Readers may wonder, "Why not work with traditional black and white notes immediately instead of colored notes?" Any educator who works with little children, however, will see that doing so is impractical.
Our musical training begins at 3-4˝, at which age children can't yet
process the multilevel schemes of spatial construction required by
traditional notation. To be able to read notes in this system, a child needs
to distinguish between the five lines and measure all the intervals
visually. This is not possible at such a young age. Persistent attempts to
teach this usually cause frustration and denial. By using colors, we avoid
this problem and focus instead on developing the child's inherent musical
This process is similar to learning one's native language, which begins much earlier than any musical instruction. A child can construct complicated sentences, and express profound thoughts, long before they can read or write. Only after the native tongue is well understood does a child learn to read and write. When we transfer this process to musical education, it is clear that a child should be able to identify tones, chords, and melodies by ear, and be able to play them, before learning to read traditional notation.
Colored notes make this possible. In the We Hear and Play system, colored notes help a child to develop absolute pitch, which then enables the child to freely sing and play the sounds that they hear and read. Traditional notation is only meaningful to a child who has achieved this level of understanding.
Colored notes are essential because they allow a child to hear and play even in early childhood. They teach the child to play piano at an age when traditional notation is still too abstract to understand. Furthermore, colored notes provide an ideal foundation for when a child does learn black notes in later training. This is why We Hear and Play uses colored notes, and it is also why we use color names instead of letter names or solfege syllables.
Colored notes allow the gradual introduction of traditional (black and white) notation. For this systematic introduction, the three volumes of We Hear and Play should be used and returned to. Traditional notes and their letter names are introduced together no earlier than age 5 (and preferably later).
Traditional notation must be taught thoroughly and with correct methodology. The process takes about two years, during which time the child should continue to use colored notes. After completing We Hear and Play Volume Three, ordinary piano music can be colored for a child's continued instruction (see page 67).
Although it seems like 3- to 5-year-old children can learn note reading, what appears to be note reading is most likely some other process. When a small child sits in front of a page of black notes, they appear to be playing the music on that page, but they are not really reading the notes. Rather, the sounds and movement are flowing from memory.
It is possible for somewhat older children (5-6 years old) to read traditional notes; however, their capacity for free musical expression is limited because so much of their effort must be applied to reading the notes. Unfortunately, note literacy is rarely taught to children, and any child who does not learn it will be unable to fully realize their musical ability. One can see this in children age 10 and above who can read notes, but can only do so slowly and with great effort. In such cases note reading becomes an intolerable hindrance, and the child's frustration at their inability to succeed creates mental barriers. Each new attempt at playing feels like a terrible effort. Sometimes students continue to study music, but each piece takes so long to learn they become intensely dissatisfied. Other children may give up completely. In any case, it is only through success and advancement that a child can become enthusiastic about their piano playing.
Being trained to read the notes is vital. In normal schooling, children begin learning their native language immediately, with a high priority placed on literacy. They study language for several hours every week. They are taught both to read and to express themselves in written language. Although the children can already speak their native language, it is reintroduced to them in a new form so that they gain mastery of it. They begin by reading simple sentences, either silently or out loud with other children. Over and over they write letters and words, both in school and at home. A child who finishes grade school and still can't read a newspaper is considered a failure.
It seems obvious that a child should be able to read and write their native language. But rarely is a similar need recognized in musical training. Instruction normally focuses on tasks other than literacy. Yet even if a child's weekly music lesson were dedicated entirely to note-reading, we can see— by comparison to the amount of time and energy devoted to learning one's language— that this is not nearly enough.
To be musically literate, the child must learn three permanent skills:
1. They must be able to decode and read the notes.
2. The notes, when read, must evoke the appropriate sounds in the child's mind.
3. The child must be able to immediately create the sounds thus read (and mentally heard) on their chosen instrument.
Because musical instruction receives so much less time than language training, the best way to achieve these goals is, over several years, to dedicate a segment of the weekly lesson exclusively to note reading.
Children who learn to read notes must be able to create music. They must know the tones they are producing; only then can black and white notes be meaningful. Our solution is to introduce a child to the world of piano, music, and tones by singing and playing colored notes; this is the main reason for using colored notes.
Children who begin We Hear and Play at age 3 or 4, and play for
two years using colored notes, will gain absolute pitch and learn essential
The correct time to introduce traditional notation is, of course, dependent on a child's development. In most cases it is meaningful only after some schooling..
How to Use This Book
Preface by Christopher Aruffo
Foreword by Naoyuki and Ruth Taneda
Definition of Absolute Pitch
Frequently Asked Questions about Absolute Pitch
How to Use the Looseleaf Format
Timeline of a Child's Musical Development
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