What do you do with kids that are struggling to read notation or struggling academically in general?


Daniel: “What do you do with kids that DON’T have behavior issues but are struggling to read notation?”

So, I think I understand the kind of student you’re talking about. Could I ask, is this like a one off. Is this like a third of your studio? Is this like half? Can you give me an idea of what this student’s like?

Tara: It’s just a few of them. It’s probably four or five. They’re the younger ones, and it’s the sort of kids who are perhaps academically struggling. The ones in particular, one anyway, is a bit of a perfectionist. So hates when anything goes wrong. So expects everything to be right straightaway. Of course, we see lots of kids like that. But [inaudible] the others also simply don’t know the difference between a step and a skip, and whether it goes up or down, and whether it goes up or down on the piano. The relationship to all of that is becoming very confusing in their mind, which is why I’m investigating Piano Safari.

Daniel: Okay, let me say this. I feel like I understand exactly the kind of student you’re talking about. There are some kids that just inexplicably…I don’t understand it. Actually I saw a girl today, her name is Emma. She’s been in lessons since like April, somewhere around there. She’s, since April, only to page 46 in the primer book. That’s slow for my studio. And I’m drawing in arrows on the notes. As far as I’m aware there’s no issue with her learning-wise or something. But every once in a while I just find a kid that they’re just not getting it. So I have a couple things that I do. For a younger kid: Let’s say seven, maybe eight and under, I might take them to My First Piano Adventures. Because My First Piano Adventures doesn’t base their reading notation on the guide notes, F,C, and G. I found that that’s a tougher concept for kids to understand. It’s so much easier when those kids have the opportunity to learn it stepwise motion. So in My First Piano Adventures, and I don’t if you’re familiar. Are you familiar with MFPA?

Tara: Yeah, I use the yellow book. For the young [inaudible]

Daniel: So, a lot of times what I’ll do- again especially 6,7,8- if they get to the first half of Faber, hit the staff and start struggling, I will take them to the level B book in MFPA and teach them the staff that way. Then I have averted a lot of problems. Or if they get a little bit farther into it, and I’m seeing that they’re really struggling, I will bump them down to MFPA. Now, I charge a yearly materials fee. So a lot of times I don’t charge parents individually for the book. So to them it’s no big deal. I’ll just pull that book off my shelf, give it to the kid, and now we’re in that book, you know? And I’ve had success that way.

Another strategy for an older kid, where MFPA might feel a little “cutesy” to them. I will get the Faber sight reading books that have the same song pattern five or six different ways, and I’m not using the book as it was intended. The book was intended for you to only play it for one day and then never play it again. But I will actually start having those kids practice one set of six for an entire week. And I have found that over time they begin to understand that stepwise intervallic reading motion a little bit better than, oh new song, new song, new song. Do you see what I’m getting at there?

So for me, and I think this is what I’m pointing to. In the group, I don’t have time- this could sound so bad to someone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about the way you all do- I don’t have time for a kid to struggle. Which means that I have to quickly ascertain, “Why is this kid struggling? What tools do I have at my disposal to make this feel easy to them?” Because that is the hitch. That has got to feel easy to the kid or this doesn’t work. I’m literally spending a quarter of my time or half of my time with this one kid. So I’ve got to somehow make the music feel easier, which often means making choices that give them easier music. Or slows down the rate of conceptual development. And again, if that’s what this kid needs, then that’s what I got to do.

I know that one of the things that I talk about is how fast kids can move. That’s how I talk about the group to parents. That’s how I talk about the group to the 90 plus studios that are now doing things the way that I’m teaching at SGL. That’s the ideal.

But the truth of the matter is, is that whether that kid was in group or in one-to-one lessons, I’ve seen that type of kid now. I’m old enough, I’ve been teaching 15 years, I see a type of child, and I know that they’re going to struggle in private or group, and it’s not the group. But the group gives me more of a chance to diagnose those problems and actually work on those problems in the context. And if I have to slow them way way down, that’s okay. If the parent complains, which it is once or twice a year where I have a parent say, “It seems like you’re moving kind of slow.” I’ll pick up the phone, I’ll have a conversation with that parent. I know that’s tough to do in a studio of 80, 90, 100. But I will take that time out and do that if that parent mentions something. But most of the time, the parents are just A) disconnected, B) don’t care. Not in like a “oh I don’t care about my child” type of way but just, they’re happy that the kid’s happy, you know? And so I’m going to do the best for that kid, and if it means slowing them down then that’s what I’m going to do.

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