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Why aren't 14 year olds able to read music?

Discussion in 'Music' started by Phantom of the Opera, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. FG. I said I hadn't quoted it exactly. I interpreted it to mean that it was teaching within the classroom, and that did of course include KS1,2 and 3.

    I would not expect to sit GCSE Maths, English, Science, PE, French, etc and have to 'subsidise' it through extra tuition. Therefore, why should Music be the elitist one?

    POTO thank you for calling my students 'thick' (er learning difficulties). You're clearly in the right profession.
  2. Why are you so interested to find out who 'arranged' Sir Paul's classical pieces. Who cares? The guy is a genius but you seem to be preoccupied by the fact he wouldn't know a quaver if it bit him on the ****.

    Imagine if you had been his music teacher, heaven forbid.

  3. Although I am nowhere near as experienced, I do agree with the OP.

    It constantly amazes me how people claim (and are claimed) to be excellent 'musicians', without knowing the first thing about notation. Maybe it's a product of modern lifestyle; DJ's, trance producers etc?

    Notation is not the be-all and end-all no, but I do think that anyone who seriously considers them a musician should be aware of the basics. - By basics, I mean treble clef, pitches, rhythms, time signatures, intervals etc. - Not an encyclopaedic knowledge of ornaments or orchestrating horn sections, or anything fancy, just a basic understanding.

    Traditional notation is used in many areas of music. Not necessarily by the well-known highly paid 'artists', but certainly by the hard-working and under-acknowledged people behind the scenes. It has been used for centuries (with modifications).

    As an analogy, I also happen to think that anyone who lives in England should be able to speak basic English.

    Looking at the QCA schemes of work and the like, I am somewhat puzzled by some of their very specific topics (The Overture for example), while no time seems to be concerned with the basics like notation (and indeed theory for that matter).

    KS3 lessons in schools that I've seen are almost entirely practical. The teacher sets them a task, and the kids get out the keyboards (or use the computers with older kids) and muck around for half an hour, improvising some uninspired non-technically demanding piece at the end.

    Personally, I think that while practical is nice and fun, I think that some time should be devoted to more theoretical matters too. Many kids would learn a lot more from theory than they would from practical (which, as I said, generally involved mostly mucking around anyway).

    If the kids go on to do music A-level, degrees or whatever, a knowledge of notation and theory will be required. Why do some teachers leave this up to outside teachers to deal with (peripatetic etc.)?
  4. I totally agree with Phantom, at least with regard to how little music you need to be capable of to achieve GCSE music. Some of my boys' friends were allowed to start the course unable to play a note on anything. Their performances would be interesting to hear!
    I'm not so surprised that even instrument learners can't read music as I know at least one violin peri (he's quite famous too) who thinks it's too much effort to teach his pupils to read music. What use is that to them? It is so useful being able to read music. No other form of notation is so widely used.
    I suppose GCSE music without musical skills is a bit like Classical Studies. Maybe it should be renamed Musical Studies and a real Music GCSE could be established! Bring on the Latin too, I say. The two things I'm really glad I learned are the piano and the Latin. And at my school to do Latin you ahd to miss PHSE - result!
  5. I totally agree with Phantom, at least with regard to how little music you need to be capable of to achieve GCSE music. Some of my boys' friends were allowed to start the course unable to play a note on anything. Their performances would be interesting to hear!
    I'm not so surprised that even instrument learners can't read music as I know at least one violin peri (he's quite famous too) who thinks it's too much effort to teach his pupils to read music. What use is that to them? It is so useful being able to read music. No other form of notation is so widely used.
    I suppose GCSE music without musical skills is a bit like Classical Studies. Maybe it should be renamed Musical Studies and a real Music GCSE could be established! Bring on the Latin too, I say. The two things I'm really glad I learned are the piano and the Latin. And at my school to do Latin you had to miss PHSE - result!
  6. aaaagh! I didn't mean to post twice. The website seized up the first time so I did it again. Sorry.
  7. 1. because reading music is actually quite difficult (I mean beyond the basic 'notes on the treble clef' stuff) for most students who do not learn a musical instrument and also do not see the point in learning it.

    2. it would take a lot of time to teach it properly, time which is better spent encouraging them to improvise, compose, listening etc

    3. it is possible to achieve a good grade at GCSE without being able to read. I have many very good musicians who play by ear. The only time they are disadvantaged is the odd bit of dictation in the listening test, they just lose the odd few marks.

    4. there are many famous popular musicians who cannot read and it's never held them back - Paul mccartney as an example.

    That said I think anyone who wants to pursue music as a career should be encouraged to learn to read if they haven't already.

  8. 1. I disagree - taught properly, regularly and with a purpose (ia practical it is a very easy thing to learn and the pupils see the point because it enables them to recall their ideas and pass them on to others.

    2. See the answer to point 1.

    3. The sham of an exam, a sham of teaching if you are dismissing marks through lazy teaching.

    4. And where would P McC be with George Martin (for pop work), Carl Davis (for some of the classical stuff), etc? when he was without them just how "great" a "genius" is he?
  9. And how many of the teachers who are shunning notation teaching now are:

    1) even trying or are they not even allowing their pupils the opportunity?

    2) not teaching it because of ther own lack of kowledge?
  10. 7-0-Phil

    Is he? Is he really a musical genius? Or does his genius totally rely on the skills of others?

    Beyond a couple of sweet or upbeat two and a half minute pop songs written 40 odd years ago, what has he done to warrant the tag "genius" without relying heavily on the efforts, skills, knowledge and hardwork of others?
  11. All children should be musically literate by the time they leave primary school. Infants are perfectly capable of drawing note shapes, it is easier than learning to read and write English. My infants also read note across the great stave and go on to composing using the primary chords in Y3.
    The problem is that the general primary teacher doesn't feel confident to do this.
    Not every child wants to play an orchestral instrument as it require a serious amount of dexterity and 'stickability' (and often money) but the classroom teacher could manage to enable every child to be musically literate and to find their way around tuned percussion instruments.
    If this is in place then they can go on to do all manner of things with thier music but I think if a child is not able to read and write music it is like building a house on sand. There is no wonder that in KS3 a large number of pupils see music as a 'mess around' lesson.
  12. erp77

    erp77 New commenter

    considering they are supposed to come to us with a level 3 at KS2 it's a miracle that some of them ever get level 5 or above at ks3
    I've just leveled all of my year 9s and so many of them are only on level 3
    there is not enough time on the timetable to do everything required in the NC never mind all the stuff they were supposed to do at junior school
    some of them have never seen a glockenspiel before
    some of them have never sung in a group before
    it's all very sad
    the sooner KS2 & 3 tests are scrapped the better, then teachers would have more time and flexibility to teach all of the curriculum at ks2
  13. I agree that scrapping SATS should hopefully improve things. However if people continue to believe that reading music is too difficult it will always be a problem; reading music is just a series of patterns. My classes really enjoy learning to read, write and compose their own music, many are better at this than they are literacy!
  14. So many of my students tell me that they've done little or no Music in Years 5 & 6 due to SATs prep.

    I do teach "Theory Matters" in Years 7 & 8 alongside a wide Music curriculum that follows topics in the OCR syllabus, draws from the Nat Strat and Musical Futures.

    A tiny minority of my students view Music as a 'mess around' lesson. I don't believe they would see it as anything else if they were completing exercises on notation.

    It is possible to go through the notions of 'learning' notation without absorbing it. I feel that if I focussed on notation to the detriment of a practical application of the subject then they would be learning by rote and not by more suitable methods. One has to look beyond what happened in education in the 1950s and look towards new learning styles / new technologies in education.

    If I had a £1 for every person who'd said to me "We never did anything exciting in Music. It was all theory and dead composers. I might have learnt something if it had been more practical" I wouldn't have to teach. The people who learnt from a theoretical musical education were the ones who were probably doing G5 theory anyway.

    I can't believe there are so many dated and stifling opinions on here. It reeks of inexperience in teaching and lack of knowledge about a modern music curriculum.
  15. I have serious issues with this notion of "we never did anything exciting in music". My own experience at KS3 (although it wasn't called that then) was being stuck in a room with a few sad pieces of percussion and told to "make up a piece about..." While I accept that we have moved on a bit (my teacher was a protege of Swanwick), this was my experience of 'practical music making'. I found it to be pointless and demeaning, and a complete waste of time.

    My own experience now, as a teacher in a fairly difficult comprehensive environment, with a large proportion of special needs, is that they seem to enjoy lessons more if they can point to skills and knowledge that they pick up. Many like to say that they can read the notes, and play properly on a keyboard from notation. They have a sense of having learned something tangible.
  16. I am not saying that children should be given boring exercises to do, of couse they need to be singing and playing music but what is wrong with teaching them about conventions of notation and harmony? If it is done in a child centred way then it is not a chore or detriment to the practical application. I think it empowers the children. Peri staff are very apreciative when pupils can read music across the great stave and know all their note lenghts and time signatures, they can get on with the job of teaching the instrument. I don't think we should be ashamed or called inexperienced for equipping the children with these skills.
    I think it is awful that some children have not even been given the chance to sing in groups or explore a glock. Yikes.
  17. *appreciative*

    My other pojt is that they should be coping well with the nuts and bolts of notation by the time they arrive at high school. Imagine if we had the same appalling levels of literacy,would be acceptable for the children to be able to tell a story or poen but not write it down? Creativity is great but they need some knowledge and understanding in order to achieve and progress.
  18. Sorry, in advance, it's rather long.

    Phantom, I wasn't quite sure whether your issue was with the fact that a lot of 14yo can't read notation, end of story, or that they are then embarking on GCSE courses without being able to. These are slightly different issues, it seems to me.

    As to why they can't, before bringing up the GCSE, it's not THAT difficult, but you've got to want to. Pre-GCSE, I think it's easy enough to do a lot of what you want - obviously not if you're an orchestral player or several other categories, but for the ordinary mortals - without needing the notation. It becomes more difficult once you embark on GCSE, but what is interesting is why someone should want to do GCSE when they haven't wanted to read notation.

    As to whether or not they're "thick" (no, I don't take offence at that, this is the staffroom and it's a useful shorthand and I know what you mean) I'd only half agree with whoever it was that said, in effect, good gracious some of them find reading words hard enough without trying to read notation - I can imagine a case, though I've never met one personally, where music reading came far more easily than text reading, because after all, isn't what you see on the stave a sort of map of what you are playing, singing or hearing? This is why I KEEP asking the children in my school, who get letter-names taken off their keyboard and recorder music in the same way as you take the stabilisers off a bike, "if it was really easier to read music from letter-names, don't you think the music that I buy and play from would have letter-names on it?"

    There are all sorts of mental and visual issues involved in why some can read and some can't. I started two girls, Jenny and Gemma (not their real names of course) at about the same time, both extremely bright, enough so to be amongst the half-dozen pupils from their school who got ten A* GCSEs. Gemma never had any problem reading from the word go - could get 20/21 in some grade exams for s/r - and of course that meant that she could learn the music at a phenomenal rate, and when I left the area, she was in my last exam cohort doing grade 8 at age 15. Jenny, who could play what she had learnt probably with more musical sensitivity than Gemma, failed sight-reading at every grade, except, surprisingly, the grade 5 that she achieved in the same session as Gemma's g8. It most certainly wasn't a question of relative intelligence, or indeed of diligence, of that I was sure. But Jenny's brain just didn't process the signs into movement with the same facility as Gemma's. On the other hand, Jenny could, up to a point, play by ear. Gemma couldn't pick out Happy Birthday without a struggle.

    I did wonder if it was a vision thing. I asked my optician in hospital about this - my condition is wayyy more complicated than astigmatism, but it bears some similarities. I know I can see stripes in one direction very clearly but very blurred at right-angles. I wanted to know (a)does almost everyone have some astigmatism, however slight, and (b)is it more common to see clear vertically and blurry horizontally or the other way round. The answer to (a) was yes, though it scarcely affects their day-to-day seeing (except in music?) and (b)"well, we normally look at it from the other end, but, let me think, yes, it's much more common for horizontal lines to be fuzzy while vertical lines are clear"

    I couldn't understand why I was having so much trouble reading the music when I went to help out by playing the viola in my daughter's expanded-by-parents school orchestra. I had always been extremely fluent. Eventually I realised that, exacerbated by trying to read at music-stand distance, which I wasn't used to, I could see the notes all right. I just couldn't see the stave. I was trying to read the notes on a grey stripe.

    So, we're asking quite a lot from people to begin with: to be able to react physically and aurally to a pattern of dots on what are usually very close-set lines at what may be the wrong angle. I did once ask Jenny if that note was on a line or in a space, and she leaned forwards before answering.

    Any tone-deaf beginner can learn the names of the lines and spaces and the relative lengths of the notes, if they have a mind to. Processing them into sound-making is more complex. I know in Jenny's case it wasn't lack of will.

    But, you know, I think you can make a good case for the delaying of reading notation, at least in some cases. My experience is based on vicarious experience of the Suzuki violin method. At this stage I'd advise anyone who wishes to lay into this method to make sure of their facts first; yes, it does have a few drawbacks, but they're not what most people bring up, because they don't understand how it works, and have heard a lot of incorrect information.

    In Japan they start them very young, playing musical, aural physical games, and they learn everything by ear, without reading until they have reached the end of book umpteen, and the Vivaldi concerto in A minor. In fact my daughters' teacher, who had the largest Suzuki group in the country outside London and was kosher enough to have been trained in Matsumoto by Suzuki himself, used to start them reading quite a bit earlier, because of the demands of musical activity in this country. Whatever, either way, when the reading began, it happened, as our teacher said, "all of a piece". So I could look at two 8-year-old violinists, both at about the same level of reading, but one of them was streets ahead in the standard of music being studied, and what's more s/he would have far better posture and tone, having been able to develop it since before they could remember without having to worry about trying to read the music. The young teenagers I knew who had come up through that system were all excellent readers and beautiful players: three in the National Children's Orchestra, and two with grade 8 at 15.

    So - and I'm sorry this has rambled so much - if the musicianship has been _very_ well founded, it could well be that superimposing the reading on it might not be such a struggle if it's approached with the right attitude from both teacher and pupil.

    One thing I do with some of my young piano pupils is to teach a piece phrase by phrase in the following sequence: Shut your eyes and listen. Watch my hand. Watch my hand again. Shut your eyes and listen again. Now watch the page while I play it - don't look away. Watch the page again. Now play it. More often than not, it's entirely correct.
  19. i the t

    i the t New commenter

    you seem to be entirely convinced that the western (niche) practice of music notation is the ideal musical paradigm so i know theres no point getting into an unresolvable debate with a 'believer'.

    Suffice to say, most cultures of the world do not use notation for their music, it is generally passed down orally by use of memory which is perfectly capable of storing unquantifiable amounts of musical information.

    The various parameters/elements of music can only be placed in a subjective heirarchy, not an actual scientific one.

    I choose to focus on using music as a tool for the childrens spiritual and emotional expression rather than making them study its principles of codification.

    my pupils compose using sequencing software and recording live takes they've learned by heart and layering them to create textures and arrangements.

    whats wrong with playing by ear ?

    what about jazz ? funk ? soul ? gamelan ? hip-hop ?

    whats wrong with kids learning about music they already like ?

    POTO, the fact you have endorsed Latin speaks volumes about your irrelevant disposition.

    unless your post is of course, a wind-up ?

    *awaits rednecked retort*
  20. Goodness, it's a bit late for all this, but my experience is slightly different. I sing barbershop and we learn our songs (barbershoppers NEVER sing with music) either from sheet music for those who can or by rote from tapes for those who can't. I sight sing and it takes me a fraction of the time it takes the tape listeners to learn a song, and I learn it more securely. I believe it's because listening to tapes is passive and sight singing is active. It takes more effort so is more effective. I then thought how marvellous it would be if all the chorus could sight sing. No more waiting for the others to catch up. I then thought they should all have been taught at school the same as they were taught to read... So in the primary school where I help out, where the music is diabolical and the head hates it, I've started a small sight singing group. And guess what? They love it. They ask to do more. They lap it up even though I'm expecting far more of them than most lessons they do. If I offer them a ten minute play at the end of the lesson they ask for more sight singing. I think children want to learn things even if they're hard, maybe because they're hard and a challenge,if they're taught well. And in twenty years I'd love to have a chorus of people who could all sight sing, and wouldn't every musical director. It's so much more use, whatever the subject, to learn something 'real' than to be patronised and allowed to get away with unchallenging and pointless work.

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