9, 2018, 11:26 AM · In the U.S. it's common for piano teachers to teach theory in the lessons but very rare for anyone else to do so. I don't think a working knowledge of theory is a prerequisite to learning to sight-read or improve one's rhythm. Learning to play with a metronome is more helpful. Orchestral playing will help note reading like nothing else in my opinion. I also sometimes sightread duets with my students at the end of a lesson.

For what it's worth, I frequently listen to youth orchestra auditions that include a scale, a solo, prepared excerpts, and sightreading. It is vanishingly rare--like maybe one or two kids out of every thirty--to hear someone who is a competent sightreader. You might want to double check that your daughter isn't putting more emphasis (and anxiety) on the sightreading part of the audition than it warrants.

Edited: February 9, 2018, 2:38 PM · In order to count well, she needs to understand what each figure in a time signature means and understand note values. Does she understand these concepts?
Edited: February 9, 2018, 1:49 PM · Please be careful with the "theory" recommendations given here, as "theory" is often confused for a lot of drab book-learning. What your daughter needs is to practice the ~act~ of sight-reading. But before that, she needs to know the very, very basics. "Theory" IS important, but in your daughter's case, it's not going to be the "theory" like knowing all the relative minor keys or knowing what "diminished" means, but rather the "theory" involved in knowing how to clap quarter notes and eighth notes, how to quickly recognize which finger needs to go where, etc... Really basic stuff. I know of many teachers that drown their students in high-level theory that has no relevance to their situation. Keep everything basic, until it's time for it to NOT be basic anymore.

I recommend the following, starting from a very basic level (this is important, because it sounds like she plays at a reasonably high level, so there might be the expectation that she should read at a similar level... DON'T make this assumption!!):

Take some simple, unfamiliar music (I like "string builder" by Samuel Applebaum), and make sure she can do the following (if she can't do it on the 1st or 2nd try, then the music is too hard for this application... PERIOD:

1) Clap the notes (for example, 1/4 1/4 1/8 1/8 1/4 would be clap, clap, clapclap clap,). Make sure the claps are properly distributed! The 1/8th claps should only be twice as fast as the 1/4 claps.

2) Bow the notes on an open string (with same rhythm as clapping).

3) Bow the notes, still on open strings, but with relevant string changes, rather than just on the same open string.

4) Now, play the part using pizzicato.

5) Finally, connect the left and right hand duties and play the part in full.

By following these 5 steps, it will build the mental script necessary to sight-read. The steps will slowly get combined over time without us trying to combine them.


If following these 5 steps is too basic for her (you will know this because there will be zero struggle), then try to have her read through the entire book #1 of "string builder" while counting "1, 2, 3, 4" through each exercise.

Then book #2. If she gets through them very slowly, then her basic sight reading skills indeed need to be developed (and these are the best way to do that, in my opinion). If she gets through them quickly, it's possible that her sight-reading isn't as bad as she seems to think it is.


For higher-level sight-reading practice, Mary's suggestion of playing with others is an excellent one. Having the teacher sight read duets with her at the end of lessons (preferably with increasing difficulty over time) would be a fantastic supplement, and it's something apparently both Mary and I do (assuming that the student understands enough of the basics, such as 4/4 vs 3/4 vs 2/4 time, some of the basic keys and the corresponding scales.... C Major, G major, D major, A major, and then A Minor, D Minor, G Minor, C Minor)...

Long story short, her teacher really just needs to get involved with the process. If her teacher doesn't know how to teach proper sight-reading from the ground up (many don't), then please purchase "String Builder" #1 #2 and #3 and give it to the teacher to analyze. I have found it's the most effective way of quickly learning sight-reading, but a teacher still needs to be involved with learning it properly.

Lastly, if you're trying to rush the process of becoming comfortable with sight-reading just in time for an audition, I'd warn you that it takes quite some time to become comfortable with it, so trying to "cram" this process will be useless. Give it time, and also realize that sight-reading is only PART of an audition. They look at many other factors.


EDIT: also have her read through Doflein #1 once she's gone through "string builder" #1 and #2. String builder #3 isn't as useful for sight reading as the first two.

Edited: February 9, 2018, 2:52 PM · As others have said here, learning to sight read can take a long time. How long differs for different people. But I would say it tends to take some years to become fairly comfortable with sight reading almost whatever is put on the music stand in front of you at a credible tempo. I have know amateur violinists who are still pretty rotten at it after decades of orchestra playing and I have seen teenagers who are absolute whizzes at sight reading. It is not the kind of learning that adults who are familiar with learning using their rational minds find familiar or even comfortable - except perhaps for language learning, musicians and other artists (are they rational?) and athletes.

I was thrown into a sight-reading situation a few months before my 10th birthday. I had just auditioned to have violin lessons and theory class every Saturday at New York City's Manhattan School of Music. After the audition and first lesson the teacher said I should join the student orchestra that would start first rehearsal of the Autumn semester after lunch. It was a horrible experience for me. I looked at the music that seemed playable - and then the conductor started us off and for me it was like I was the tortoise in Aesop's fable of the "Tortoise and the Hare." It wasn't until a full half-century later that I rallied what had happened. The orchestra was playing the program it had played in concert the previous Spring. But that didn't help me; I cried much the way home with my mother on the subway. I did not play in an orchestra again for 4 years. But I did take lessons and theory classes at the MSM for 2 years. Then I quit playing for a year, but resumed and practiced like a demon for a year until I entered high school and joined the orchestra just before my 13th birthday. I read all the music I could get my hands on. Entering my 2nd year of high school a year later I auditioned for concertmaster and got that chair and held it for the next 3 years.
Sight reading all kinds of famous "salon" solos and working my way into concertos like Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bach sonatas& Partitas (not that I ever played any of them at performance level) readied me for feeling pretty confident as a sight reader.

On the other hand - I never (no NEVER) actually ever memorized anything - just too busy playing too many different things..

February 9, 2018, 2:17 PM · I think you can relax. If she has a good relationship with her teacher, ask her to talk to her teacher about it, and trust the teacher to take care of it. It sounds like you have a pre-teen on your hands.
February 9, 2018, 3:42 PM · "In the U.S. it's common for piano teachers to teach theory in the lessons but very rare for anyone else to do so. "

Exactly what I was writing this morning just before my browser crashed. Yes, unfortunately, too many violin teachers cannot or will not teach basic concepts such as intervals and keys. And by the time they need it, it's too late...

On the subject of rushing: a serious student of 12 should be using a metronome and getting comfortable with it on a daily basis. Metronome use is like flossing--neither the teacher (nor the dentist) can come to the home and make someone do it daily. We just report the results.

I have a feeling Mary's daughter is suddenly freaking out due to an impending audition. She is likely to be no worse at sight-reading than most of the other auditioners. I'm not sure how she can self-evaluate anyway.

Some have recommended she take a class. That's hard to find for a 12-year-old in many locales. Better that the private teacher teacher her the theory she needs to know. It can take time to become comfortable with skills like immediate recognition of key signatures and intervals, and I'd guess that if it were not drilled weekly by the teacher it will be forgotten soon after the class.

If the private teacher is not teaching basic theory there is a problem.

Edited: February 9, 2018, 3:54 PM · Mary, et al.,

I'm going to guess at the root-cause of the problem. A lot of young musicians develop an almost uncanny ability to hear, memorize and replicate music without actually reading the printed page. Often parents and even teachers never notice what is really going on. That is until they get assigned a new piece that has to be read (no You-Tube videos, etcetera) or an audition that requires actual reading of music you have never heard. Panic ensues.

The bigger problem is that these students know that they cannot read music and are sufficiently advanced so that they are embarrassed to admit that they cannot read printed music. Unless she has some actual general reading difficulty she can learn. It just means a temporary setback in development.

February 9, 2018, 5:15 PM · In support for expanding the knowledge of theory...many times instrumental music is taught from a "this is an C and this is an E and you play it with this finger" etc. so there is less emphasis placed on the fact it is a third, and this is what it looks like on the printed page. Sight reading depends not only on recognizing and recreating rhythms but also on the physical relationship of the dots on the page and where the whole steps and half steps lie in the key of the music. If one has to analyse the note name, finger, play and go to the next note it would be like translating your native language to a foreign language and back in a conversation. Woefully slow.
Edited: February 9, 2018, 7:22 PM · "We want her to audition for a orchestra..."
My question is: what does your daughter want?
February 9, 2018, 8:12 PM · ...I don't let my kids make every decision based on what they want.
Edited: February 10, 2018, 3:27 AM · If 12 old kids would only do what they want they would probably prefer texting and instragram to a vast majority of things they do lol.

Orchestra goes together with becoming a better classical violinist as does studying theory (however that is done,be it the teacher teaching or a group class) and sightreading and listening to classical musicians. It is more gratifying for a child to be taught in every aspect of the violin education not just playing by the ear. Then they are able to fully use that amount of skillful playing that they have the ability to reach.

Edit. It is of course ok, if someone wants to play only filmtunes and such, but that is a totally different case. It is completely fine to play violin only as a part time hobby and not do the other parts of the package, but that is not tha case of the ops daughter :)

February 10, 2018, 5:22 AM · I agree that orchestral playing is great for sight-reading.

So are studies. There are probably a dozen study-books that your daughter will never go through, even though they're at the right level. Get some of those and start reading through a study a day. Look for study books by Chas. Levenson. Nobody uses them any more but they're cheap and chock-full of sight-reading opportunities.

February 10, 2018, 9:22 AM · Thank you so much everyone! Much appreciated!
February 10, 2018, 9:25 AM · Mary wants to play in the orchestra :)
February 10, 2018, 9:27 AM · Yes she can read music and understand the rhythms/ time signatures :)
February 10, 2018, 2:46 PM · "I'm going to guess at the root-cause of the problem..."

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I'm going to guess another type of problem in this case:
Auditionitis. It's a common condition whereby the candidate, in the weeks leading up to an audition, suddenly begins to believe themselves incapable of playing one note in tune, thinks that they will fall apart on the first note. I wonder in this case if Mary's daughter has auditionitis instead of any real reading deficit.

February 10, 2018, 4:33 PM · More generally it is known as a "crisis of confidence."
February 10, 2018, 8:20 PM · Hi Mary,

Playing level being ahead of sight-reading level is quite common, especially in young players, and those that practice much. Some of this will come with age. The counting issue you can deal with proactively, however. Here are three suggestions, which you can stagger in (maybe don't start it all at the same time.

1) Download ReadRhythm app and have her practice 5 min. a day. This is a great app that only deals with rhythm drills and they it has tons of levels, is step wise, has all the meters etc. My younger son learned rhythm this way after playing completely by ear Suzuki piano.

2) When learning a new piece, ask your daughter (or ask her teacher to assign this) to learn the rhythm first by counting, tapping, analyzing (slash marks) before she ever gets to play a note. No listening to the piece, no learning by ear and no playing until the rhythm is dealt with. This is can be very difficult on the the player (I have some college students who have to go through this!), but worth it, as it puts a big dent in things.

3) Every so often, have a "reading party" for your daughter and some friends, where they sight-read together in duos, trios, or quartets. It's really fun and there is no better way to learn to count than having the motivation to do so - i.e. understanding that essentially it allows you to play with other people.

Lastly, a good dose of patience - it will come, one way or another but sight-reading has to be practiced a little bit all the time to get better at it. :) Orchestra participation is also really helpful. Good luck!

February 11, 2018, 3:28 AM · Thank you so much everyone!
February 15, 2018, 9:16 AM · I just glanced through the thread so probably repeating.

Start with feeling the pulse. Whatever music she is listening to she taps the pulse, walks the pulse, counts the pulse out loud or just works at feeling the pulse and finding the beat.

If we don't have a good pulse we will not have good rhythm.

Then have her go back to easy pieces -Twinkles from Suzuki book 1 are great. Tap the pulse while singing the piece. Count out loud while playing the piece.

the internal pulse has to be developed. It can take a young child a year of practice before being able to keep the pulse while also having rhythm going on. An older child will be able to do this much more quickly.

As far as metronome, start by practicing playing quarter notes with the metronome at different tempos (quarter note getting one beat.) Then play eighth notes. Then mix up quarter and eighth notes. Then add 16th notes. Mix them up. Add in half notes. etc.

Then use those easy pieces to play with the metronome so she can figure out how to focus on putting it together as far as playing, hearing metronome, reading music.

String rhythms is a good book that also covers using words to represent the rhythms (apple for two eighth notes for example). Winning rhythms is another great rhythm book.

Sightreading practice is just doing it. Just get some books with collections in them and read. ABRSM (I think that is the right abbreviation - a system used a lot in Canada. Sheet music plus carries them.) Anyway they have some short books with graded sightreading examples. they also have graded repertoire books which can be used for sight reading.

Keep sight reading below her playing level. Nothing wrong with starting with a beginning orchestra book for reading either. I personally do not use etude books for sight reading because too often they do not have much in the way of rhythm practice.

William Starr has a good reading series also.

Often students who have good abilities with hearing and playing are resistant to reading until they figure out for themselves why they need to read. It is harder for them to read than it is for them to play so naturally take the easier road.

A few minutes a day consistently makes a big difference.


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