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Volume 2 • #10 • June 2003


I got an e-mail the other day from a mother who was upset because her little boy wanted to take trumpet lessons in school so he could be in the school band. He had been told that because he was dyslectic and couldn’t read, he wouldn’t be able to read music, either, so he wouldn’t be allowed to take trumpet. The mother was extremely upset and I don’t blame her. Imagine what it did to that poor child’s ego to be put down once more as inadequate, prevented from doing something that would have been really fun, and made, yet again, to look stupid, in the eyes of those lucky pals who were allowed to play in the band.

If the music teacher knew anything about dyslexia, she would have known that reading words and reading music are two different processes, done in different parts of the brain, that have nothing whatever to do with each other. There are professional musicians who are severely dyslectic, speed readers who couldn’t carry a tune in a paper bag, speed readers who are excellent musicians, and dyslectic people who are totally tone deaf. The two conditions are unrelated, because each activity is done in a different part of the brain.

When you read a word, you are assigning a linguistic noise to a certain shape, like a double curve (ss-s-ss-s) or a lumpy looking thing (mm-m -m m). When you read music, you are matching come little black dots to a place on a fence, which you must coordinate with a finger or arm position. The second is strictly a spatial and rhythmic task with no linguistic content.

But how about fluency? Can a child who will never read fluently be able to sight-read music fluently? In any physical activity, whether typing, reading, sight-reading, ballet dancing, skiing, or whatever, fluency comes only with the three things that you need to get into Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, and practice. A dyslectic child in seventh grade who has gotten up to grade level in accuracy and comprehension will still be behind his friends in fluency because they have spent seven years reading, reading, and reading. The important thing for him is not speed at that point, but comprehension. Similarly, he will be a fluent sight-reader on the trumpet only after he has had a lot of practice
A little comprehension of the problem wouldn’t hurt the music teacher, either.

Teaching Tip:

Comprehension requires mentally digging into the meaning of a sentence, not just pronouncing the words correctly. To encourage this, have a young student read a sentence out loud, then put your hand over it and make him tell you what the sentence said. (Not necessarily word for word, but the meaning.) If he can’t, uncover the sentence and repeat the process. It isn’t long before his mind realizes that he MUST understand what he has just read and begin to focus. With an older student, you can do it with several sentences or a short paragraph. The older student who is studying at home can do it with his homework. Covering the words with his own hand is even more effective than having the teacher do it. He is in control and nobody is watching.

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Archives (2001 files in .doc format):

May 2003 - Vol. 2, #9 May 2002 - Vol. 1, #9
April 2003 - Vol. 2, #8 March 2002 - Vol. 1, #8
March 2003 - Vol. 2 #7 February 2002 - Vol. 1, #7
January 2003 - Vol. 2, #5 January 2002 - Vol. 1, #6
December 2002 - Vol. 2, #4 December 2001 - Vol. 1, #5
November 2002 - Vol. 2, #3 November 2001 - Vol. 1, #4
October 2002 - Vol. 2, #2 October 2001 - Vol. 1, #3
September 2002 - Vol. 2, #1 September 2001 - Vol. 1, #2
August 2002 - Vol. 1, #11 August 2001 - Vol. 1, #1
July 2002 - Vol. 1, #10  



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