Teaching piano to auditory learners

Learning how to read music as an auditory learner can be quite a tricky situation.

What is an auditory learner and how to do you tell if you or your child is one?

Some indicators of an auditory learner are:

  • talking aloud
  • having difficulty following written directions
  • memorizng by saying things aloud
  • being distracted by background noise
  • explaining things aloud

Many parents will enroll their child in music lessons because they’re auditory learners, thinking that music is auditory and therefore their child will learn it better.

This is not the case.

While a child may learn to play music well, he or she will have difficulties reading music.

Recently, I disovered that all of the students I teach are auditory learners. As a visual learner, it was difficult for me to understand where they were coming from. I would get frustrated when they chose to only rely on the sound and not the notes.

In December I hosted a piano recital for my three students. During the recital, I had a family member record each of their performances, plus a segment where I played.

At their lesson the following week, I provided each student with a DVD of the recital. For ‘homework’ they were asked to watch the DVD and write down three things they could improve on and three things they noticed about someone else’s performance (either something they did well or could improve on).

The results were amazing.

I realized that all three of them were able to pick out the mistakes they made just by hearing themselves play.

This is a brilliant technique not only because it gets the students to identify the causes of their mistakes, but it adapts to their auditory learning style.

Here is what they made note of:

  • Play more fluently
  • Don’t pause so long between mistakes
  • Try to look at your hands less and the notes more
  • Trust your instincts
  • Be confident when you play
  • Sit up straight

Now it’s your turn! Here’s the clip of the song I played for my students. What things do I do well? What could I improve on? (Even a piano player who’s been playing for years and years has room for improvement.)

What suggestions do you have for teaching to auditory learners? Leave a comment–I’d love to hear your methods!


9 thoughts on “Teaching piano to auditory learners

  1. I would have never guessed that audiotory learners would struggle so much with reading music. Thank you for the great info.

  2. Hi Monique,

    I think there is too much focus on reading music early in teaching kids. Music is primarily auditory and kids should learn how to match up sounds to fingerings and hear the sounds in their heads (ear training) before they start learning to read and write it so much. I have heard that some famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix barely even knew how to read music. So it really shows how misguided it can be.

  3. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for the comment. I think you do bring up a valid point. I try to incorporate a good variety of music reading, ear training, and theory practice into all of my lessons so my students are well-rounded.

  4. Hi Monique,
    I came across you blog entry while searching for advice on how to best teach my son, who has spatial-visual problems, to read music. His teacher has been complaining that he “memorizes everything,” which he does very quickly and very well, but it is clear that he is having some pretty significant difficulties reading the notes because of the increasing amount of visual information on the page (double staff etc.) This all came out when we had him evaluated by a reading specialist because he has having difficulty reading Hebrew, which also has more visual information than English. In any case, I would love him to be able to continue studying music and not to feel frustrated and discouraged every time he sits down at the piano. I’m going to ask his teacher to go slowly with him, but if you have any suggestions or resources, I would so much appreciate hearing from you.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and send me a message. My first suggestion would be flashcards.

      Buy a set of beginner note -reading flashcards for your son and practice with him every night for about 15 minutes or so. These are less overwhelming to look at than a whole sheet of music and will help him learn the notes.

      I know with my students, sometimes it is easier for them to memorize a song than it is to read the music, but this is only because reading music is more challenging for them and takes more time. However, if reading the notes becomes more familiar, it will seem easier and they will be more likely to read the music than memorize it.

      Also, I suggest getting him a theory book. This will help him make sense of the music and understand why things are written the way they are. Theory books are a more hands-on approach and are like a workbook for students. They often have little games and note spelling activities that make learning more fun.

      One final suggestion is to see if you can find books that are say “Big Notes” or “Large Print” on them. Sometimes they make special music books that are the same music but just larger to see.

      Let me know if any of these ideas are successful for you!


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