I'm in second grade and I feel like I have cheated to get here...

November 22, 2011 at 04:05 PM · I have been playing the violin for a year, and made a huge mistake when I started to play... Before I would learn the song, I would go through the song and on the sheet music above the note, I would write what the notes were. As a result, I needed to have the notes written before I could even begin to play the song. After a year of this, my teacher (insert HUGE GASP here) made me get the eraser out... I find myself staring at the sheet music like a deer in the headlights, I literally freeze. The thought of trying to read the notes and play at the same time is beyond my grasp. ( I am 46 years old) Do any of you have any suggestions? I have bought some work books and during my breaks at work I am trying to work on it...thank you in advance!


Replies (35)

November 22, 2011 at 04:30 PM · Perhaps you could try erasing pencil marks as you learn the piece? Over time hopefully you would not need any marks

November 22, 2011 at 04:54 PM · Yikes on writing in the note letter for a year, and yikes on your teacher having you erase them all! That's a tough way to transition. If I were you, I'd set up a "weaning" plan. Write in 50% of the notes on a new piece (like, maybe the "a,c,e,g") and it will force your mind to start working on this new way of thinking for the other notes. And the following week, switch so it's the other 50%. Then get it down to 30% of the notes on a new piece of music, then 15%, etc. To completely switch to nothing must feel just AWFUL. I can empathize; I sometimes need to write in finger # and it's the same sort of thing, my brain responding better to that visual cue over the actual note, but you have to retrain your brain. It astounds me how challenging that can be. (I agree that age works against us; I'm 49 and my brain is not as limber as when I was 19 or 29.) Sometimes I have to sit there and mumble to myself "every good boy does fine" to figure out what the darned black mark on the score is. This, after 5+ years of studying. And I'm a lousy sight-reader. But there you have it. We all process notes/letters/numbers on a page differently. Good to practice all those ways. Hey, that's a thought too: to wean yourself from the letters, maybe you can jot down the occasional finger number instead? Again, just as a temporary thing, as your brain adjusts to the change. But the last thing you want is for your mind to go completely blank, or for you to feel totally discouraged.

Good luck!

November 22, 2011 at 04:57 PM · And "yes!" on what Curtis said as well. See if your teacher would agree to that. But push yourself to erase them as soon as possible.

November 22, 2011 at 05:07 PM · For those of us who didn't learn to read music as a child, it can seem like trying to learn a new language, which in a way of course it is. It can also be hard for people who learned early to relate to the difficulty, because it's become such second nature.

I'd suggest you try weaning yourself off of the crutch in stages. Take a piece that you've already learned, and look at it without the letter names -- no cheating with half-erased notes; if at all possible, use a clean, unmarked part. Read through it without playing, just reading the music, and _saying_ each note name out loud. For instance, with "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", look at the music and say "A, A, E, E, F#, F#, E..." and so on.

Next, take a piece you haven't learned yet, and look at it. Do the same thing -- figure out the note name, but instead of actually writing it down, say it out loud. When you come across a note you really have trouble with identifying, you can write that one down, but only that one.

All this is done without the violin in your hand. What you're aiming for is to separate the act of reading from the act of playing.

The next step is to _sing_ the notes as you're reading them, still with no violin. You can also do this with the aid of a tuner. Again, just separate the actions out -- identify the note first, then say it, then sing it. And what you're aiming for is to associate the visual cue of the black dot on the page with the sound of the note.

Make a game of it. See how many notes you can read in a row without having to write one down. My suspicion is that the act of reading the notes will come faster than you think, and that the only thing you really need is the confidence of knowing you _can_ read it. Think of it as a language immersion program for music.

I hope this helps!

November 22, 2011 at 05:29 PM · Try allowing yourself only one "cheat" per measure. You could also try a book like, I Can Read Music (Joanne Martin), that introduces notes slowly with tons of repetition.

November 22, 2011 at 05:35 PM · "Do you think I have cheated by writing the note in pencil above the note?"

Yes. And I'm going to go harder on you than the previous posters did. Ditch this habit -- like yesterday -- and start over the right way. If I were the teacher, I would never have allowed you to start this practice. I realize my situation is quite different from yours because, as a kid beginner, I came to violin after elementary piano lessons, already able to read music. But I never had this kind of crutch, even with elementary piano, and I survived just fine.

"Any suggestions on better sight reading skills?"

Good fingerboard knowledge is a must in sight-reading. Build it up step by step from the basics. Work with your teacher on this. Additionally, you'll have to reach the point where you can look at a line of music you've never seen before and hear the tune in your mind. You need to be able to hear the intervals mentally before you aim for the notes.

But you're going to have to think in terms of notes and intervals -- not penciled letters on a page. The debate over structured language immersion versus bilingual training makes my point. A German-born friend said: "You have to think in terms of English. As long as you keep thinking in German and translating everything into English, you're not going to reach full speed and fluency."

November 22, 2011 at 05:37 PM · Different peoples minds do work in different ways, so there is no way to really give you certain advice for the problem you describe. The best we can do is offer you alternatives.

Adult learning is a lot different than child learning. During our lives we have become used to learning things rationally and fast. Music learning is not like that.

But I think the first thing is to STOP writing in the note names and just work on studying the note names looking at some simple pieces or exercises that you are soon to play. OR try just relating the written notation to the location on the violin - that is the essence of wight reading, not playing the note names, but playing the written notation.

When I learned to play cello (starting at age 14) I had already been playing violin for 10 years. I simply related the cello notation in bass clef to positions on the strings (not so different than with violin, but not consistently similar, either). So with that approach, I was sight reading by afternoon. But for years (including lessons) I never really bothered with learning note names in the bass and tenor clefs. It wasn't until I tried to learn some simple sonatinas on the piano a decade ago that I familiarized myself with note names in those lower clefs. (When you are playing an instrument with 3 (actually 4) clefs - the cello - it is often helpful to know the names of some notes as the notation moves about among those clefs - it's also helpful if you are teaching lessons on the instrument to be able to name a note - but otherwise - not so much; things are usually going by too fast to worry about counting, playing the notes, and being in tune to worry about the names of things.

I was chatting with another violinist during the intermission of our community orchestra concert last night - she is 49 and has only been playing for 5 years - and this is her 2nd community orchestra - so there is hope.

I write in fingerings (more now at age 77 than I used to) more to tell me what position I want to play in - not to tell me what the note is. And I do write in some note names - when a note has more than 4 ledger lines under it - and especially when the music is a hand-written manuscript, where the note heights are irregular and meaningless.

My 2 cents!


November 22, 2011 at 05:47 PM · Interesting suggestions - if sometimes contradictory. I'd say, since each of us is different, try everything. Keep what works, ignore the rest.

And, if you're doing the "weaning" thing, try erasing just the letter for just one note throughout the piece. Then play the piece without having written that one letter, until you get used to that particular note by just seeing the symbol. Then do the same thing for a second note, and a third, etc.

Hope that helps.



November 22, 2011 at 06:34 PM · I want to thank each and everyone of you who responded!!! This site is amazing, and the part that makes me so happy is that you GET it...you understand what I have been feeling and it makes me feel so good, knowing that I am not the alone in how I felt in this situation.

I have quit cold turkey, and am slowly working on sections of a song and adding another part, then memorizing to help it flow. I have gone back to all the songs, and read the notes as I have played the song. I think it did help as I read the notes I wrote, I sang the notes in my head as I played to the tune. So when I play lighly row, I sing ECC, DBB, ABCDEEE, it will be a long process but I am determined to get realy good at my sight reading skills along with playing. Thank you again so much for all your helpful suggestions!!

Patty :)

November 22, 2011 at 06:48 PM · I kind of think there's no "cheating" when it comes to learning. Certainly, you should come up with a plan to address your music-reading, but any progress you have made toward holding the violin properly, holding the bow properly, playing in tune, using your lefthand fingers, doing the proper bowings, learning how something sounds, learning to play an entire piece, etc. etc. is indeed progress that you can count as progress. So some things came along a little faster than others. If you learned to speak French before you learned to read and spell in the language, it's the same kind of thing. You'll have to find another path for learning the written language, but you don't have to apologize for speaking it first.

November 22, 2011 at 06:51 PM · I would take Michael's suggestion and take it one step farther. PLAY the pieces you know well while continuing to follow the music with your eyes, saying the note names aloud. Scales are also a great thing to practice this way. You are probably in the habit of looking only at your pencil marks when you play rather than the actual notes, and it will take some time to make the transition. There are several sight-reading books available, which might help, as would finding a book of hymns or folk tunes to read, something where you know how the pieces should sound.

November 22, 2011 at 07:36 PM · Another suggestion would be to get an entirely different book, one that is way easier than your current level of playing, for the sole purpose of learning reading. For example, Joanne Martin's "I Can Read Music" is an excellent choice. It very simply introduces a few notes at a time and has you play a lot of patterns.

I tell adult students that they'd better be prepared for a journey that is something like physical therapy and kindergarten. Don't be afraid to use the many materials that have been put together to help beginners learn to read music.

You can do this simultaneously, as you continue to learn music you enjoy. You do not have to "start over" when you have already progressed to a certain level. You just have to start learning to read.

November 22, 2011 at 09:37 PM · this site helped me a bunch... just do a few mins a day.


November 22, 2011 at 10:25 PM · I am also an adult beginner. Luckily my teacher let me have exactly 2 weeks before he started erasing note names so I had to learn them properly. (THANKS!) Flip cards are totally the answer. Draw the note on one side and the name (or fingering) on the other side. Study them obsessively, then shuffle, then do them from the other side, then shuffle. Etc :-)

November 22, 2011 at 10:35 PM · One thing you might maybe consider is joining a choir. I was forced into it as a yoof- the orchestra I played in had a 'non-optional' choir attached. Now I'm no singer, tone wise- how did Billy Connolly put it? 'A voice like a goose farting in a fog?'. But thanks to this enforced bellowing, I can now sight-sing (in my head, that is!). Really useful, especially on violin where you need your ears to tell you if your fingers are in the wrong place, not just pressing a key like on a piano.

Another thing to try is try to think of sort of 'characters' for the notes you see. Middle C is instantly recognisable- little chap in a hat. Then there's D the Dangler, just kind of hanging there, next up there's E... poor chap, he's trying really hard but he can never get off the bottom rung of the ladder. Start with just a few of them, practice sight-reading REALLY easy pieces with NO pencil marks, and just get to know them! Hang out with them a bit.

One last idea: use the colours the different notes have associated with them. Interestingly, I don't think it's necessarily the same colours from person to person (maybe someone else can confirm or deny, but my orchestra friend and I were always arguing over Gb- how can she say it's brown when it's clearly mauve?!), but that doesn't matter. Perhaps colouring in some of the notes in your score in your own colours could help?

November 22, 2011 at 11:18 PM · I'm also an older beginner (3 months in and loving it). I'm using a free flash card app on my ipod touch called Music Master. It shows the note on the scale, then shows you the note name and the first position fingering. I play with in when I'm travelling, waiting in line, etc - and I can see an improvement! I was (and still do) write the notes on my practise music - but I was able to read and play Silent Night without that :)

November 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM · Just throwing in another thought - note names only matter when you are talking about music, not when you are playing... What you really need is to be able to hear the pitch in your head when you read a note (i.e. sight singing), then be able to put the right finger down on the right string... Just doing those plus bowing is complicated enough, why introduce another layer of complexity with note names?

November 22, 2011 at 11:45 PM · Note games


you can google "violin note games" to find more

November 23, 2011 at 01:15 AM ·

November 23, 2011 at 02:10 AM · The first step is to memorize where the key pitches are. So for example, on the violin you want to know where G, (C), D, (G), A, (D), E, (A) are. From there you can figure out most everything else (for example, I can't read alto clef worth ****, but I know where the middle C is and work around that when I have to sight read on viola)

Start with memorizing the location of the open strings try to read short snippets of easy music without any notes written in. Think intervals to help you figure out the pitches other than open strings (I also think you should try to sing short songs with music to help you learn to think intervals) Unfortunately for large jumps and weird key changes and the like on the violin you eventually also need to know what pitch every note is, but I think that comes naturally with time.

At Oberlin in our equivalent of "solfege" class we sight sing in scale-degrees for a semester before moving on to solfege. I think it's great for the ears.

November 23, 2011 at 04:09 AM · My problem is in the sharps and flats. I am back for the last two years on the fiddle after 50 years away and not playing any kind of instrument. Not only do I mark sharps and flats, I also make arrows up or down above the staff to indicate which direction the finger goes for a natural when I am in doubt. Details that my teachers years ago tried to beat into my head are now dawning on me.

Rather than erasing a lot you might copy the page. Mark the copy with the note letters. When you begin to feel comfortable go back to the book.


November 23, 2011 at 05:59 AM · "Another suggestion would be to get an entirely different book, one that is way easier than your current level of playing, for the sole purpose of learning reading. " Laurie.

I think thats a really neat suggestion. if you rely on the old material, your memory will kick in and might detract from developing sight reading skills.

i also think that you yourself could write down chromatic scales starting in first position but draw in the note of the open string after every chromatic note. So, pertaining to the G string, draw the notes: open G, G#, G, A, G, A#/Bb, G, B, G, C, G, C#/Db, G, D (fourth finger on G) ..do the same for the other strings

now loudly speak out the note letter prior to playing it (the last part is painful, it makes everything so slow but its good). as you're playing, having to refer back to the open string note will help drive in the location of the notes relative to the open string...so its a good memory hook...The G, D,A and E position on the staffs are iconic places for us i think. in addition to that, you actually drew the notes yourself and you're forcing yourself to account for every note by enunciating the note letter , so that also helps. after that, you could try the whole thing in reverse..so your short term memory doesnt start to grasp bits and pieces through only routine. you could also play alternating notes..etc.

but i'm a beginner-to-intermediate-ish student, so my advice could count for little.

November 23, 2011 at 08:05 AM · It's tough.

I restarted the violin lessons in April 2010 after a 30 year gap. The concentration required to read the music and place the fingers was so great that I used to sweat, literally. It's practice and familiarity. And you only get familiarity through practice.

November 23, 2011 at 03:04 PM · It's not easy...I'm focusing on learning the alto c-clef again (to get to speed)...and while I learned all the basic note names quickly, I kept trying to relate it to the violin...and that was just slowing it down the entire process for me.

These past couple of months I've stopped doing that and am keeping the two clefs separate in my head and it's coming along a lot faster.

I sight-read a LOT of easy music too - and it's really helping...

November 23, 2011 at 06:25 PM · John, one of these days I will figure out how to clearly and succinctly write out my system of teaching basically what your charts show. (Incidentally, I think it is somehwat parallel to the Givens' approach although hers is probably more/better developed especially with the corersponding ear training.) It makes so incredibly much sense, and it's so much fun to watch it click for students, when they see how everything is interrelated and it's actually all logical!! But to put it all in paragraph form...??? Maybe that'll be a blog post for someday when I have random spare time...not that that helps Patty now, sorry!

November 24, 2011 at 04:20 PM · There are three terms to this equation: the Notes, the Gymnastics (what you have to do on the violin to produce the Tune) and the Tune. We learn the connection Notes -> Gymnastics -> Tune (the central dogma of violin playing) but other routes are useful too.

Notes -> Tune (singing);

Tune -> Notes (writing down what you hear);

Tune -> Gymnastics (playing what you hear).

When playing, I try to hear the music in advance, as in Notes -> Tune -> Gymnastics (-> Tune).

See this link. So, besides writing the note names down, singing the tune might help.

Hope this helps,


November 25, 2011 at 09:46 PM · John, "it's so simple that only a child can do it".

Try playing Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme -- not too difficult. Now write it down: have you just played that?

November 29, 2011 at 08:39 PM · When I first started to read music, I had good friends who would sit with me at lunch and flip the notes up on flash cards. I think you can buy them on the internet. It was really tough and frustrating, but it sped the learning process along.

---Ann Marie

November 29, 2011 at 09:01 PM · Thank you everyone for all your great insights and help! I am so happy that I found this wonderful community, and am blown away with every one of you who took the time to answer and help me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart :)

November 30, 2011 at 02:12 AM · Patty,

I started to read music as a young child (alto clef on viola), but it wasn't until much later in life did I start trying to learn to read treble clef (on viola & violin) and bass clef (on cello). Learning to read treble and bass clefs was like trying to learn a new language, which indeed it is.

What helped me was to do what Laurie suggested and work with pieces that were very easy for me in alto clef, but start working with them in the new clefs. I started by learning where my open string notes were in the staff by naming them out loud while I was playing. Then I started adding notes like the ones on the bar lines or in-between, again, naming them out loud.

I still use this technique when I venture into more advanced pieces with many ledger lines above the staff. Sometimes I have to stop and count them, naming the notes as I go, then write in a few key ones as a road-map of sorts. When I practice those passages, I do by best to speak the note name as I play it.

It can be a slow and sometimes painful process, but one that has great results, at least with me.

November 30, 2011 at 02:16 AM · Mendy, you make me want to just forget about ever trying to really learn another clef. Too much work :-(

November 30, 2011 at 04:44 AM ·

November 30, 2011 at 06:28 AM · I favor the approach of working backwards as a supplement to whatever "forward" method works for you - Singing the melody with the note names is a great one. Start out with a simple melody you know (like Twinkle, Twinkle), but haven't necessarily learned yet and transcribe it, using your instrument to help. Then proceed with some simple, but unfamiliar melodies (perhaps your teacher can provide a few) - learn to play them and then transcribe them. This exercise improves the connection between the sound coming from your instrument and what's on the page.

November 30, 2011 at 06:59 PM · " I had good friends who would sit with me at lunch and flip the notes up on flash cards. I think you can buy them on the internet."

I have to say, that really made me smile! I was wondering where people managed to get friends who were supportive of their practice routines... I should have just googled it all along. :-)

Maybe better than saying the note name would be playing (or if that's not possible, i.e you're not with your instrument, singing) the note on the flashcard. You really want to get an association between the dot and how if feels/sounds to play. After all, the name of the note is arbitrary. What I'd call 'B', a German player would call 'H'! Yet show us a dot and we'd both be thinking of the same finger on the same string.

November 30, 2011 at 07:31 PM · I learned alto clef by transcribing 7 method books for a viola student. That's the most fun I've ever had with note naming.

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