Suggestions for help with reading
My 9yo has the hardest time with music reading. She is currently late Suzuki Book 6 but she can barely read at a Book 1 level, and it is not for lack of trying as she has been working on reading every single day since Book 1. She still struggles to differentiate the lines from each other and often ends up playing a third up or down.
She has a great ear and thus far has used that to get her through, but now she is Principal 2nd in her orchestra and no longer playing the melody most of the time. We are spending hours learning her music, which I would say is only at a Book 3 level, so nowhere near her technical limits. She just can't read it, and so every single time it is like she is seeing it for the first time unless she literally memorizes it phrase by phrase.
She is in tears basically every single day trying to learn it and only has about half of it down. I just don't know how to help her. I have her listen to the recordings and follow along. I have her play it slowly. I play it with her. She plays with the recordings slowed down.
Any suggestions? It's just miserable for her and she is struggling so much.
Oh poor thing! I really feel for her - I also really struggled with sight reading, beyond the "normal" kind of struggling. I started piano at age 6, and somehow managed to always get someone to play the piece I needed to learn for me (or get a recording from the library). When I was 14, my piano teacher, mother, and I all discovered that I couldn't read a note! I remember a LOT of tears and hopelessness and confusion as to why it was so hard.
It's not that uncommon! I use these two book series' with my students who are having trouble reading music:
Anita Kaul -- a lot of what you said resonates. She has an exceptional memory and always tests as gifted, so I don't think there are any learning deficits. However, she has never been able to sound out words well -- I always attributed this to the fact she has a slight speech impediment but perhaps it is because her brain thinks in chunks. She is also a very visual child who draws exceptionally well, so I am guessing her brain works very different than mine.
Hmmm.. For practice at home purposes, can you enlarge the music? Then over time, reduce the size until it's standard size? Or possibly some kind of color coding? Either breaking up the sections or highlighting all the Ds pink and the Fs blue?
Your description suggests a vision problem and not a note-reading problem. I would strongly consider having her tested for vision convergence issues, which can affect both reading words as well as reading music. (A convergence test is not part of a standard eye exam.)
Why not just have the music always copied larger for her? (Well, and what Lydia suggested re. vision convergence tests and glasses and light, etc. :)
I recommend having her vision tested.
I would not be surprised if the problem is entirely her vision, as I have significant visual deficits myself (congenital cataracts, esotropia, amblyopia, no binocular vision, no depth perception, can't drive). Because of my issues, she's been seeing the university hospital eye doctor every other year her whole life (with annual dilation and acuity check every single year). But other than her testing around 20/30, they have not picked up anything. I believe they did do a wider range of tests due to my condition. I will say, though, that the root cause of my issues (the congenital cataracts) was not picked up until my 20s, so it is possible she has the same and they have just not progressed to the point they can be seen easily.
You might also want to consider enlarging her music. Some of the elderly folks I've played with enlarge their music onto big sheets of paper, so it's easier to read.
It may help to put a small red dot or short line on the center line at its beginning and end to help with tracking. Also writing in more fingerings.
I definitely agree on enlarging the music, at least for now. This practice is used by many people, including senoirs (as Lydia pointed out), and those with low vision.
Also, in addition to what Julie suggested about highlighting, do you think it could be helpful to highlight one line to give her some visual guidance?
Based on what Susan has described so far, i'd agree with Timothy and Katarina; it's worthwhile to try highlighting the centre line to give her some reference.
I would definitely consider vision testing. My son had some odd vision problems which affected his reading - they were sorted out with eye exercises and reading glasses. In the UK the specialists are known as behavioral optometrists - they do tests over and above those done by conventional opticians.
I'm pretty sure she's not dyslexic -- she reads words just fine, though she reads in huge fonts on her Kindle!
poor child! "feeling emotionally overwhelmed"?? No wonder- try to make your job to comfort her and give her positive support towards a solvable problem, and she should calm down. It's easier to learn anything when not overwhelmed, because the part of the brain that needs to learn is not in the 'fight or flight' mode. It's also impossible to learn when emotionally overwhelmed, since that overrides the musical part of the brain. No matter what her problem is, and I suspect it's a combination of vision with a large dose of stress, she still has to begin where she is and take all the steps needed. She's not going to get a pair of glasses and skip over what takes a few years to develop. She still has to start where she is and go forward from there at a comfortable pace. Her brain will want to stay in its comfort zone of ear learning, so it will have to be coaxed patiently until the new skill becomes a comfort zone...and the atmosphere around her is perceived by her as being patient, supportive, and non-judgmental.
She was OK with it until she started orchestra this year -- I think she gets embarrassed because she struggles so much in the first few rehearsals, even when she practices a ton. Then she tries to practice more at home and makes herself even more anxious.
All good suggestions so far. I'm going to take a 90-degree turn here.
My daughter couldn't read music until she started piano so it's worth a try.
Both of my suggestions are listed here, but I will add my drop.
Martin I really enjoyed your post. It is commonly assumed that people with synesthesia will direct their careers to some kind of artistic work. You've reminded the readers here what many scientists also understand, that even "cold" subjects like computer science really have a warm interior that is fertile soil for creativity and different modes of human thought.
Thank You, Paul. Everything has its own soul and we have to find it. I love all my life doing, my job and my music playing and painting.
Okay Martin, so I have to ask, do you listen to music while you paint, and is that consideration influenced by your particular flavor of synesthesia? Sorry if that's too personal!
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