Updated: Sep 22, 2019
When my daughter was in grade 4, I was called into her principals office because I taught her cursive writing over the summer, and that was disrupting their curriculum. (True story). The principal said that children of the future will not need cursive writing skills because of the growing use of keyboards. This was over 25 years ago, before iPads and smartphones.
While her prediction came true, we now have fMRIs that can detect brain activity in ReaL TimE. This research is creating a change in thought on teaching writing skills. According to University research, children who practice printing letters vs children who only see them and punch them on a keyboard, have far greater recognition skills and therefore highly improved reading skills.
How does this apply to reading and memorizing a piano piece? If handwriting aids in memorizing letters, which are shapes and patterns, wouldn’t handwriting a piece of music aid in it’s reading and eventual memorization? The answer for my studio is a resounding yes.
The first time I ask a student to write out a piece of music they are learning I usually get, “The whole piece?!”. “How about just the first line?”, I reply. Sometimes persistence is required if they come back without it written. We write out the first bar in the lesson and that usually gets them over the hump. When they finish writing out their piece, their reading skills explode. Wonderful!, but often great readers are not great memorizers, so we push forward.
Eventually they write out the whole piece (no Sibelius, Finale, or Notion software allowed) and they recognize patterns in the melody, changes in the harmony, dynamics, phrasing, ... you get the idea. At the very least, ask your students to write out the parts they find most difficult to memorize so they look at the passage of music at a deep level and break through whatever is stopping them from memorizing it. We all remember what we understand.
Handwriting uses different brain circuits than keyboarding (on the piano or the computer). The more someone writes, the more pathways laid down in their brain supporting reading and memorization. Check, and play what students have written as faulty writing leads to faulty pathways but I’ll predict you will see an improvement in both memorization and reading skills within a few weeks.
Bach spent many fruitful hours writing out his brother’s music. If it was good enough for Bach ...