Tears with I Can Read book


Jennifer said: Apr 1, 2012
 5 posts

My 10-year old is smack in the middle of I Can Read Book 2 (by Joanne Martin). It has taken her a good two years to get to this point, and she has been frustrated, sometimes practically crying, for much of the process of learning to read. She is in the beginning of Suzuki Book 3, and has a decent ear for learning new pieces.
Truth is, I think she is able to learn sight-reading fine, but she absolutely hates the process. She hates repeating a line. She dreads this part of her practice.

I suppose I could do what we did in I Can Read Book 1: go back about 30 lessons and repeat them. It’s not what I really want her to do, but if that has been effective for others in her position, I would be willing (and I think her teacher would).

Does anyone have ideas for making it more enjoyable, or at least endurable, for her?

I think the I Can Read books are really good, so I am frustrated that it isn’t going smoothly. I think the problem is more likely my inability as the practice parent to find a way to make this more enjoyable. But perhaps a different note-reading book might be a better match for my child?

Thank you.

Irene Mitchell said: Apr 2, 2012
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
114 posts

Hi Persephone!
I just talked about this on the SAA’s “Parents As Partners Online”:

“Our favorite reading games to play use the ‘I can read music’ (Martin) book 1. The child plays one pitch and one rhythm page a day; as soon as a line is played correctly, s/he goes on to the next one (so as not to play by ear). If a mistake is made, that line is repeated until it is right, but no more. We try to ‘trick’ each other; one person plays, sings or claps a line and the other guesses which line was performed. This is done first with the everyone looking at the notes… later when they are stronger readers, we have the listener look AWAY from the music while it is being played. This game is great for melodic and rhythmic memory… and if the performer plays it correctly, both teams get a point! We clap, dance and drum the rhythm pages.
Another new favorite reading book is ‘Sing, Play, Learn’ from Simply Violin… kids love to read easy familiar tunes…I love the way they group the pieces by finger patterns.”
We use flashcards- we buy ours from young-musicians, but there are online free flashcards as well. We say the name, address (finger number on string) and then play it. It is fun putting various cards together and composing pieces.
My goal is to make music reading/orchestra/theory a third of the practice at about this age/level. Warm-up & review comes first, followed by reading, followed by drill sections on new pieces and the new piece. Then we finish with a ‘performance’ of an older piece.
I also want to remind you that listening to the CD EVERY DAY makes a huge difference, in everything!
I hope that helps! :o) Irene

Irene Mitchell

Ariel said: Apr 3, 2012
Ariel SlaterViolin
Hopkinton, NH
12 posts

Hi Persephone (and Irene!),

I love Irene’s suggestion so much!

I’m also writing to let you know: some of us just hate sight reading. I dreaded having to learn things with music, and remember fighting with my mom to practice orchestra music, which I had to read. It wasn’t the practice I minded, it was the reading part… like your daughter, I suspect I was just fine at sight-reading, but it felt like an arduous task, something I’d never be able to do well.

It’s tricky for us when we have strong ears and are confident without music to see music-reading as an aid or boon. It just feels difficult and frustrating, because we know we could learn the music faster by ear instead of slogging through the task of our note-reading.

I don’t have any magic solutions—my teachers and parents never found one for me—but I do know that it does get easier over time, and that what starts out as a frustrating, tantrum-inducing practice can turn into a career in music. Don’t despair! She may need you to keep the end goal in sight and help push her through her frustration. You’ll both get to the other side!


Sue Hunt said: Apr 3, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

It sounds like somewhere along the line, your daughter has got hold of the idea that sight reading is difficult. It will help if you slacken off a bit and get some basics right whilst providing a nice incentive of some sort.

When my children were at the “I Can Read Music” stage, we livened things up a bit by putting one M&M on each example. As I didn’t give them chocolate in daily life, this provoked a flurry of activity as they tried to get as many examples right as possible.

Do you just play the examples or do you analyse them? My students play a game talking their way through the examples, “same, same, up, down, skip up” etc.

You could get her to look at a note, close her eyes, then play it for a point. When she gets good at this, get her to look at 2 notes and repeat this technique.

She can also recognise rhythmic figures, again winning a point every time she spots and plays a certain rhythm on the page.

Decide how many points she is going to win in any one practice and make sure it is within her range.

Keep it very basic till she is comfortable, then add another concept. It doesn’t matter how slowly you move forward, as long as you keep going. I seem to remember Suzuki teaching a child who had trouble confusing two numbers. He wrote them on different sides of a dice and the child shouted out the number on top.

Remember, praising her for focus and hard work is much more motivating than praising for results. Music in Practice.

Ruth Brons said: Apr 3, 2012
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
West Orange, NJ
150 posts

Years ago I attended a lecture by reading specialist Dr. Howard Richman, along with an entire auditorium of home schooling parents eager to learn how best how to tackle the reading [of language] issue. He started his talk off by stating aloud the question that was on everyone’s minds: “Which method will teach my child to read?” His answer? “The third one.”
He went on to explain that no method ever devised goes slowly enough to consistently work the first time, and that neither the specific method used, nor the order the in which the methods are presented, has significant bearing on outcome. Children progress through the first method a bit, until it gets to be too much. If they are lucky, a second method will be tried from the beginning and they will get a bit further with that one before it inevitably gets to be too much. Then if a third method is attempted from the beginning, there is enough confidence and momentum to carry the student through to competency.

How I apply this bit of wisdom to my violin studio is to provide a print-rich environment from early on—the students definitely become visually familiar with music in print, without formal explanation. Then the first method is often the “I Can Read Book”—I have the students write in letter names on the first line, finger numbers on the second, and then just play lines 3-5.
Somewhere around lesson #25 we just spend an entire lesson and just play the rest of the book. I count doing a few pieces or etudes with increasingly sparse finger numbers as method number two. Method number three, where kids really become fluent readers, is in their beginning ensemble or youth orchestra experience. The music is usually carefully chosen to be technically easy and repetitive, and there is that social pressure to read. Students new to these ensembles usually need me to mark up their music when they first join the group, and then quickly get the hang of just reading it after that.

So, if the point of frustration has been reached in whatever book you are using, pull out another beginning reading book and start from the beginning. Also very handy to do once in a while is SmartMusic, which now comes loaded with 4 beginning method books, most with great accompaniments and the”assessment” feature that can turn reading practically into a video game!

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 3, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1069 posts

Did your child have the same aversion to learning to read English?

Sue Hunt said: Apr 4, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

Well said, Ruth. As an adult, I get bored and frustrated too and snap up new viola sight reading material whenever I see it. Books of well known tunes go down especially well as kids find it easier to figure out where the notes are leading them.

However, a friend of mine managed to teach her daughter with the ABRSM exam sight reading examples. She read one a day and as soon as they had read through a grade, they just did it again till she was familiar with the keys for each grade. It was successful in that she passed the sight reading in each exam, but Ruth is right. You need variety.

Jennifer said: Apr 7, 2012
 5 posts

Wow. Thank you all for your many ideas and descriptions of your experiences & teaching!

I have to start with RaineJen’s first because it jumped right out at me: YES, she had the same aversion to learning to read English. She went from positively loving books and surrounding herself with stuffed animals in order to pretend-read to them… to disliking books in kindergarten. I am convinced she would have been diagnosed with a learning disability, except that I researched the subject and found a method to use at home that worked… brilliantly. She needed very explicit instruction, with massed practice, in learning the alphabetic code. She wasn’t thrilled with it, I’ll tell you, but it worked well and very quickly, and she became an excellent reader, well above grade level. I have wondered periodically if something similar is going on with sight reading music. After the eye-opening experience of teaching her to read, I changed careers and became a reading tutor. I think, RaineJen, that I have been far to slow to look at this scenario in the way I do as a tutor for my students. I need to teach small pieces of the musical code very explicitly and with lots of massed repetition. Just pushing on in the way I have is not working well. I need to pull some aspects of the learning OUT of actual playing. Yes indeed, you have given me lots to think about, and I can certainly tie in a number of the other suggestions made on this forum:

“Sing, Play, Learn” looks promising, and I will give that a try. I worry a bit that she will use her ear too much. The “I Can Read” books fool her when a familiar tune begins the line, but turns into something else later on the line; she will often keep playing the familiar tune. On the other hand, I think she would be motivated to learn familiar tunes.

The teacher has provided flashcards, and I keep “forgetting” to use them. Thanks for the reminder and ideas for how to use them.

Sue, I love the idea of analyzing the music, such as noting whether the notes are the same, up, down… I have been surprised that she hasn’t acquired this understanding by immersion (again, as a reading tutor I should have known that “immersion” does not always work); I need to make the teaching of it explicit and turn it into an activity separate from playing the notes. Same goes for Ruth’s ideas of my dd writing letter names and fingerings. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought to separate out these skills from physically playing the violin.

I have wanted to use SmartMusic for some time, and I even purchased it a year ago. Her teacher doesn’t yet use it. We have computer issues that has made using it for violin practice rather challenging. So SmartMusic has gone unused. I need to figure out how to get it up and running in the room where she practices.

Ariel, thank you for the inspiration! It will keep me persevering.

Thank you all again!

Elizabeth said: Apr 10, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Hi Persephone

They’re a ton of great ideas going on in this thread. I’d like to talk about one more part that I found to be the most challenging when I was learning how to sight read.

Sight reading isn’t just about skill—it’s about learning to deal with stress. This is why the frustration can be overwhelming to the point of tears. She’s basically learning an entirely different way to approach music.

The first thing that stresses out a Suzuki kid learning to sight read is playing unfamiliar songs. Suzuki kids get used to knowing exactly what notes are coming up when they’re practicing their pieces. Learning to play what you’ve been listening to for weeks, months, or even years is nothing like learning how to sight read. It’s really stressful. Just like Ariel said, if you have a strong ear (which is the whole purpose of the Suzuki method) it can be really frustrating.

So before she approaches a piece to sight read, try encouraging her to study it a minute or so before she plays. This short preparation time calms the stress down a little. Like Sue suggested, ask her to look and see what rhythm and note patterns she sees. Some kids get better at sight reading by clapping, singing, or humming the rhythm before they even start sight reading the piece. I’d start with sight reading very small sections at a time before I moved on to playing larger sections to avoid the kind of absolute frustration that ends the practice session altogether.

The second thing that stresses out a Suzuki kid learning to sight read is continuing to play the music without going back and correcting themselves. The exercises in the sight reading book aren’t pieces they’re going to play for a recital. They’re not meant to be memorized. They’re meant to be played 2, maybe 3 times, and that’s it.

This is nothing like the way kids learn to play Suzuki pieces. So in the midst of learning all these new sight reading skills, she’s learning to let go of polishing or perfecting a piece of music (even if it’s just an exercise). And letting go is hard when you’re used to the Suzuki style of polishing and practicing a song over and over and over again every single day.

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Jennifer said: Apr 10, 2012
 5 posts

So in the midst of learning all these new sight reading skills, she’s learning to let go of polishing or perfecting a piece of music (even if it’s just an exercise).

This is something I hadn’t thought about. I bet dd would benefit from this explanation. Thanks, Elizabeth!

A couple of people suggested starting with a new sight-reading book. Any recommendations?

Elizabeth said: Apr 11, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

I learned to sight read mostly from pieces I sight read in orchestra and chamber groups. I used Joanne’s I Can Read Books as well. I can’t think of other good books right now at her level off the top of my head that I can recommend, but I’ll take a look around and get back to you on that.

I will say that if she has a great ear, you might want to steer clear of any sight reading books that have pieces she’ll be familiar with (sometimes I used to “pretend to sight read music” this way).

And if you’re looking for some new sight reading material for her, I’d stick with exercises that are one or two levels below the beginning of Book 3. Sight reading material should be below her current playing level because she’s dealing with all that stress we talked about earlier. We want to give her quick wins, so she feels like she’s really getting somewhere with this messy not-so-fun stuff.

So for example, Martini Gavotte has quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, and slurs. I’d focus on sight reading mainly quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes before she moves on to the sixteenth and eighth notes. Hopefully that sentence made sense (but just in case!) I’m saying she should focus on sight reading music that’s not as fast and intricate as what she’s learning at her lessons.

The main goal of teaching her to sight read music right now is to start building those skills. They do not come overnight! Sight reading is a useful skill if one day she wants to audition and play for groups like orchestras, symphonies, or chamber groups. Some of these directors of the group require their members to sight read for an audition. Sight reading will also be a useful skill when she learns to play larger pieces of music, like concertos and sonatas (that can be 5 or 6 pages long) when she’s more advanced.

Keeping that in mind, don’t worry too much about her sight reading right now. As long as she’s constantly putting a line or two a day in front of her that she’s never seen before (or hasn’t seen in a while if you want to go back to I Can Read Music Book 1) she’s going to gradually get better and hate practicing sight reading less.

Hope this helps!


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Sue Hunt said: Apr 12, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

One of my colleagues uses sight reading as a special treat to round off each lesson. She plays duets with older ones and with the beginners, she plays rhythm and note recognition games, away from the instrument. All of her pupils look forward to making beautiful music with her. Music in Practice

Jennifer said: Apr 12, 2012
 5 posts

Here is one activity I have definitely decided to implement:
I give her a blank staff. I model writing some notes. Today was Day 1, so I kept it simple: open E, A, D, G. and ask her what notes they are. Then I dictate note names and she puts them on the staff. (This is similar to my dictating sounds for reading students, while they write the letters.)
We will get specific writing the notes to a fast pace before I add more in.

Paula Bird said: Apr 12, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

I had success with one student by asking her to write out the notes of one phrase she was learning in her music. She would write it out a few notes every day. This student enjoyed that and learned the new piece quicker.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Jennifer said: May 2, 2012
 5 posts

Short-term update:
We are only a week into this, but… I think I have found the perfect fit for my daughter at this time. It’s the Strings Fun and Easy series by David Tasgal. I don’t recall how I first came across it on the Internet, but I am so glad I did.
Certainly part of the reason my daughter is pleased with it is because we are starting at the very beginning, so it’s very easy compared to what she had been doing. (She got a strong foundation from I Can Read.) BUT we both know this is not the only reason that she has begged each day this week to do “just one more” sight-reading piece in Book 1 of Strings Fun and Easy. She even did an extra sight-reading session yesterday, of her own accord.

Here are some of what makes the series so appealing:
It comes with a CD. Although Tasgal recommends playing the CD multiple times prior to reading the music (in the Suzuki style) my daughter only gets to listen to the pieces and play along as a reward AFTER sight-reading the music. And what a reward it is! The accompaniment is fabulous. Honestly, when I listened to the samples on the website, I kept pressing “play”. It has high-quality sound, a wide variety of styles of music, and somehow (as dd put it) “It makes it seem like my playing is a really important part of the whole thing.”

It includes educational, and sometimes quite humorous, comments before/after each piece. The pieces themselves sometimes contain humor.

Tasgal starts right in the first few lessons to address the common “A” “C” confusion. He uses some mnemonic devices that I find quite preferable to the common “FACE” approach. And a darker middle line (for “bullseye B”) for the first several pieces. A/C confusion is something that has been haunting dd.

Very importantly in my daughter’s case, the pieces are all original David Tasgal compositions, so there is no way she can play the pieces by ear. (Again, this is because I do not play the CD selections until she sight-reads them successfully—and reads the note names in rhythm.)

I want to add that I think the I Can Read books are brilliant. Separating out rhythm from pitch in Book 1 was a fabulous idea. Having the lines become duets to play with the teacher was definitely motivating, and it sounded so lovely at lesson each week. We may well return to Book 2, but meanwhile it is nice to have this wonderful series for “going back to where it feels easy”.

Elizabeth said: May 3, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

That’s fantastic. I’m so glad this series is working out for her!

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Laura said: Jul 1, 2012
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Mancos, CO
106 posts

Hello, I’m just reading this thread but so glad to hear that you have found something that is enjoyable. I use I can read music with my students, but I was going to suggest that you try something completely different. And also supplementing the note-reading book with other fun games (flash cards etc.) If you still would like some ideas, I was going to suggest:

Music Mind Games
Flash Cards

Also, Learning new and different songs by “site-reading” them is fun. Try These books:

Rounds and Canons
Fiddling for Fun Functionality
Fiddle 4 Every Level

Laura said: Jul 5, 2012
 33 posts

My students love “Strings Fun and Easy”, so I use it along side “I Can Read Music” for more reinforcement. I highly recommend you try these books. You have to buy them directly from David Tasgal, as far as I know.

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