I’m teaching a class of 9-year-olds. It’s an after-school guitar class at a nearby Catholic school. I don’t quite know how that happened.
I decided to run an experiment, and instead of starting them out with chords and nursery rhyme melodies, I gave them a classical guitar book. We started with rhythms. I felt from my own experience that if they got comfortable with reading rhythms in standard musical notation, the rest of the process would be easier for them.
So I taught them the duration values of whole, half, quarter and eighth notes. I explained that each of those notes had a corresponding rest, a sign that tells a musician how long NOT to play.
Then we moved to the white board. I asked each student to write out 4 bars of rhythms, using the note values that I’d taught them. Afterwards, students would assess whether their peers had done it correctly, and if not, where the problem lay. After everything was corrected and cleaned up, we would all sing the rhythm, using one single pitch (melodic note).
It became quite competitive. Students have loved pointing out each other’s errors and criticizing someone else's penmanship. When we sing the rhythms, it’s downright riotous.
We’ve since added pitch to the rhythmic exercise, and have begun to work on some simple duets that come at the beginning of the classical book.
The funny thing is, I half expected these children to hate reading music. I thought they would BEG me for something else. Every week, I have taken copies of blues chords and scales, as well as the chord chart that tells one when to play which chords in order to play the blues. Being prepared to teach them to play the blues has been my “fall-back position.”
I’ve asked them several times if they want to learn to play the blues (which is truly the basis for most of the popular music that we listen to). For the first three months I received a flat “No” in response. "We want to keep doing THIS," they said.
Two of the students have just recently consented to working on the blues a bit in addition to working on the classical music. They don’t want to stop reading.
I’m still shocked. :-)