When a musician looks at a score they hear the music internally. The musician doesn’t think “That is a G, the next note goes up, hold that note for 2 beats” etc. Printed music is a picture of the sound in the best way we know how to represent it.

In the book Reading by Ear by Cathy Hargrave discusses her conversations with Dr. Suzuki about reading when she was studying in Matsumoto:

“One morning, I was in the main lobby of the Talent Education Institute when Dr. Suzuki arrived. He led me by the arm to a nearby sofa and firmly declared, ‘Of course, Suzuki students learn to read.’ He began explaining his Mother Tongue Approach, its application to musical instruction, and the natural progression into reading musical notation. The following paragraphs are a brief account of parts of the conversation: Before reading begins, introduce it into the environment. Thus far, the student has learned all pieces by a combination of ear and repetition, so only the parent has used the music book. Begin leaving Volume One and other familiar volumes of the Suzuki repertoires in plain sight of the child so s/he may browse through them. Make casual comments about the book whenever appropriate during lessons and practice sessions.”

So here we have in the closest possible terms what Dr. Suzuki told us about how to introduce reading in the Suzuki method. Cathy Hargrave’s book goes on to explain the next steps Dr. Suzuki discusses in beginning reading.

When the Suzuki book is used as a reference in lessons and at home, the children will develop a natural curiosity about it. This is exactly the same in regard to children’s readiness to read English. They first observe reading in the environment. They have books read to them. This develops motivation.

There is so much that the child can learn about reading a musical score through observing others reading, and by having the books in the environment for reference. This is part of the whole learning environment and happens naturally without actually “teaching” anything. By using the book in lessons and practice, the child will experience that their Suzuki Book 1 has every piece represented with a visual copy of the sound and how to play it with the correct fingerings. They gradually gain awareness that each dot on the score represents one sound. They will glean that the music is read from left to right, top to bottom. The sounds are placed on lines – the staff, and they go up and down -pitch by placement as higher/lower on the staff. By having the sound internalized and looking at the score, the rhythm will begin to look like it sounds with longer notes taking up more horizontal space.

In this way, they understand the score holistically first. They will be able to look at the score and hear the music inside their mind. This is possible because they are not thinking about how long does that dot last, or the name of the note. The symbols translate directly into sound.

The Suzuki book is the best place to keep your notes. It becomes a kind of memory book. You can write down dates that you started or performed a piece for example. Please use the book to mark spots and main points, solfege and how to practice. You can use the score to write notes on and look at during the lesson, and use at practice.

It is good to have another copy on the piano that is your child’s copy. I will refer to it during the lesson, opening it to circle a spot, show a whole note, or to point out a fingering to you and play the correct fingering. You can then mark the same spot in your score. Then, we can close the book and play. This gives an important message to the child that the book has importance and is a visual reference.

Because of this developing readiness it may be unclear at exactly what point the child is “reading” – that is to say looking at the score and internally hearing the sound. (as different from reading and playing at the same time) We will begin using a separate book for reading around the beginning of Suzuki Book 2. This will give the child experience playing and reading at the same time. We will learn all the names for the notes rhythms and symbols. This will be easy for them because they already know the sound.

An important point to insure that a child will be able to read a musical score and play at the same time is to develop their playing independent of the visual sense. This means they can physically create the sound they have internalized without looking at their hand all of the time. The kinesthetic/aural connection must be fully developed first, then reading while playing at the same time will be successful. When the ability to play with a good sound and basic skills is established, the child then is free to devote the visual sense to the printed symbols.

Because of this early period of creating reading readiness while the child is developing the physical/aural skills in playing piano, the reading process will unfold naturally. Most importantly, the visual sensibility of the child will directly put the symbols into sound without having to translate into the mental realm such as “Every Good Boy Does Fine-that’s an F” etc. The ability to have direct translation from symbol to sound is what makes a fluent reader.

References and further research:

Reading Music By Ear, by Cathy Hargrave

Principles for Implicit Learning – a good article on learning, and the development of knowledge frameworks.
The promotion of explicit and implicit learning strategies in English instruction: a necessary aim? I found this while writing this blog. This is my reading for the week. It is an in depth look at language acquisition and includes implicit learning as well as flow theory.