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  • Dima Tahboub

How to use color-coding to teach reading music to children with special needs in easy 4 steps.



What is color coding and why do we need it?


Wikipedia defines color coding as:

A color code or colour code is a system for displaying information by using different colors.

A study by Heidi LaMendola Nelson and Amy Lightner Cobb shows us that color coding:

Aids in alleviating anxiety, promotes concept understanding, addresses organization issues, increases academic success, improves mathematics and phonics skills, and increases self-esteem.

Over the years I have experimented and tried to use color coding in my piano teaching, children love colors, they are aesthetically more pleasing to look at, and since it has been successfully used for other subjects why not use it with teaching music.



How to use it?

In this post, I will explain how to successfully use it to teach children to read notes, especially children who find reading notation difficult. I have used it with very young children, children and with dyslexia, autism, ADHD, Down syndrome and it always produced at least good results and more often excellent results.


Step 1

Start on the first lesson, assigning a different color to each different pitch for example:

C is red, D is blue, E is yellow and so on.



Use colored popsicle sticks to find the keys on the piano. Don't place a permanent color sticker on any key. Always remove the label after you finish the exercise.


Simultaneously, and to help the student remember this color system and confidently know their way on the keyboard teach the student popular songs using the same system. Jingle Bells below is an example. You can create your own sheets or alternatively, to download the whole book that I created you can follow THIS LINK




Step 2

Once the student is ready to start reading notes circle each note with the same color using the code you started with on the method book of your choice.

Below is an example of a page from the Bastien method book that I am currently using with one of my students.




Step 3

Instead of you circling the notes, now the student circles the notes with the correct colors. Stay on this step until the student can do it 90% correct independently. Depending on the student, this might take a long time, sometimes a whole book, don't give, the student will get it eventually.


Step 4

Circle only the new notes or any problem notes and areas in the score as they appear.




For more teaching tips and ideas...


Transitioning Into Note Reading? 5 Tips to Make the Process Smooth

My Student can’t seem to learn to read music?


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