What happens when children move to conventional notation? – watch video

From the very first stages of book 1 children are learning about every aspect of conventional notation in the form of simple theory exercises and sight-reading. This process is spread over a much longer period of time than is possible when learning in the conventional way. In this way children are able to learn at a pace that they feel more comfortable with. This results in greater security and confidence in the way sight-reading is tackled. When the time comes for them to change, not only are they very familiar with how to read without the colours but they feel ready for the challenge of moving on to ‘grown-up’ music.

For what age are the books most suitable?

Playing With Colour is suitable for beginners of all ages and has also proved to be very successful with children who have dyslexia and autism. Book 1 is particularly valuable for starting 5 to 8 years olds beginners. Older beginners can generally begin with Book 2. In this way they will be playing hands together from the very first lesson which gives them a great feeling of achievement.

How easy is it for teachers and parents to understand how to use the books?

Teachers will have no problems in understanding how to use the books because the notation is only a simplified version of conventional notation. This simplicity enables parents, with no musical knowledge, to follow their child’s progress and feel confident to offer help when required.

How can these books help dyslexic youngsters?

Playing With Colour has proved to be invaluable for teaching dyslexic children for a variety of reasons:

  • In the piano books the staves are written as a series of numbers that indicate the line number. This avoids the need to count the lines and thus avoids errors. Children feel much more comfortable with the use of numbers rather than letters.
  • Note-finding is therefore a much simpler process to understand and involves fewer stages than conventional methods (see ‘The use of numbered staves’) and so causes less confusion.
  • Children who find memorising difficult are able to follow the coloured music very easily. Fluency in playing is therefore much easier to achieve.
  • Children who experience problems when following music due to the black against white ‘glare’ are helped by the coloured notation and the coloured staves. See ‘The use of coloured notation’.
  • In the piano books the problems of differentiating between left and right are helped by the use of pictures of right and left hands in place of clefs. See ‘Pictures of the right hand and left hand instead of clefs’.
  • Problems concerning the playing of melodic contours which move up and down on the music but are translated to right and left on the piano are avoided. The coloured notation enables the child to respond to each note with the correct finger. At the same time the music is always being intently followed and therefore the rules of notation are becoming absorbed in a natural way.

Is a very bright, musical child held back by beginning with the coloured notation?

In fact quite the opposite is true. There are many musical youngsters who instinctively use their musical memories and very good ear at the expense of following and fully understanding the notation. By using Playing With Colour this situation is avoided. These children find the music so easy to follow that ‘reading’ the music becomes automatic from the first lesson. As the rules of conventional notation are taught in the exercises they have no problem learning what they need to know. These children will usually fly through the books and progress faster than they would have done. They will find the change-over quite effortless and will have the added advantage that they are in the habit of following the music and have not trained themselves to depend upon their memories.

How is sight-reading ability affected in the long term?

After using these books sight-reading is approached with security and confidence. The whole system of notation in the books is very simple and therefore fewer errors will be made. When errors occur both the mistake and the solution is much more obvious due to the coloured notes. Children do not develop their own strategies for note-reading such as the use of memory, trial and error, writing letter names, following numbers or depending on help at home. In addition they will intently follow the music while playing because the colour gives them feedback that they respond to instinctively. Not only does this become a habit but it enables them to absorb the rules of notation in a more natural way.

Will a child find the books confusing if they have already started to learn conventionally?

Quite the contrary! Any child who has been struggling in any way with conventional music will absolutely embrace these books. Children who change to this system find that the coloured notation instantly enables them to read the music in a way that they never believed was possible. It gives them a massive boost in confidence and enables them to learn new pieces effortlessly, often for the first time since they began their piano lessons. For the first time the focus of their lessons changes from learning to read to learning to play. As these children progress through the books they will also learn to note-read at a pace that is more suitable to their needs. When they come to change back to the conventional system they will generally have resolved all the problems that they initially had.

Should a conventional theory book be used alongside these books?

Theory exercises have been included in books 1, 2 and 3 in a very carefully structured way throughout the books. The intention is for the theory questions to act as a prompt for the teacher to teach new aspects of notation as well as to question and test the child’s knowledge in order that learning is constantly reinforced. If the teacher spends just a few minutes of each lesson teaching theory in this way then supplementary books should not be necessary at this stage of learning. Theory books have always been an essential part of learning at this level because the rate of progress in playing has always been dependent upon the rate of progress in note-reading. When using Playing With Colour this situation does not occur.

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