My earliest memories of learning to read music in school involve faces and boys. I remember the chalk musical staff, the teacher writing the letters, and her voice explaining the classic "every good boy does fine" and "FACE". Unfortunately it never really seemed to stick with me - I just couldn't seem to make the connection between what I had memorized and practical application. I could write EGBDF/FACE, but put a single unlabled note on the lines and ask me which one it was, and I had to think really hard before I came up with an answer. And don't even get me started on my failure rate on ledger lines. If I sat and concentrated I could slowly puzzle it out, but not in a way that I could tell you what the melody was.
It was frustrating and I gravitated towards playing by ear instead. I would revert to ear play because it was just faster for me to learn a song than picking over the heiroglyphical notes and symbols on a staff. Now I figure rather than regretting that I can't read it, I'll do something about it and start fresh trying to learn it. Last night I had a major break through in progress, and to my great surprise it came from scrapping what I had previously been taught about reading music over the years.
I recently acquired a book "violin for dummies"...mostly because I've read several of their other books like "photoshop for dummies" "latin for dummies" and found them to be fairly well written and useful as a supplement. When I turned to the section on reading music, sure enough, there it was again. Every good boy does fine. FACE. I see not a lot had changed about learning to read music from when I was a little kid.
I spent a couple nights reading through this chapter, trying to memorize things, and feeling more confident with it. A few days went by and I tried to give myself a little quiz. 1 out of 5. That was my success rate. It was like I had learned nothing at all. I decided that there had to be something about this method that wasn't clicking with me, so I needed a new method.
I don't even know how I noticed it, but I found the issue with the EGBDF/FACE method...for me. Whenever I looked at the staff, my eye was always looking at the top line and trying to read down, rather than from the bottom up. For me, it felt like what an eastern language reader must go through trying to convert to western languages... you're used to reading right to left, but here we read left to right. So apparently a lot of musicians read from bottom to top, and I read from top to bottom. So I scrapped every boy and face, and decided to fill in with my own patterns. I started with the lines.... I added 2 ledger lines top and bottom just to be on the safe side (because that was another problem was if the note was outside the staff itself, I couldn't tell what the hell it was at all). It's not the prettiest but I ended up with:
Chef's Advice Fine Dining Beats Good Eating Chef's Advice
Then I switched to spaces:
Dogs Bite Guests Even Cats Attack Friends Dogs Bite Guests
That second one I had to rework a couple times. At first I tried "Every cat attracts fleas" which worked pretty well...except for the "every" part. I was too prone to think of the synonym "all" and end up with ACAF instead of ECAF.
I also noticed that when listed straight down, the repeating pattern of the letters was "bagfedc" which I broke out in my brain to be "bag fed c" - I used this one less, but it was there as a reminder.
So the next night I give myself the same quiz where I had previously scored 1 out of 5 correct. This time I scored 78 out of 78. What a difference! I even noticed that not only do I get them all right, I get them probably 5x faster than when I was trying to use the every boy/face method. It's amazing how such a subtle change has really turned around my progress on reading music. I don't think it means that the traditional boy/face method is "wrong"...just that not all teaching methods work for every person. I wish I had the wisdom in my youth to think about switching up my lesson methods, but alas that's something that comes only with age and experience to know that a majority of school is not to teach you things, it's to teach you how to learn. But maybe another struggling student or teacher might read this and maybe it will inspire them to find their own way of making a lesson make more sense. Every Good Beginner Deserves Fortune.
Previous entries: August 2009
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