by Hellene Hiner
Before the 'Soft Way to Mozart' system came into existence, music education worldwide was searching for a point of support in the development of music literacy. One can compare this search to learning to read, say, the letters of the English alphabet. When children learn many separate letters, some of them even manage to read independently. They do so because they have a point of support in learning English. When children play with cards and pictures of cubs with an unfamiliar abstract letter appearing in the same frame, they can figure out its name by looking at the corresponding picture. In this example, experience in recognizing pictures and speech are the natural point of support for children to learn to read.
In learning to read musical notation, however, we teachers do not know the point of support for children to read music, for to date there has not been an established system by which to assess students' abstract music notation skills before the beginning of their music lessons.
Hellene Hiner of Houston, Texas, have created an innovative system to address this very obstacle. Their system, called 'Soft Mozart', is like a 'Table of Music Elements' where all the components of learning are organized in a methodical, logical way. The high level of efficiency and success with 'Soft Mozart' is rapidly earning them recognition and endorsement from many world-renowned professionals. The theses of 'Soft Mozart' recently was published in book for educators by Moscow conservatory named after Peter Tchaikovsky, world renowned concert pianist, national artist of Russia Yuri Rozum called the invention the 'missing link in music education', vice dean of Madrid conservatory Victoria Lypez said that she found no better method then this. Currently, 'Soft Mozart' has been adapted for use by many music schools and studios, state and private facilities, in the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, Spain, United Kingdom, Russia, and Mexico. Interest in this dynamic program is growing day by day, producing results that are self-evident and speak for themselves.
In the 'Soft Mozart' system, a computer program becomes the student's active learning partner as it incorporates the following
skills that most learners have:
- Speech memory
- Ability to recognize pictures and colors
- Ability to push piano keys with at least one finger
Indeed, most healthy children of age 2 and up can meet these criteria.
The traditional Grand Staff (as well as traditional music notation) is basically ill-suited for teaching music literacy to young children. While it is a 'bearer' of pure musical information, in 'Soft Mozart' it has become a captivating didactic aid that features colors and figurative pictures. It is an approach that successfully blends the students' established visual experience (the ability to recognize colors and pictures) with their previously integrated audio experience (the ability to hear different sounds) with their speech memory (ability to memorize words) helping them to synthesize a new layer of unknown information, which is music notation.
The basic winning distinction in the 'Soft Way to Mozart' system is the opportunity to give beginners the ability to see music notes and piano keys from the very start. This very important component has been sorely overlooked by all traditional and novel methods that ever existed in music education. Many methods have confused the two different notions: 'to look' and 'to see'. The abstractness and complexity of music notation and the graphical identity of music notes and piano keys do not give beginners an opportunity to see notation and keys the way a professional sees them. That combination affects students' muscle development but does not promote their music literacy.
The authors of 'Soft Way to Mozart' have created the ABC's of music language, where colors and pictures are used to decode music notation in the same exact way as they help to decode abstract letters of the English alphabet. The essence of this remarkable innovation lies in its basic simplicity: If the human eye is unable to catch the difference between similar-looking music notes and piano keys, then the music notes and piano keys must be highlighted, marked and underlined in order to develop the students' music vision.
Some 'Soft Mozart' learning aids for the development of music vision include the following:
If spaces and lines are the same tracks, they are presented in the same width at the elementary level. Beginners won't think that the white track is just a break between lines.
If music notes are all either on spaces or on lines, they are displayed in two contrasting colors for the beginners' eyes to instantly catch the difference.
If the treble and base clefs are two different systems, they are presented in two different colors, for example, colors of a tree. It would help to explain the gradual changes in pitch - from dark to light, from trunk to crown.
If the music notes go up and down, and the corresponding keys go from right to left, they are lined up by turning the Grand Staff sideways in the elementary presentation to help beginners to see a straight link between them right away.
If the music notes have only seven names for all the keys and sounds, they are labeled with the names to help beginners see the relationship easily, without having to struggle to look for information.
Piano keys are color-coded in the same way with the help of removable stickers: they have green and brown stripes as well as red and blue circles with the names of notes.
Besides the 'elementary presentation' of music notation, the gradual and logical transformation was developed in order to train the eyes of beginners to see the abstract music score while at the same time improving their coordination.
Key guides behind the keys now replace the stickers on the piano keys. The stickers are then removed completely when the students do not need visual support to see the keys.
The 'elementary presentation' in the 'Soft Mozart' system undergoes six gradual modifications:
- Vertical with colors and pictures of the names of the notes
- Vertical with colors, but no pictures
- Horizontal with colors and pictures of the names of the notes
- Horizontal with no pictures
- Traditional black and white notation, but with large images and with no bars or rest signs
- Traditional notation
The vocal nature of music language promotes the idea of including Solfeggio in the computerized learning process. 'ABC' and 'Do Re Mi' present the names of the music notes in the system. However, 'sounds of music' or 'Do Re Mi' are coded in pictures that are phonetically similar to these syllables - 'Door', 'Rain', 'Mirror', etc. When beginners read music or play music theory games, they are capable of singing the notes, using the piano as a 'tutor' to carry the tune and speech memory to understand the logic of music on the vocal level. Solfeggio singing dramatically improves the quality of learning and accelerates the development of music memory. The sounding of all other voices or accompaniment during the Solfeggio singing develops the music ear harmonically, and also contributes to the intensive development of the music mind.
Any assignment of the program IAE is oriented on the development of the music ear, but in some cases ear training is the core of the learning process. Thus, in the Solfeggio curriculum, students have to sing melodies, memorize them, write them down, and then pick up the correct chords. Computer graphics help the students to check and correct themselves independently.
Computer technology also helps to make the system highly interactive. Animation helps beginners to understand note duration and build coordination intuitively with no audio or written explanation that usually overcharge their minds at the beginning of their learning.
The ability to hear a music piece, learn it with separate hands by hearing the other part, memorize it with the gentle guidance of the computer, see the results with exact numbers - these and many other features of the 'Soft Mozart' computerized system serve as the foundation for establishing strong skills in piano playing for every student.
Computer graphics also provide a focus for the students' eyes, with support to deal with multiple lines of the Grand Staff, and gradually developing the students' ability to shift down the lines ahead.
Learning music in the 'Soft Mozart' system is considered a complex skill that is closer to navigating than to reading books, because it involves the development of reading and coordination. In order to develop this important integrated skill, all the components - vision, hearing, coordination and voice - are teamed up from the start. The computer, in particular, allows the engagement of all the components of this complex skill as a training device.
One key foundation of the 'Soft Mozart' program is the determination of the piano as the starting point of music education, because the voice and the music ear of beginners require a 'point of support' for their further development.
Piano is the only widely available instrument that can develop the music ear melodically and harmonically, to train rhythm and to read the Grand Staff. The principal novelty of the digital piano lies in its ability to connect it with a computer for interactive learning. Interactivity is essential in studying any language, especially including the language of music.
The creation of 'Soft Mozart' is a genuine breakthrough in music education. With the help of this computerized system, beginners of any age learn music literacy without a struggle. Music books with 'Elementary Presentation' of notation as well as stickers for piano keys have to be introduced to every child in homes, schools and day care centers. The 'Elementary Grand Staff' must become part of any music curriculum in public schools worldwide. There is no other way to spread music literacy and to ensure the future of music education.
It is necessary for every music educator to be introduced to the 'Soft Way to Mozart' system, because it is not just another method that can be dismissed by personal preference.
Likewise, every music publisher must be aware that any method that tries to teach music notation in the 'blind mode' ought to be reconsidered.
Every ministry of education of any country must also know that it is wasted money and energy when spent on approaches that have failed to develop the ability of children to read music notes by developing their eyesight to read music. Such approaches teach only people with inborn music talent to see a music score within, and exclude the rest.
And every commercial institution that promotes an approach to music education that does not seek to develop skills to see music notation, simply misleads its students into a blind alley.
The 'Soft Way to Mozart' is a scientifically researched alternative, a discovery of universal importance, and a completely new platform for teaching music literacy that promises an end to the Dark Ages in music education.