23/60 Teaching by Finger Number/Note Letter

Please don’t.

I think it is is such a BAD idea…

What has provoked this post, is taking on a number of young piano students recently. They turned up with numbers written over EVERY SINGLE NOTE in their pieces. Ugh. So, they are playing fairly fluently, but with no sense of rhythm or pulse. They are also doomed every time there is a position change or shift in hand shape.

I’m talking about piano pupils, approaching Grade 1 stage, but I have seen the same with string players – every note labelled with string letter and finger number, so “Twinkle Twinkle” looks like this; (for a cello player)

D0 D0 A0 A0 A1 A1 A0 D4 D4 D3 D3 D1 D1 D0 etc

for a pianist it might look like this; 1 1 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1, and if the pupil hasn’t realized that 5s refer to note G G A A G then the numbers are not going to work.

I dare say there is a way of writing numbers for other instruments as well.

You end up with pupils who cannot learn a new piece until it is fully numbered and lettered. This is such a bad foundation for the future. I used to have the same battle with young recorder groups. Having painstakingly taught them the note B, “bang on the middle line” and the note A “in the spAce” – how hard is that to learn? Per-leese? – they come back next week with every single letter written in. Being the mean and horrible person that I am, I promptly rub out all the letters.

OK, I’m not that mean. When a young piano pupil came to me with “Mary Had A Little Lamb” completely lettered and numbered – “Mummy did it for me”,

mary had fingers and numbers

I started by discussing whether the repeated EEE, DDD, EEE in bars 2,3 and 4 all needed to be written in.We agreed I could rub out the duplicated letters. Then I wondered if she would still be able to play it if we rubbed out all the middle Cs. (“The notes with whiskers on their faces, like C for Cat”). “Maybe…”, so I handed her the rubber. By stages, we worked out that even if we rubbed out all the letters, she could still read the notes – Whoop whoop and three stickers!

My policy is to resist all attempts to add extra letters and fingerings, and I use every opportunity to sneak in some no-pressure note reading practice. Like….

“Play me just the Ds in this piece, as I sing it to you”

“Point to all the Fs”

“How many times do you play Middle C”

Well done – have another three stickers! (and give one to yourself for being such a brilliant teacher!)

Wait, now, I’m just remembering the the number of times I use “telephone numbers” and “spellings” to teach tunes… here comes another post…

birds on a branch divider

This entry was posted in Lessons that have happened, Practising, Theory and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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