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Dyscalculia and reading music
#1 Print Post
Posted on May 06 2012 05:21 AM
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All my life i have struggled in music class, not because i had troubles playing an instrument but because i can't read music. The musical notes look like a bunch of random symbols on paper and they confuse me. They make absolutely make no sense to me whatsoever and they confound me beyond belief.

Now musical notes are symbols of course, but i cant seem to comprehend how a symbol connects to a note on an instrument. So how do i learn music you may wonder? I actually play by ear, in other words i memorize what i hear until i get it correct. Some might consider it tedious but its the only way i can play an instrument.

I was wondering does anybody else seem to have this difficulty with musical notes?
§The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend§
#2 Print Post
Posted on May 06 2012 06:49 PM

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Almost all of us do, Numb. The dyscalculic who can read sheet music with ease is the exception. I have trouble reading sheet music after 10 years of lessons. You are in good company.

Numb, the flashing of your avatar is so distracting to me that it's hard to read your posts and the others on the page. Please, could you 'turn it off', so that it doesn't have the motion factor? - jus'
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Posted on May 06 2012 07:52 PM
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Numb, like Jus said, absolutely yes. I have always had problems with sheet music, and most of the people on this forum who are musical or have experience with playing instruments will tell you that they have had a lot of difficulty with sheet music. There are little tricks here and there, but ultimately for me the easiest thing to do has been to learn the song by ear, and just use the sheet music as a "general guide" in case I get lost.
"The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings." - Eric Hoffer
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Posted on May 06 2012 08:24 PM

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Numb, I never understood sheet music or music in general. I know what i like to listen to but as for playing an instrument, I just can't do it. My dad has tried to teach me but it just didn't work out, but its ok. I've been told on several occasions that I jsut don't want to learn and that I can if I only tried. Well, those people are talking out their butt. I know that there are things that i will never understand and thats alright with me, i don't need to understand.
Equations are the devil's sentences. -Stephen Colbert
#5 Print Post
Posted on May 07 2012 04:58 PM

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Hi, Numb,

I drove two music teachers into early retirement. (One swears I sent him to the looney bin.)

I have never been able to make sense of sheet music. I love music, love to sing, and would love to learn to play the flute. (My teachers made me take the trumpet Sad )

My oldest son - who struggles with the same symptoms of Developmental Dyscalculia that I have - does play instruments by ear. IMHO, he is quite brilliant. He learned to read and write music in "my own way." He makes marks that seem to be his own little language.

I think this is another one of those "it's not just numbers" manifestations of dyscalculia. Besides math and music - I can't drive without a good map and I panic when lost, I drive by landmarks, I lose track of time, I have lousy spatial relationship capabilities and I can't paint or draw to save my soul.

However, I also believe in going for broke! If you want to play more than anything - then find a teacher who is willing to work with you. I have been so frustrated by my inabilities that, after I was diagnosed, I decided that I wouldn't let it stop me. I take a lot of baby steps and I usually end up on my butt - but it's not because I am afraid to try anymore. I lost a lot because I developed the fear to try in the face of failure.

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Posted on May 07 2012 09:07 PM
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I guess I am an exception to being dyscalculic and making sense of sheet music. To me, sheet music is like an alphabet and punctuation more than symbols. I am a violinist primarily, but I also can read music for viola, bass, piano, percussion, flute, and clarinet. By the way, I'm a double major in Music and History Education with a minor in English Education.

My experience in music was also different from some on here. My middle school orchestra teacher was willing to sit down with me ten years before my diagnosis and work with me one-on-one until I understood how music worked and how to read it. Something just clicked and I've gone on to win top marks in competitions in my state when I was in high school. As Barb mentioned, find a good teacher and don't let them get away from you.
I'm NOT lost, I'm just taking the scenic rout!
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Posted on May 07 2012 09:34 PM

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Yes, I think that that good teacher may have made the difference. Even though my piano teacher was a nice lady, I could pick up on the fact that she felt frustrated, having to teach someone who was less than a 'proteje'. I mean, when I was 5 and 6 years old, it looked like I held 'promise' of great things. I knew my alphabet and could 'read' at 5. I could also count and understand the 'rests' and the 'flags'. So, it 'looked good'. And I practiced an hour a day,... all the way to 15 years old. Whew! Counting all those lines and spaces. I always felt pressured and like the saying,... "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get". - jus'
Edited by justfoundout on May 07 2012 09:35 PM
#8 Print Post
Posted on May 08 2012 12:07 PM

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Squeaky is dead on! A good teacher who understands your difficulties is the answer. I think that it is very telling that she sees the musical notes as letters - instead of symbols. I really believe that we can learn to do anything we want to long as we have teachers and mentors who are willing to take their time with us and allow us to learn in our own way.

I had a really great science teacher in high school who got me through Chemistry class in much the same way. In fact, looking back he would probably be questioned about the "appropriate nature" of the time he spent with me. I would stay after school three days a week and we would sit at his blackboard and rework everything. After I failed a test (and I think I failed EVERY test) I was allowed to take them home and do it all again - correcting my mistakes with the textbook. I got out of that class with a C.

It isn't that we "can't learn." We can learn and we can do anything we put our hearts into! What we need are the opportunities and the teachers/coaches and mentors who will help us along the way.

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Posted on May 08 2012 05:12 PM

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DS took 3 hours of music/weekly from pre-K to 4th grade from a very experienced couple. He then moved to the recorder, which he could not play. He started trumpet 2 years ago. I was concerned he would not be able to play, so hired a private tutor to work with him prior to the school year.

Trumpet playing is the equivalent of typing for DS. He tells me that he sees the notes and the fingers do their thing without thought. He struggles with beats, but understands what a whole or half note means. He tells me the notes are simply fractions. For some reason that amuses him.

DS struggles with math procedures and has issues with working memory and processing speed. He can read maps too.
#10 Print Post
Posted on May 09 2012 06:38 AM

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Barbaradee, we really do have a great deal in common! I too, have driven music teachers crazy. First, my mother tried to get me to learn piano. After six months of lessons, the teacher finally begged my mother to take me out. Pfft

My mother then tried to get me to learn the glockenspiel. That lasted even less time than the piano lessons.Pfft

I love music. I love listening to it and I can trace my entire life through music. Unfortunately, I am not gifted enough to be able to play it.

What you said about painting and drawing also rang a chord with me. You literally quoted me on that one! No one will ever choose me as a partner for a game of Pictionary. Grin

I do believe though, what someone else here said about being able to learn anything you want to if you so choose. I'm sure I could learn to play an instrument--I've simply never had the inclination or the desire to try.

The more I read other posts, the more I continue to learn about myself. Thank you all for sharing your experiences here.

Algebra? When I learn decimals and fractions, you're welcome to try teaching me, but unless you have the patience of a saint and are very long-lived, good luck with that... Grin
#11 Print Post
Posted on May 11 2012 04:31 AM

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Hi guys, I'm new here Smile
I admit I was overjoyed to find that other people have the same trouble with formal music education. I love music (as you might be able to tell from my username) and am thinking of making a career of it, but I'm quite hesitant because I seriously cannot read music!
None of my music teachers ever helped me understand music notes and how to sight read, and it's been a great source of frustration for me. Yet I play instruments with ease. Since I was a kid I've been teaching myself to play guitar, piano, drums and harmonica, and people have always been surprised at my ability to play by ear. I took violin lessons for a year and a half, and the teachers just assumed i could sight read. As I live in Asia, there was a communication barrier and I never explained that I had trouble reading, and sneaked around the problem by asking my teacher to play the piece first, and I would just play it by ear afterwards.
I am now studying Music as a main subject in my school, and am extremely interested in music theory and how it all works but i really can't grasp most concepts! Music is one of the few things I am quite confident in, but I'm afraid that my inability to grasp musical notation will stop me from getting up to a university standard of music and in the future doing something that Iím passionate about. =( Any suggestions would be awesome!
#12 Print Post
Posted on May 11 2012 01:39 PM

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Here's a article about music and dyslexia. I realize that this is a dyscalculia forum; however, the general difficulties of reading music seem to apply across multiple LDs...

I know of one multi-sensory music teaching program but cannot find the link. When I find the link, will share. The program uses color and the physical size of the sheet music is larger, with more white space and fewer distractions.

Also, there are free music composing programs that are available online. Last Fall, DS spent hours composing on the computer. You can play with the notes and vary the music. This is a great way to see the notes and associate them with their sound.
Edited by heathermomster on May 11 2012 01:52 PM
#13 Print Post
Posted on May 16 2012 06:39 PM

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The music teaching program I was referring to is called Colour Staff Notation and was developed by Margaret Hubicki. This woman was amazing.

There are books about dyslexia and music reading that would likely help those with dyscalculia. I generally try to find multisensory approaches for helping my child. I'm not too concerned about the label of the help ie dyslexic/dyscalculia/ADD, as long as the techniques are multisensory.
#14 Print Post
Posted on May 19 2012 08:07 PM

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I have trouble telling which line a certain note is on. Just like I have to move my finger over the stars in music reviews to tell if there are four or five, I "lose my place" in a piece of music. I learned everything by ear and faked it in elementary school band, but got busted in high school and gave up playing an instrument..
#15 Print Post
Posted on June 19 2012 09:23 PM

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I am an accomplished pianist and dyscalculic.
Music is second nature for me. I have never had any trouble reading and interpreting the values of notes in music. I sight read very well, fast and I have also turned thousands of pages in concerts. I am the type of person who can hear music and see the notes on the staff in my mind.

I started to play the piano at age four, (just about fifty years ago) so I read notes before words. I did have some trouble with the music theory part of it. When I started to give piano lessons I found my own logical way to explain music theory and in the process to learn it even better.

I always had private lessons until I was twenty one; then in my twenties for a short time, finally in my late thirties - early forties I took more private lessons. I always had a very patient teacher.

I can fathom musical notes because since I am a very multi-sensory person I can use music to perceive time and rhythm. I suppose that this is the only type of "mathematical paradigm" in the relationships among the different types of length of notes, that makes sense to me.
Edited by Alice12 on June 19 2012 09:24 PM
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