by Dr. Julie Knerr
This student, who I will call Stan, is a fabulously musical and vibrant 9-year- old. He transferred to my studio last year, and it took me quite a while to figure out the best way to work with him. He is full of ideas, composes constantly, arranges all his pieces his own way (“I think the composer should have written it this way!”), is a enthusiastic performer, and has discriminating musical tastes. I could tell it was going to be a challenge to build up his basic reading, rhythmic, and note recognition skills, since he made it clear that he would rather not focus on the basics but would rather just like to play Harry Potter pieces.
My strategy was to provide him with pieces he loves to play (including his beloved Harry Potter), combined with a strong program of note flashcard drills and Piano Safari Sight Reading Cards.
Last year he pretty much outright refused to do his Sight Reading Cards in the lesson. After a talk with his mom and promise of chocolate, he grudgingly agreed to comply. He told me he didn’t want to do the cards because they are “boring.” Especially for those children who are so bright that they can generally master anything they try without much effort, I believe “boring” is code for, “This is hard, and I feel embarrassed that it’s not easy for me.”
Fast forward to this year. I took him back though Piano Safari Sight Reading Cards for Book 2 a second time. But I put them on my IPad to disguise them. (We hope eventually to have a Sight Reading Card App available for our customers.) He loved doing Sight Reading Cards on the IPad!
Also, I usually let the children play the two-handed rhythms at the bottom of each card on my drum. But my mallets disappeared. So Stan came up with a great solution. He took my pedal extender, put it on the floor, and used his right hand on the right pedal and left hand on the left pedal to play the rhythm on the pedals. Oh my! It is so funny. I am quite sure that no child in the history of the world except Stan would come up with this!
So Stan and I have found a great way of working together. I balance his curriculum with interesting music (Harry Potter plus other composers). I enforce that the beginning of lesson is Sight Reading Cards (on IPad, with pedal extender, plus chocolate for passing each level) and Note Name drill (all my students work until they can play 35 note flashcards in the correct octave in under a minute.) This combination is working well.
Children come to us with many different personalities. I tend to work the best with the Type A child who enjoys check off lists, schedules, and step by step progress. I have found that even with Stan, who is free spirited and creative, the systematic approach of Sight Reading Cards works wonders for boosting sight reading skill. Working with such a vibrant children brings a ray of sunshine into my week each Wednesday.