Part 7 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Music

I’ve been going through my third grade daughter’s curriculum on the blog.  When I am trying to figure out (in other words, struggling) how to best teach my daughter(s), I enjoy reading what other people do, don’t do, and why they do or don’t do the things they do or don’t do (smile).  That’s what these posts are about.

Continuing on in the Description of Our Third Grade Curriculum

wpid-IMAG0463-1.jpgLearning an instrument isn’t really optional for my kids.  My daughter chose piano.  We tried outsourcing piano and taking lessons.  Outsourcing lessons still required me to stand there while my daughter practiced.  Now I’m about helping and nurturing.  I’ve read the Suzuki book and all that jazz.  But the girl wouldn’t strike an ivory unless I stood there to help for half an hour, and when I pointed out mistakes, she refused to fix them.  I had two kids in lessons.  Eventually I’ll have three.  So we scrapped the outsourcing.  Now we spend WAY less time on piano and music.  Not a good thing, but it is certainly less stressful.  We probably spend once or twice a week on piano and music.

I endured 10 years of piano and can teach her a little.  All I ever learned, though, was to sight-read (my fault, not my great teacher’s fault).  No chords.  No understanding of scales.  Couldn’t pick out a simple melody if I tried.  I wish badly now that I could play a little by ear and accompany church choruses with some simple chording.  C’est la vie.  That’s why I homeschool.  To educate vicariously through my children.

So what do we do for music/piano?

1.  Practice playing melodies by ear.

  • I play a simple, short melody, and she must learn it over the course of the week until she makes no mistakes.  Melodies like “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, “La Cucaracha”, or “On Top of Old Smoky.”  She doesn’t see music for this “ear” practicing.  On a rare occasion, we’ll get some staff paper and work on writing down the notes she played.

2.  After the melody is learned, she adds a few accompanying chords to it that sound nice to her.  I do not help with this.

3.  Major chords and scales.  This has been awesome.

  • Together we learned the pattern for the major scales (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half).  We are working through each key now and playing its major scale.  She does great, and can play just about all of them.  I use Scales and Chords are Fun by David Hirschberg to check our work and fingering.  We don’t play the songs in the book.  Way too hard for her.
  • We learn the major chord for each scale/key and work a tad on inversions and arpeggios.
  • We try to identify the key and chords for the melodies with chords she plays.  We’re not so good at this.  But trying is half the battle.

4.  I choose a song for her to sight-read and work on.

  • If she’s weak on note recognition, we pull out some musical flashcards we bought at our local music store.  I put up a flash card and she has to play that note and tell me what it is.
  • For each song we sight-read, we discuss the meaning of the time signature and any other miscellaneous stuff.  What’s a measure?  What does “mf” or “ff” stand for?  What’s a tie?
  • We already had some books leftover from lessons:  Piano Adventures (Faber) and Alfred’s Basic Piano Library (Palmer, et al).  She made it through the books already before finishing formal piano lessons, but now we go through and really pick them apart and learn the “pieces of the pieces”.  However, she’s not really assigned a piece “to practice” that week.  I just pick one that’s simple enough for her to master in one lesson.  It’ll be interesting to see if her sight reading progresses naturally or not this way.

That’s it.  Although we’re not really progressing through a music curriculum, I feel she is learning a lot.  She already understands scales and chords way better than I did (even up until a year ago).  Piano is not a battle.  Maybe she’ll pick up a little playing by ear.  And when we decide to outsource again, she’ll have a grasp of the fundamentals of music.  Why do it this way?  Why not just pull her out altogether until she’s “ready”?  Or keep her in lessons and just tell her teacher she’s not practicing?

Although I can pick through any piece of music you put in front of me, I don’t understand a whit of music.  Well, not much anyway.  With ten years of lessons.  Part of the problem was my fear of failing.  I didn’t try to understand scales and chords because my teacher gave me a crutch:  the book.  If I could read the book, I couldn’t fail.  Never mind I was clueless.  And forget playing by ear–’cause that really would show my inadequacy.  Don’t make me try to play anything by ear or jazz something up with my own chording.  I might not do it right.  A cautious, people-pleasing, perfectionistic child may limit their musical abilities because of their fear of messing up.  For now, it feels right to work with my daughter in music, helping her to hopefully overcome fear of “not doing it right.”

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