There’s a lot said about “sound before symbol” in teaching young children, and quite rightly too.
However there comes a point where the children need to be able to fathom out the symbols in order to get on with learning their pieces at home when you aren’t there to show them what to do.
I was teaching a group of Grade 1 cellists last week – as part of cover work for a colleague. We went through G major scale a couple of times – it wasn’t new to them, but what with half term and another week’s break and everything, they didn’t seem too certain.
So… leaving the cello alone, I just got them to recite 0 1 3 4, 0 1 3 4 a couple of times, which is the fingering pattern for the scale, starting on an open G. Then, we just applied the finger numbers to the strings – magic – out came a G major scale. Next we repeated the numbers backwards, as in 4 3 1 0 4 3 1 0 and made our way back down the scale again.
Then we abandoned the cellos again, and I handed out manuscript paper and pencils. We all, together wrote out a copy of the scale, labelled and numbered each note.
“Right,” I said “this is a code sheet, for decoding your music. Your challenge is to work out the notes for your piece using this code sheet, WITHOUT writing finger numbers or letters on the music”.
For some reason presenting music as a code to be cracked has more appeal to a lot of the children – they enjoy the game aspect of decoding rather than the apparent slog of note-reading. I’ve had some success with this in whole class Wider Opportunities keyboard lessons in the past. Well, the proof of the effectiveness of this strategy for these pupils will become apparent next week.