When I first started teaching piano lessons I loved drilling flashcards. With the help of flashcard drills I could quickly identify and then eliminate my piano students’ “stumbling blocks”. I felt like I had a good strategy to help struggling note readers during lessons and at home (“Take these home and drill them with your Mom”).
And it’s true… I did have a good strategy for many students, but not for ALL students. Some students would resort to using tricks to memorize the flashcards (crutches like “The F card has a bent corner”… I myself was guilty of this as one a child), some would get stressed out over the pressure of drills, and others would simply tune out.
So, I challenged myself to eliminate drills and find an alternative use for my flashcards. And I came up with the following eight strategies.
Help Struggling Note Readers Without Drilling Flashcards
While you may have some “flashcard junkies” who can rattle off an entire pack without a mistake, you may also have some students who struggle and stammer through the set. For these students, either put the deck of flashcards away or find an alternate use beyond drill, drill, drill.
Here’s what we would suggest:
- Play “find the note” within a current piece – Have your student draw a flashcard from the deck. Ask him to find the selected note on his sheet music, and then circle it, highlight it, or place a sticker beside it. Identifying the note within the context of what your student is learning to play will help him connect what the note looks like on his page rather than simply what it looks like on a flashcard.
- Sketch the note – Have your student draw a flashcard from the deck, examine it for five seconds, place it back in the deck and then draw the note from memory on a staff on a white board or piece of staff paper. Being an active part of the process is more memorable for kinaesthetic learners. Ensure the staff is large enough for little learners to draw the note accurately and see it clearly.
- Make connections – Have your piano student take five flashcards from the top of the deck and place them in his hands. Next, flip over the top card from the deck. Ask your student to make connections between the flipped over top card and the other cards in his hand. For example, ask your student if he has a note in his hand that is a third higher, fourth higher etc. than the selected card.
- Play “Find This Note’s Neighbors” – Have your student choose a card from the deck. Ask him to find the note in his piece PLUS the “note’s neighbors” (the notes that are a step below and above the chosen note). This helps reinforce “cues and clues” note reading.
- Connect a note to the actual piano key – Remove five cards from the deck and place them beside one another on the piano. Point to each note and have him play the correct key on the piano.
- Play a game! – Giving your student a reason to memorize those notes on the flashcards makes his learning experience much more motivating. If memorizing a note on a flashcard is required to complete a game task, your student will be much more likely to make quicker and stronger note-reading connections… because he really cares!
- Go on a Treasure Hunt – Some students fail to make the connection that the “D” on one piece is indeed the same “D” on the piece that follows. Sounds obvious to us, but for children learning this new “language” it’s not always the case. So… ask your student to choose a note from the deck and predict how many times it will occur in a given piece. Now you (the teacher) make a prediction as well. Next, have your student go on a “treasure hunt” through the selected piece, counting each time the note is found. Who made the most accurate prediction?
- Ask for student input – Some kids come up with ingenious ways of explaining how they can recognize and remember a note. Often the strategies we employ for our students may resonate with us… but not with them. Simply choosing cards from the deck and asking “How could you remember that this is E?” may generate some fabulous strategies that you can then put into action.
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