Teaching Music Theory to young children mistake #2
Have you ever read a book, and been totally overwhelmed by the number of characters that appear early in the book, that you can’t get a grasp of who is who, and you end up just putting the book down because its just too hard?
For me that was the book the “Lord of the Rings”. I’m sure others have read it and love it, but for me it just had way too many characters in the early stages – I had little chance of getting to know each of them well enough to be able to make any sense of the story.
That’s similar to teaching music theory in this way:
“Now johnny, here’s a theory sheet. What you have to do here is write the treble clef, then write the scale of C major, as crotchets. Mark the semitones with slurs and don’t forget the double bar line.”
WOW! Now if Johnny is twelve years old and is preparing for grade one theory, then that’s probably a fair enough thing to be doing.
However, if Johnny is a typical young child he probably didn’t hear much past the word “treble”. You’ve just asked him to remember twelve concepts in that one exercise. Count them and see if you agree with me that this is actually an incredibly big ask which we throw students in and then get mad at them when they make mistakes!
The twelve concepts are: Whats a treble Clef? Where does the treble clef go? How to draw a treble clef, Whats a scale? What’s a crotchet? How to draw a crotchet, Stem direction, Note spacing, Double bar line, Whats a semitone?, Where are semitones in scale?, Whats a slur?
Anyway, if its appropriate of course you do start mixing concepts once they know the basics… but at first, (I’m talking for really young students) the theory component should introduce one concept at a time.
Heres an example:
You’re hoping to teach them about pitch – getting them to correctly identify the pitch of a written note. Its quite early in the child’s learning, so they are doing the first five notes of the treble scale.. Do you:
A: Tell them to first write a treble clef and then the five notes as semibreves?
B: Give them a worksheet with lots of words and information about other concepts on it?
C: Give them a worksheet where they can’t possibly go wrong as its all laid out for them like this:
Personally, I’d vote for “C”!
It doesn’t matter whether you want to use rhymes or not, the point is that you shouldn’t worry about extra things that don’t matter to the concept that you’re trying to teach them right now. Of course you want to teach about different rhythmical values, and that’s of equal importance to pitch, but the concept is to do it separately as much as possible in the early stages.