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Son having problem with notes


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#1 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 21:57

Difficult one to explain, please bear with me smile.gif

Son is 13 and learning the viola. Is quite musical and making a nice sound. We both do our grade 2 on Thursday as I'm learning too.

The problem is, he seems to be having great difficulty actually knowing which notes are where on the fingerboard. If you give him some music he can practise it and get to know where the notes are to make up the piece, but if you say to him "play a Bb" he won't know where the Bb's are on the strings sad.gif

Because of this, he can't sightread properly at all and he can't seem to understand how the flats and sharps work. He can play them in a piece of music, but has to be shown where they are. He doesn't seem to be thinking logically. I say to him to play an F and he just looks at me and says he doesn't know what an F is.

We did have him assessed privately a few years ago and he has some adhd signs. He can't concentrate very well and stuff sometimes doesn't go in and stick. He can't always get his head round stuff. He's very intelligent, but does struggle with maths.

I don't think our teacher realises just how behind he is with reading the music as I'm only just realising after trying to help him with his sightreading.

Is this a recognisable problem? Is it easily remedied? Any tips? I'm starting to worry.

We've been playing about 4 years.
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#2 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:08

I'd just like to add that his first teacher taught him to locate notes by using the terms 1st, 2nd or 3rd finger and writing those numbers underneath the notes on the stave, so my son is now fixated on using those terms to find the notes. If I say play an E he'll ask me which finger to use, 1, 2 or 3 and I'm trying to get him to name the notes instead. He can't seem to get out of this mindset.
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#3 owainsutton

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:09

It's easy to get trapped in the 'numbers' way of thinking with beginner strings, because the note names don't fall with any great logic on the strings. Unlike the piano, 'middle C' has no spatial meaning, nor do 'black notes' seem any different from 'white notes'.

Does he know his scales well? If so, relating your questions to where they start, where the long notes are, and where fingers are close together (or not) can be a help.

Longer-term, knuckling down with some theory work away from the viola is probably going to be necessary. Getting a basic knowledge of the geography of a piano keyboard would help, too - not necessarily piano lessons, even just an electronic keyboard and working out together how you play your viola scales & pieces on it.
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#4 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:32

Thanks for your reply.

He does play his scales well, but seems to just do it by ear and instinct rather than actually relating them to different music keys or using them to learn where the different notes are.

I do have a piano at home, so I can use that to show him the different notes.

I don't think it's helping in school because they're teaching the treble and bass clef, so he's having to learn three clefs and I don't think he can cope with it all. I had him on the note trainer computer programme and he was naming the notes okay, but still couldn't tell me where they were on the fingerboard huh.gif

I need to snap him out of this 1, 2, 3 business, but he's hanging onto it for comfort I think.


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#5 owainsutton

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:42

QUOTE(echelon @ Nov 27 2011, 10:32 PM) View Post
I need to snap him out of this 1, 2, 3 business, but he's hanging onto it for comfort I think.

Ease him out of it! As I said, it's easy to slip into the habit, both as pupil and teacher. On the other hand, once you're into advanced repertoire, you tend to be thinking about fingerings and intervals at least as much as absolute note names.

You're right, the three clefs is a lot at once, and it's possible that teachers at school haven't realised that this could be making things much more complicated. So, I guess, the piano is the way to go...focussing on the structure of the major scale, tone-tone-semitone..., and counting up notes on the far side of the piano keyboard (irrespective of their colour) might help connect it the patterns on the fingerboard.

Do also reassure him that it is confusing and that from a violin-family point of view it is not logical, so we just have to put the extra work into learning it smile.gif
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#6 andante

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:44

When my younger daughter started playing the piano she learnt which note on the music was which key on the pinao, but if I said play an E she wouldn't know what it was as she hadn't learnt the note names. It sounds like your son has learnt which number goes with which position on the fingerboard and left out the note names and possibly the notes on the music as well. I suspect it will come with time, but probably the note names are less important than relating the dots on the music to what he has to do on the instrument. I would leave naming the notes out for now.

A friend had a son who struggled with relating the notes on the music moving up and down the stave with hands on the piano moving left and right, he was on the more able end of the autistic spectrum and it was just something that he couldn't do, although he could play quite musically by ear.

With regard to the exam sightreading he will get some marks for attempting it. Probably best at this late stage to concentrate on getting the rhythm right and going up and down in the right places, regardless of whether the notes themselves are right.
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#7 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:50

Thanks, one thing that he's doing is searching for patterns on the fingerboard that aren't there. Such as if you ask him to play in the key of F major with Bb's, he's asking if all his second fingers on all the strings need to 'go back' rather than just the Bb fingers being back, so he ends up playing with too many flats rather than just the Bs if you see what I mean.

He's constantly looking for these patterns and trying to figure things out that way.

I feel sorry for him having to learn three clefs though blink.gif I think he would have been better off learning the piano to be honest.
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#8 owainsutton

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:53

QUOTE(andante @ Nov 27 2011, 10:44 PM) View Post

Probably best at this late stage to concentrate on getting the rhytm right and going up and down in the right places, regardless of whether the notes themselves are right.

Definitely! Reading the right patterns, i.e. identifying stepwise movement vs. intervals, is a crucial skill to demonstrate. And I do reinforce 'last note = key note' at this stage.

On the other hand, he's going to have to deal with note names soon, because he'll soon be heading out of first position, and that means no dot necessarily corresponds to any finger.

QUOTE(echelon @ Nov 27 2011, 10:50 PM) View Post

I feel sorry for him having to learn three clefs though blink.gif I think he would have been better off learning the piano to be honest.

Definitely not! Getting him through this stage is a chore, but if you can get him to the stage where he's in demand as 'a viola player', he will thank you!
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#9 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:56

That's interesting andante, we've been told he has aspergers traits as well as his adhd problems. He's not going to be treated for these as he's not badly enough affected at school. I don't know how to facilitate learning in this instance as I can't figure out how his brain is interpreting things. He doesn't seem to be able to follow logical sequences. He's good at subjects such as English, History etc., but struggles with specific instructions and rules.

Oh, dear, I forgot about different positions! *lol* Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse laugh.gif
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#10 owainsutton

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 22:57

Is he good at reading and absorbing, then? That might be a big help with theory!

And positions needn't be too much trouble, if they've got the 'tone-tone-semitone...' business sorted.
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#11 andante

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 23:04

He'll probably be very good at the things he is good at and almost obsessive about them, from my experience, if he has mild Aspergers. You'll have to follow his lead with how he learns things rather than trying to get him to learn your way.

I don't see why heading out of first position means he needs to know the names. Surely he can relate a position on the fingerboard with a note, regardless of which finger he plays it with, without calling it by it's name. I realy think that adding the names of the notes is an unnecessary layer at this stage. The daughter who missed this stage out is the best sightreader of my three and I think it is because of relating the note directly to the keys at the early stages.
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#12 echelon

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 23:08

He can read factual things and things that interest him and he'll take those in, but things that involve learning patterns and rules he doesn't get. He'll keep asking our music teacher why things are done the way they are. He's struggling in maths in much the same way. Set rules defeat him.

He's not understanding key signatures either. To him, there's a random selection of sharps and flats, but he can't see the patterns in them and how they can be worked out.

No, he can't relate the positions of the notes to what's on the fingerboard. I was struggling as well and I've had to learn the names so that I can find them on the fingerboard. Alto Clef is annoying to learn, but he's just not coping with learning patterns and position of dot = note on fingerboard. He seems to need it spelt out to him otherwise he's just playing by ear and memory rather than actually reading the music.
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#13 owainsutton

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 23:09

QUOTE(andante @ Nov 27 2011, 11:04 PM) View Post
I don't see why heading out of first position means he needs to know the names. Surely he can relate a position on the fingerboard with a note, regardless of which finger he plays it with, without calling it by it's name.

You can add third position to first position with a simple association of dot-to-finger, but that isn't a good foundation for solid, fluent and creative use of all positions.


QUOTE(echelon @ Nov 27 2011, 11:04 PM) View Post
He's not understanding key signatures either. To him, there's a random selection of sharps and flats, but he can't see the patterns in them and how they can be worked out.

Maybe introduce him to the circle of fifths, and perhaps even to the physics of sound (vibration of strings and of open & closed pipes, harmonic overtones, etc.)?
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#14 Sunrise

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 06:09

I think some keyboard time is a good idea here; and use the circle of 5th and build the key signatures. He is on viola so you can start on C major, and learn the notes on the viola (with tone, tone, semitone etc) as he goes; get him to say the notes as he plays them. Then do G etc.

The best way I've found with teaching aspies (and my daughter is mildly aspie, but not needing intervention) is to break things down to the smallest pieces and concentrate one piece at a time. Sensory overload gets you nowhere!!

Of course this is a long term thing....
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#15 katemorrisviolin

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 10:43

agree.gif with Dawnmc71.

I think this is a very common phenomenon. My daughter is working towards grade 5 clarinet and still often looks at me embarrassed when I say something like "play an F". Her sightreading is way behind where it should be, but she gets on really well with her playing in general; I strongly suspect she plays mostly from memory.
I got to grade 4 classical guitar as a child without having a clue where any of the notes were, then gave up out of embrarrassment and frustration when I was "found out".
I hope he continues to enjoy playing music regardless, and doesn't get too bogged down with note learning.
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