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Note Reading Success: 5 Tips to “Stave” Off the Struggle


For music students, learning to read music is a key step toward musical independence – the difference between having to rely on someone else to teach you a new piece and being able to learn it on your own. Unfortunately, when presented with note reading, students are less likely to say “yay! A step toward independence!” than “Ugh. Do I have to?” Even more unfortunate is that some of those who struggle to learn to read notes on the staff will quit playing music (and lessons with you) entirely. With a few changes in approach, some fun games, and these key tips, however, that doesn’t need to be the case.

So how do we teach kids to read music – and more importantly – how do we teach them to like practicing it?

1. Make it FUN
When learning a tough new skill, engage a student’s natural urge to learn through play. By getting off of the piano bench to play a game, you can make practicing a skill like note reading much more stimulating. Add an element of competition (against themselves or others), and students will want (even beg!) to work on it over and over again, not realizing the hard work they are doing. Meridee Winters Note Quest is full of drills disguised as games, and many tools to incorporate both competition and creativity in the learning process.

2.  Make it FOCUSED
This may be a surprise, but you can’t expect lesson books or recital pieces to teach sight reading (many students start to memorize a song the first time they play it). Instead, address note reading just like learning to read any language: start by mastering a few pieces at a time and then add on more. A child learning to read starts by repeatedly drilling the alphabet, then learning simple words, and then putting them into a larger context. In music, isolate individual notes, then work on small chunks of music, and eventually a student will read fluently. Zoom in on a specific skill, like the notes of a certain position, ledger lines, or intervals. Then you can zoom back out and integrate them back into a larger chunk of music or piece of repertoire. We are so passionate about this that Note Quest is designed to do just that: zoom in and drill specific groups of notes. (Each has its very own meteor, complete with space creatures.)

3.  Make it FLEXIBLE
In order to customize things for your students, be prepared with a variety of engaging materials:  flash cards, games, staff paper, easy music and more. There are many approaches to learning to read notes – from utilizing mnemonic devices (see our free download here!) to drilling intervals, to using landmark notes. Being able to flexibly utilize many methods and present them in a variety of ways will help you to find out what works best (and fastest) for each student.

4. Take a BREAK
Note reading, we’re taking a break… for this lesson (or for the week, or longer in special cases). Note reading is an important musical skill, but not the be-all-end-all for making music. For a student who is really struggling, walking away from that struggle for a time and allowing a few musical successes may be just the recharge they need. Try collaborating on an improv, practicing ear training by sounding out a simple song, or playing a chord or pattern-based piece. Meridee’s Chord Crash Course is an excellent supplement for regular lesson books, or alternative for those with different learning styles, as it teaches key musical patterns like chords, arpeggios and more without needing to read music. With a few musical successes under their belts, students can return to note reading with renewed confidence. 

5. Add FLAIR!
Add an element of creativity and encourage students to create their own games, tools and even mnemonic devices that appeal to their specific interests. (How about “Good Burritos Don’t Fall Apart?” – created by a Meridee Winters student with a passion for Mexican cuisine.) Elementary school students are used to writing their own stories using the words they are learning, and adding their own spin is not only fun and memorable, but creates a learning experience that they will want to keep recreating.

Check out Note Quest for pages of activities lovingly designed not only to activate your students’ passion for competition and flair for creativity, but also to zoom in and drill notes, intervals, hand positions, ledger lines, and more. You can even create a burrito mnemonic – or the cuisine of your choice – in the Create-o-Sphere. And as a bonus, you will embark on an epic journey through space to learn the Universal Language of music. You will find that this book has enough fun, focus, flexibility, and flair to engage students for years of note reading progress.

 Click here to check out this great resource! 

About Meridee Winters: Meridee Winters is a professional educator, musician, author and director/owner of a successful Philadelphia area music school. Meridee began her journey as an educator teaching elementary students in a Florida public school, where she discovered the curriculum and school system left little room for divergence and creativity. She made the bold decision to leave and attend graduate school to study Music Composition, eventually starting her own private music school. Today, that school has spent two decades introducing thousands of students to not just music, but to Meridee’s trailblazing method that encourages creativity, play and higher-level thinking with each lesson. As a composer and professional musician, Meridee has instructed at all levels ­– from professional recording artists working on albums to computer music classes in the recording studio, and from young beginners taking their first steps on their musical path to intermediate students writing their first songs. Meridee is a dedicated advocate of creative intelligence whose foremost passion is empowering creative and authentic self-expression in each individual. She now spends her time developing new materials and books to nurture these. She does her work as an author, as well as director of the school, from her home in Delaware County, PA.


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