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No, you can’t talk unless you read a book

Imagine saying this to a child: “No, you can’t open your mouth and talk unless you are reading from a book.” This would be extremely odd, isn’t it? Surely a child or anyone should be able to open their mouth and say something – how they are feeling, describe the weather, objects, their lives, etc. It’s absurd that a person isn’t allowed to say something but instead, can only read the words from a book, poem, news article, etc.

What’s even more odd is that a child normally only learns to read when they are in primary/elementary school. Oh yes, they may be exposed to reading before that but certainly, you wouldn’t stop a child from talking just because they can’t read.

The above actually describes how traditional piano is commonly being taught. They play the piano by learning to read music. There are piano/keyboard books that teach a child the musical notation from the very beginning. They may disguise the reading activities as games or fun things to do. But make no mistake, they are designed to teach notes from the beginning.

After 15 years of teaching the piano/keyboard, I came to the conclusion that the traditional method of learning piano is flawed. It’s a pity that it took me so long to realise that but it’s better later than never. I had to come to that conclusion myself as the majority of piano lessons in the world (a fallacy no doubt) are taught this way – to play by reading sheet music.

If the objective is to play the piano, surely it doesn’t matter how that objective is accomplished.

We wouldn’t tell a child to talk only when they can read the words of a printed material. We encourage them to talk freely, by imitating their parents, family, teachers and kids or even from the telly. We encourage them or actually expect them to use words to describe what’s happening to them. Why can’t we adopt this approach in music education? Show kids how to play a musical instrument by letting them copy us, visually and aurally. And then, allow them to improvise freely so that they can use their musical instrument to speak, talk. Afterall, isn’t music a language too?

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