Foundational Note Reading Skills, Part 2

Folk Songs through Minuets

I cover a lot of material while my students progress toward the Minuets. Most of this is accomplished in group classes in between solo performances and repertoire play-ins, but I reference these concepts whenever appropriate during their lessons as well.

Notes, Scales, and Key Signatures

During group class, I introduce the concept of a scale by having them help me make an ‘A Ladder’ using the materials in my Music Mind Games Puppy Pack. The A Ladder begins and ends on A. It has three ‘special notes’ (F#, C#, G#). The students are given the opportunity to make their own A Ladder and we finish by saying the notes and playing them, going up and down. If they are familiar with The Monkey Song or A Scale, they usually make this connection. I also use this as an opportunity to discover the notes in Twinkle Melody by pointing to the notes and while we sing it on note names instead of words and then by singing all of the As, instead of playing them, etc…

As group classes unfold, I present the ‘D Ladder’ and ‘G Ladder’ in a similar way. I make a big deal out of them having two/one ‘special notes’ and I connect all three of these scales with their ‘home on the fingerboard’ and match them to key signature cards so that they become familiar with the concept of a key from the beginning.


During this stage, I add eighth notes in groups of two and four. I continue using “walk” for quarter notes and “slow__” for half notes. Eighth notes are “running.” We tape our knees with alternating hands for “walks,” slide our hand across our thigh for “slow__,” and lightly snap/fake snap in the air for “running.” I have flashcards for each of these that I lay out one measure at a time. I typically start with one measure of each type of note and mix them up from there. Sometimes we do the rhythms presented together, listening to be sure we match, and sometimes we pass the rhythm around our circle by doing one measure each. I typically wrap this unit up by presenting the rhythm of Go Tell Aunt Rhody, which we sing in the key of D using our rhythm words while reading the rhythms. Bonus: This seems to help kids who are prone to getting stuck on their eighth notes when playing this piece on the violin.


I use the Music Mind Games Puppy Pack when it’s time to move our ladders/scales onto the staff. I start by introducing the 5 lines and 4 spaces of the staff and telling the kids that the musical alphabet lives on the staff. We find the ‘hidden G’ in the treble clef sign and take turns matching it up to the G line on the staff. I then place notes all along the G line and sing, “GGGGGGG” as I point to them. I tell the students that any note on that line is always G. I ask them where A might live. Would it be above or below G? We say our musical alphabet to find out and I move each of the notes to the A space and sing, “AAAAAAA” as I point to them. I point again and ask them to tell me the note name. We then find our violins and pizzicato the As that are on the staff. Depending on the group, I either sing, “A Going Down To D” (on A, G, F#, E, D), and focus on A and D for a while or I put the whole A scale on and see if they remember the ‘special notes.’ Retention is excellent with these materials, so either direction works and the process is the same. They see, sing, and play the notes on the staff.

Half Steps

Sometime around Etude, I teach my students how to draw a simple piano keyboard, including white and black keys. We write the musical alphabet on the keyboard, as well, and find the three sharp notes in the A scale. Once we find these, I show them how the first five notes of the A Scale would be played on the piano. We pay special attention to the ‘special note’ C# and how close it is to D. I have the students label that half step with a ‘V’ shaped symbol. Another time, we do the first five notes of the D Scale and label the half step from F# to G. When we do the G Scale, they see that B to C forms a half step as well. Each time we do this, we take a moment to see how that looks when our fingers form a half step on the fingerboard.

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