Issue 59: Beginning to To Read Music Notation

The song, “Star Light”, which is a feature of this week’s Jungle, is a lovely way in to learning to read music notation.


The song has a good mix of combinations of crotchets and quavers in every bar. I use flash cards to teach rhythms. Many teachers use the french time names, but I am not very familiar with them, and go for the simpler “doo” for crotchets, and “dooby” for pairs of quavers.


With just two notes, and simple, easy to learn words, it should be possible for most people to be able to play it for them selves. The version given here used the notes G and E: for descant recorder players, try C and A. For pianists, you might want to go for F and D so that you can keep the usual hand position with thumb on middle C.

It is also a good choice for teaching pitch notation on tuned school percussion such as chime bars, glockenspiels, and my current favourite, alto xylophones. With a beater in each hand, everyone should be able to success after a few practice goes.

Before trying to play the tune, I would teach the song by rote, and then use hand gestures to indicate the two different pitches. Once everyone understood which syllable went with which note, I would hand out the pitch notation and discuss how the position of the note-heads on the stave (ladder) indicated which was the highr, and which the lower note.

I would lead them through the first bar all together. Then, assuming that this is a class instrumental lesson I would give them short time to practise independently (working in pairs, probably) while I circulated and supported their efforts.

The lesson would end with a whole class performance, with groups singing, playing, and maybe accompanying by playing keeping the pulse on other instruments, or the note C.

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