How is it possible? Normal intelligence, high intelligence, early readers, late readers, why can’t my child read music notes? Why doesn’t my child look up to look at the notes?

I see this issue all the time. I would say that about 1/4 of my studio is comprised of children who try to immediately memorize, or even try to make up the music, rather than have to read the notes.


These children are not dyslexic. Some of them even read on a much higher grade level than their current level in school.

I have pondered this for many years and have finally come up with a theory. I believe it is an issue due to eye movements where you have to read vertically.
I encourage you to click on the above article. It is a very in-depth study on this subject and I was delighted to find it.

Let’s take a look at the treble clef space notes for example:

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
I would guess, to the majority of my readers, that on learning the spaces with this mnemonic, you could remember the names of the notes without the word “FACE” under it. There are children in my studio who CANNOT remember the names of the notes, even from measure to measure. These are “gifted and talented” students in their schools. They are not dyslexic. They simply cannot remember the spaces, or the lines, either. They can learn their math equations, excel in reading, so what is wrong here?

When you look at the above example, it is written VERTICALLY and HORIZONTALLY at the same time. It is horizontal because the notes seem to go from right to left, but they are vertical because we have to determine which space they are in.

Let’s look at a chord: This is a C major chord in the treble clef

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
This is similar to reading this street sign:
WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
How about even ONE note? Some of my students, who are functioning so well at school, find it especially difficult to see that a note that is a quarter note, now changed into a half note, is the same note. They can copy the note into their manuscript book over and over but still cannot relate it to the music they see. Why?

Let’s take a look at a single note:

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
This is a G on the treble clef.

For many of us, it’s no problem. We just remember the position and that’s the end of it. But not so easy for many kids. I can show some of my students this note, point out that’s it is on the 2nd line, but they say they understand. The next measure is the same note, but they can’t figure out what it is. Some tell me that it looks different, bigger or smaller. The only recourse I have is to print out mnemonics for them. Here is one of the mnemonics I use with the treble clef line notes:

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
I’ve noticed that after a while, it does seem to work, but it’s awfully slow! It’s slow because they are still counting up the lines.

Did I say counting UP? Is that also part of the issue?

They are having to read VERTICALLY.

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD READ NOTES blog post - music notes
Now it’s vertical and horizontal at the same time.

Another thing I’ve noticed, is that when children have a hard time reading notes, they try to memorize the music almost immediately, wrong notes and wrong rhythms. It then becomes almost impossible to correct anything. Playing by ear is great, but not in this situation.

What I have seen in my 8-10 year old students, is that something interesting starts to happen. Everything suddenly starts to make sense. They can read! IS IT IS IT BECAUSE OF A PHYSICAL MATURATION IN THE BRAIN?

This study, that I just found, validates my theory!

(Remember, these are students who do not have chronic vision processing issues, but previously have struggled with note reading for at least 2 years.)

I’m so delighted, but now I am seeing a different set of problems. These students have taught themselves to immediately memorize so well, that they find it a burden to look at the music, no matter how short the piece is.
I have an 8 year old boy coming this afternoon and will try something new with him. I found lots of great note reading games for the iPad and am going to try one today called “Flashnote Derby” which can be found at>

Feel free to drop me comments!
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