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Why is it so hard to read music?

December 07, 2020

Why is reading music so complicated?

Why bother at all to read music when you can just play?

Why do kids have to go through years of learning to read music just to be able to play songs?

Why bother to read letters when you can just talk?

Kids don’t have to go through years of learning to read words when they can just speak.

Some music learning approaches take this concept and teach kids to play before reading. That’s ok as long as you’re happy to delay the engagement of reading part of the brain.

If you are confident that your student can memorise every song you teach them by rote by all means give it a go. Learning by rote is a great idea for some pieces and should encouraged to gets kids up and playing. Ashley Danyew presents some very precise and important benefits of rote learning but also mentions that reading is necessary. You can read more on Ashley’s excellent blog here.

Meanwhile children across the globe have been learning a variety of notations for centuries. Here’s just a few examples;

Image result for egyptian hieroglyphs font

Egyptian hieroglyphs font

Image result for japanese characters

Japanese characters

Image result for chinese characters

Chinese characters


Have a look at some of these hyroglifics from Eegpt. Yes, mispelling is intentional!

Now more than ever, in the modern communication age of texting, tweeting and emojis our minds are constantly being bombarded with alternate and often “complicated” ways of thinking. Or are westerners actually learning to find a less complicated way of communicating at last?

When I misspell a word artificial intelligence (AI) asks me whether I would like to “add to dictionary”. It doesn’t even bother to put the word “the” in before the word “dictionary” when it creates the request.

Artificial Intelligence

In this way I am free, actually to make up my own, new word system and if I  add all my newly made up words to the dictionary and tell AI that they are meant to be there it will let me write a whole essay without a single red correction underline. How freeing and refreshing!!

In 1985 my first daughter started school in Reception in South Australia. As it turns our her entrance school year was a lucky one for her. Teachers were hot on correcting spelling, punctuation and other “correct” writing basics.

Image result for child's essay with red pen corrections

In 1987 my second daughter started reception. The approach to writing was very different. She was not so lucky. Children must now be free to pour out their ideas in whatever manner they chose. Like so much colourful paint being spilt and spread over a blank canvas they were to be freed to convey their inner passions and creativities without restraint.

Image result for child's essay with spelling mistakes

Daughter number three started reception in 1989 and then our son in 1993. Nothing had changed and no new lesson were learnt. Out of 4 children only one has been able to successfully negotiate speed reading and university standard essay writing without a struggle. The others have reached their own high standards but with a huge struggle both in reading and writing skills from their very early years.

Daughter number three, Heidi, has her own social media small business. One of her testimonials reads:

“Wright Social helps us grow our audience of prospective customers for future business. Their ability to deliver regular, timely and high quality content has been outstanding, and has been instrumental in driving our Facebook presence to a higher standard than I could have ever imagined. We’re very satisfied with their service and performance and they’ve become an integral part of our sales and marketing strategy…Heidi understands our audience and her strategies have helped us turn them into customers. Choosing to work with Heidi was one of the smartest decisions we’ve made.”

Clearly spelling well in primary school is not a required pre-requisite to a successful modern career in Social Media Marketing…its more important to write a short and sweet tweet that hits the spot n a timely manner.

In Heidi’s growing global business she and her co-workers are forced to use emojis, hashtags, shortened word forms and quips to engage the modern, quick thinking customer with very little interest in focusing on long, drawn out sentences like this one. Thanks for staying with me :) (:

Will Heidi be able to write a 1,000 word essay without a lot of concentration? Apart from passing University exams…does it actually matter any more?

The western countries are quickly entering a new era of shortened word forms.

For instance  :0) might mean “I am surprised but happy” Here is the simplified Chinese symbol for “surprised but happy” 惊讶和快乐

And here it is in emoji

Image result for Emoji for surprised and happyWhich one do you prefer?

You will be very “surprised and happy” to learn that reading music is just like reading any other sign for words. It takes time, interest and repetition to learn to read music but the benefits are enormous.

In case you are interested there is already a new 📙 Emojipedia — 😃 Home of Emoji Meanings 💁👌🎍😍

This is an encyclopaedia of emojis…well what next! 😲and it is always being kept up to date: the emoji on the right below is actually smiling behind the COVID mask!


So, back to the wonderful world of reading music.

Instead of writing down “Play the third G from the left of the piano (with your left hand) for one count” we simply write this instead.

G-Note Bass Clef

Music writing has evolved over centuries and may continue to do so in the future.

Is learning how to read Chinese characters difficult for Chinese children? Probably not, but it does take time and dedicated practise.

It is much more difficult for adults who read words to learn Chinese characters. Our Western brains are not set for icons. As young children we read letters and slowly string them together into words and sentences.

Learning music requires quite a different approach. It is not simply replacing a pre-learnt word with a symbol or replacing an English word with a word or sign from another language with the same or similar meaning.

In learning music we recognise positions of notation on a series of lines and spaces.

The positions are conveniently in alphabetical order (Western alphabet, luckily) and they go up to the right and down to the left which fits in with Western reading styles. It might actually be much harder for some adult Asians to read music than for a Westerner.

Some Asian scripts are read from right to left, but music is always left to right.

Teaching young children how to read music is a natural and logical sequence of basic  Western concepts.

If introduced early in their music lessons even very young children can learn to read and write music fluently in just a few years.

Now that you are convinced that music reading is as normal as reading other icons please take just one minute to have a look at my blog: “4 Easy steps to reading and writing music”

Give me a call when you are ready to go to the next step and learn some music of your own. 0418 563 226


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