38. The Gibberish of Notes
As I have explained, the lines of the staves are like a spy’s secret code to beginners. If one tries to read them like the lines of a book, another trap lies in waiting. In a book, the stuff between the lines is separate, empty space. In sheet music, the spaces between lines are just as important. While reading books, we only have to focus on one line at a time; with music, we’ve got to focus on eleven at minimum! Five lines and six spaces, plus supplemental lines (and spaces) for high and low notes must all be fixated upon simultaneously!
Lines and spaces in sheet music are equally important, just like the squares on a chessboard. But they are represented in completely unequal ways: the black space is made of thin lines, and the white comprises the large space between them. This confuses our perception. The lines are perceived to be something important, like the lines in a book. The notes on the lines appear to be more prominent, and to a beginner, this means that they are more important. The notes on the spaces, in turn, aren’t as prominent, and are therefore believed to be less important. This tendency isn’t at all what we’d like to enforce in our students, is it? For example, this is why beginners that are shown notes on the first and second line, Mi and Sol, play two keys that are next to each other, like Mi and Fa. The interval between the lines (the note Fa) is assumed to be empty space.
To keep this from happening, music notation should have a different appearance when shown to beginners. We should widen the black lines, so their width matches that of the white. This makes the significance of both ‘paths’ for notes visually equal, and the beginner isn’t distracted by the ‘prominence’ of certain notes. The most important quality becomes their position on the staff, which is as it should be, practically speaking.
A child’s thought process is based on concrete evidence. In order to first understand that 1+1=2, the kid must pick up a stick in each of his hands, then see them together. In order to understand that the thin lines and the spaces between them are equal lines of text, he must be able to see this with his own eyes, and feel it with his hands. Where can one touch and hear the music staff? On the keys, of course! The keys of the piano are a natural extension of the lines and spaces in sheet music.
Simply by widening the lines on the music staff, we help the child to solve several problems at once:
- Understanding the logic of the positioning of the notes, and developing the perception of lines and spaces and their equal significance
- Perceiving the visual representations of intervals
- Seeing the music alphabet on the music staff
- Concretizing music theory and tying it to hands on the keys
- Developing the eye’s accuracy in music reading in order to fluently sight read.