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Using mnemonics to read music

We have all heard people using Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit to remember the notes on the lines of the music staff. To remember the spaces many people use FACE. I have long said “show me someone who uses mnemonics to read music and I will show you someone who cannot read music” Using mnemonics to read music is as ineffective now as it was 100 years ago.

Performing music effectively necessitates working from reflex, with the musician functioning on autopilot. Simply put, sight reading music at performance speed happens way too fast for us to be counting up the lines or spaces of the staff, whilst reciting inane slogans that have no bearing on the actual music in terms of musical direction up and or down the staff.

Another common mistake we see from students who have taken lessons elsewhere is writing in the name of the notes on the sheet music. This is a wholly ineffective quick fix that actually slows down the reading process and quickly becomes a crutch that is hard to abandon once we become reliant on it. Of course we think it best to do it correctly from the start and not develop bad habits in the first place.

Observing student’s exam results at many other schools we often see candidates perform well in all other areas yet fail the sight reading component of the exam. Fortunately this does not happen at Caroline Springs School of Music. Our teachers are expert in teaching effective music reading methods. Although many great musicians are poor readers or cannot read at all, efficient music reading skills allow us to acquire so much valuable music vocabulary. We can get through life without reading English but it makes things a lot tougher than for those who are literate. Don’t be musically illiterate; devote a short part of each day’s practice to sight reading.

So how do we go about teaching students to sight read? Firstly and most obviously, we never use mnemonics, AND we never write the names of the notes on the music. Our method involves a lot of repetition but we guarantee that with practice you will learn to read effectively very quickly. ANZCA has a number of great sight reading publications for all grades that are well worth looking at on a daily basis. Practising music from a variety of sources is invaluable, practicing the same material over and over is an ineffective method of learning to read music, as the only time we are ever truly reading from sight is the first time we play through the music, memory and practice kicks in after the first time.

Speak to your teacher at your next lesson if you would like to discuss any of the above at greater length. Keep practising hard and don’t let your next exam’s sight reading become fright reading!

By Brendan Hains

Principal instructor at Caroline Springs School of Music.

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