To read or not to read

To read or not to read: that is the question! How important is it to read?

As a primary school teacher, nothing thrills me more than teaching children to read. Reading is a great achievement and a vital lifelong skill. However, reading music can actually be a barrier to making music. How many class teachers can’t ‘read music’ and therefore assume they can’t help their class to play instruments? Singing is fine; playing an instrument involves reading music… or does it?

At a recent CPD event for primary music coordinators, a third of those attending could not read music and therefore did not feel confident enough to teach their children with whole-class instruments. After a two hour Ocarina session, they could all play the Ocarina fluently and, more importantly, had grown in confidence enough to consider teaching whole-classes (30 at a time!) to play the ocarina as well.

This is not a magic process: it mirrors evolution.

Before humans ever began to read and write messages with an alphabet, they deciphered and wrote with heiroglyphs and other pictorial languages. And before this, they learned to read each other’s movements, faces and non-verbal communications. So in all Ocarina teaching, we replicate this.

We begin by observing and then copying finger-movements and breathing. We then cover the Ocarina finger-holes by looking at and copying pictures of finger-positions. Once we can read and interpret these pictures, it’s easy to play tunes that are notated in this way in Play your Ocarina music books.

This method of reading and playing is the fastest and easiest that I know and is why children can read and play Ocarina music from the age of four. It is also why an adviser rang us excitedly to say she had seen whole classes of 5 year olds, who had not yet learned to read, playing “Twinkle Twinkle” from Book 1 “Starting Off”. She noted how their eyes followed the charts from left to right, down the page, and how well they played the tune. She claimed that this was all “promoting reading-readiness”.

So don’t be put off if you can’t read music. You can read Ocarina music. And this will lead you and your children on rapidly to whatever level of music-playing and music-reading you may need. And older children with reading difficulties will find the charts easy to decipher and follow, giving them a break from the daily struggle of reading words, an island of success in the middle of a sea of frustration.

Of course, music reading is important. But not as important as you think in the first few years. Enjoy making sounds and playing tunes first. After all, how many of us could read before we were proficient at speaking and handling language? The language of music is aural first and written last!

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