Pretty Ugly

It's not my favorite piece.

Alexa, who struggles with dyslexia, was learning a simplified version of The Entertainer from Joplin for Students, Book Two. She was highly motivated, (i.e. she'd purchased and brought the music to her lesson) and I was trying to be a good sport about it. 

The 3rds and 4ths in the left hand accompaniment were leaving her flummoxed. 

I tried my usual approach, patiently (and rather lifelessly) explaining how if there were two line notes it was a 3rd and if it was one line note and one space note it was a 4th. (Unless it was a 2nd.)

Writing this is embarrassing. I feel how intrinsically dull this explanation is. 

She smiled pleasantly. No clue what I was talking about.

I suddenly had a flash of realization that isn't how I process them at all. I don't stop and think, "Oh look, there are two line notes hanging out next to each other."

I actually felt something when I saw those different intervals. It was something inside me and it didn't have to do with lines and spaces. It was an emotional response to the appearance of the different sized intervals.

I tried to put it into words.

"Hey, Alexa," I told her, "The 3rds are the pretty ones. They're neat and well-behaved. Lined up into pairs. The 4ths are the ugly ones. The notes look like they can't wait to get away from each other."  

"Oh, OK," she said. "I get it."

She looked at the next measure.

"It's the ugly one," she said. "So it's a 4th."

Problem solved. 

Next time I'm going to try to remember that how something looks and feels might be a lot clearer than one of my mind-numbing explanations. What about you?

Have you ever taught a student who seemed to process the world in a different way? You might want to learn a little about sensory processing.