Have you ever tried to say the alphabet backwards? I have… and it gives me a headache. But thanks to a competitive family and a bunch of practice I am quickly becoming a reverse alphabet champion.
And it’s probably time that your primer piano students become reverse alphabet champions too.
Being able to say the musical alphabet in reverse is a handy, but rarely employed, note-reading skill. It aids a simple strategy called, Say As You Play; a strategy that your students are probably already attempting, but struggling with, as they read notes on the staff.
If you are interested to learn how to employ the Reverse Alphabet Strategy, keep reading below.
The Reverse Alphabet Note Reading Strategy
Chances are, your youngest primer piano students are playing music that moves strictly in steps. As they play their music they are probably reading the odd familiar note while moving their fingers based on the directional movement of the notes on the page.
This is how music should be played. Students don’t need to read every note… unless they need note reading practice.
So, if you are trying to improve your primer students’ note reading abilities then you and your students should be engaging in warm-up activities where your kids say and play every note on a line of music. Teachers often play flashcard-based games where kids name notes one at a time, so why not have them name notes as they play?
For little kids, however, the Say and Play approach has one big downfall; it requires them to be able to say the musical alphabet backward. This is not easy! Take a look at the two musical excerpts below and then imagine asking your primer student to say and play the first measure and say and play the second measure.
I don’t need to tell you that the the second measure would be a nearly impossible “Say and Play task” for most kids. Any child can sing, “C-D-E-F-G” but most will struggle when they try to sing, “G-F-E-D-C”.
So, What’s A Teacher To Do?
If you want to improve the note reading abilities of your primer level students, every lesson should begin with a little reverse alphabet work. You can be as simple or as fancy as you wish.
If you don’t want to spend too much lesson time learning the reverse musical alphabet, then begin each lesson by singing the musical alphabet forwards and backwards. Use the same tune as the traditional alphabet song when singing in both directions.
If you want to get more creative then you’ll need to find yourself a set of alphabet blocks or letter cards. Then, turn this task into a sorting game. Mix up the musical alphabet cards or blocks and ask your students to arrange them from G to A. Grab a stopwatch and time your primer level students as they sort. Record their times and then have them attempt to beat their “high scores” in future lessons.
Let The Reverse Alphabet Practice Continue At Home
Practicing the alphabet in reverse is a fantastic home activity for getting parents involved. Many piano parents do not have a musical background and struggle to provide piano assistance at home. This activity allows them to get involved in a way that will benefit their children’s development and lead to more time spent at the piano. After all, if parents are already practicing the musical alphabet with their children, they’re more likely to keep the practice session going by encouraging their kids to hit the piano.
You’ll be surprised at how engaging such a simple task can be. Before long, reverse alphabet races will be happening in your waiting room as students and their parents engage in a little bit of friendly competition before lessons.
More Tools For Students Who Struggle With Note Reading
If you’ve enjoyed this post and are considering using it in your studio, you’ll probably find the following resources equally useful:
1. ‘Tis the season for celebrating, so why not throw in one more celebration for the “Note of the Week”. Read about this piano teaching activity in a post we wrote a few years back.
2. When students struggle with note reading, flash cards are often a teacher’s tool of choice. But if you and your students are tired of flash cards try these 8 note reading activities.
3. If you want to end your students note reading struggles then you’ll want to check out Teach Piano Today’s WunderKeys Primer Piano Books. A teacher recently wrote us to say, “After just 5 lessons in the primer book, my kindergartener was already learning note reading skills that hadn’t been introduced in my 8 year old’s method book until he’d been taking lessons for months. I began to suspect my kindergartener might surpass my 8 year old in note reading. I was sold.”