Ask the Experts: how to encourage students to trust their ears


A reader asks what can be done to help young students who rely on learning finger placement rather than trusting their ears. Three teachers give their views

The dilemma I have two students who are struggling with learning ABRSM Grade 6 and 7 scales. Both are attempting to commit all the sharps and flats to memory as ‘high’ and ‘low’ finger positions rather than trusting their ears to hear the scale pattern – be it harmonic or melodic minor, dominant or diminished 7th – and place their fingers accordingly.

This seems to be part of a wider problem for both students, who try to place their fingers in a mathematical way, rather than allowing their ears to listen for intonation issues and adjust their fingers to compensate. How do I get them to trust their innate sense of tuning, and is there an easy system for learning scale patterns?

CECILY MENDELSSOHN I agree that it would be beneficial to your students if you could help them play their scales by ear. It will mean you can also put away the scale book for the next term!

First of all, can you get them to sing? They may be reluctant as young teenagers...

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