63. Visual “Steps” of the Grand Staff
What I’ve worked out for the grand staff is a unique example of gradual development in education.
The very first introduction to a vertical staff doesn’t leave the beginner with any questions. On the page of sheet music or on the computer screen, he sees exactly what is on the piano keys in front of him: those same exact five green and five brown lines, and the same notes with pictures of contrasting colors. All that’s left for him to do is to check the keys, and copy what he sees.
This is the First, Elementary Presentation of the Grand Staff:
Of course, it incites the majority of our reprimands – allegations of charlatanic activities being the slightest of them. The main argument of the accusations against us has been that we teach the beginner to “mindlessly follow the pictures.” In the opinion of my colleagues, the student will get comfortable with a certain skill, and will stick with it without any desire to challenge himself further. If this was the only representation that was used, their accusations would have been fair. But after this one, five more steps remain! The grand staff is transformed into its normal form, absolutely abstract, over time. But the first introduction should show the child in a straight-forward way how the notes and keys work together. You see, at first, the main challenge of learning piano should be solved – that of a quick development of coordination.
Each person that has studied music knows how unbelievably hard it is at first to “tear the eyes away” from the sheet music to the keys. One can even fall into the extreme: throw the notes out and focus exclusively on coordination, playing by ear. But then, we don’t develop the main skill of a musician: “multiplicative vision.” When you were learning to drive, no one took down any of the mirrors! Because of this, the single best solution is to lighten the burden involved in reading the text as much as possible. This is exactly what the first presentation of the grand staff does. In essence, it is a limited simplification for reading. Not leaving any unknowns, it allows the beginner to focus on the hands, fingers and keys.
Naturally, at the rate of the development of the skills of play, the notation becomes more complex. But without fail, it does this under the 1:3 rule of a gradual increase.
Accordingly, in the Second Presentation of the music staff, we took away the pictures with the names of the notes.
Now, the beginner must rely exclusively on color and his knowledge of the music alphabet. This presentation fixes the student’s attention on the lines and spaces between them; now, this is the only reference point for the reading of the notes. The marks with the symbols of the notes comprise just about a fourth of the information presented. The other supporting elements – the colored difference between the Treble and Bass Clefs and notes on the lines and spaces, and the synchronized movement of the keys with the notes – remain unchanged.
In the Third Presentation, we’ve shifted the music staff back to a horizontal form.
Now, the beginner must make a certain exertion: he must mentally rotate the image 90 degrees. But the image is already familiar and doing this isn’t too hard. The symbols have been added again to the notes; otherwise, the jump would have been too steep. To have to seek out the necessary notes and add the new rotation would be twice the load for the student’s concentration! This is why the symbols with the portrayals of the note names are returned to their former place – so that they can become a visual support for the rotation of the music staff.
The symbols are again taken away in the Fourth Presentation.
Only the formerly familiar reference points are left: colors and widened lines. This is already almost the regular music staff. All that remains is the color: the differences between the Treble and Bass Clefs, and notes on the lines and between them.
The Fifth and Sixth Presentations are already black and white. Their only difference is the complexity of information. Thus, in the Fifth Presentation, the notes are enlarged, and the rhythmic indicators are gently “unloaded.”
The final point of the “ascent” is a representation in the traditional form. When the student can easily sight read from the Sixth Presentation, he will have no trouble with “non-computerized” books of sheet music.
Progressing from one presentation to the next, the beginner perfects his coordinational skills without any breaks or falls. And his coordination helps to continuously better his understanding and reading of the text. A simultaneous strengthening of the students’ skills is a good indicator of the effectiveness of the educational process. Developing coordination, hearing, the voice, and reading altogether quickly helps the student achieve a high level of proficiency.
Judging this type of education by its results, we can consider it to be the most humane and productive out of all of the existing programs in practice. The most important quality of this process is its gradualness and friendliness to the perception. A definite balance between the development of the vision and tactical coordination is very important. All of this is helped along by the continuous stimulation of the voice, hearing, and music memory.
The described methods can be applied everywhere. Our gradual formula doesn’t incite any hardships, nor conflicts. Reading notes becomes a fascinating activity for toddlers that are barely three years old. Our world doesn’t have any shortage of affordable keyed instruments, and I don’t see any problem in every person, regardless of his starting abilities, learning to sing accurately and sight read notes.
The only barrier to universal music literacy is the conservatism and personal ambitions of educators. It is too hard for them to part with their principles, even if these principles lead to suffering and poor results.