top of page

My Imaginary Standard

STOP!” said the voice inside my head. “You can’t just cover up the notes. That’s cheating. That’s going to give her a bad message. You’re preventing her from…”

I stopped myself.


“Hey, Amy,” I said. “You aren’t going to look at these notes anyway, are you?”


“Nope,” she said honestly. “I’m just going to look at the colored tape.”

“Cool,” I said. “Let’s make it WORK for you.”

It was finally over. That sense that I shouldn’t be making it easier for her. That by keeping things a little too hard, a tad out-of-reach, almost a bit mysterious, I was doing her a favor.

I was not doing her any favors. I was just making her life more difficult.

Amy has dyslexia – which means that her brain has difficulty recognizing and processing symbols. It’s unlikely she will ever enjoy reading complex scores for pleasure. She loves to play and does it quite well, but part of my job is helping her interpret the written page. She comes to me to learn pieces that she couldn’t play without me.

For reasons that still elude me, I felt like I shouldn’t REALLY help her. Like I should hold something back. Help her a little, but not quite enough. I had some imaginary standard that prevented me from turning the written score into something she could actually use.

I take great pride in creating independent learners. I want my students to be able to pick up a piece of music and play it on their own. I want them to be able to improvise, decode a chord chart, realize a figured base. (I just threw that in to see if you were awake. I can’t imagine actually spending time on figured base realization.)

Learning differences are something else entirely.

When a student has a learning difference, it’s my job to help them meet it with every bit of skill I have. If I need to white-out bar lines or write in note names and color code the score, then I’m going to be proud of my efforts. And proud of theirs as well.

I realize I had mistakenly believed I could teach the learning difference right out of her.

I knew better. Brains aren’t like that. They can be challenged. They can grow and change. But to think that I shouldn’t help her in the ways that she specifically needed help was ridiculous. And just plain mean.

This belief is something I picked up in the land of “serious music education” where I spent so many years. Somewhere between Counterpoint class and Chromatic Analysis in the Music of Wagner.

I desperately wish there had been a class somewhere in my education called Teaching Children with Learning Differences. It would have been a lot more practical than all that stuff about Opera Seria and Opera Buffa. (If you don’t know, count your blessings.) Instead, I’ve had to educate myself.

After all my independent education, Amy and I are a good combination. And I intend to keep it that way. It may take a little work to keep that imaginary standard at bay.

dyslexia wonders.jpg

Dyslexia Wonders describes life from the point of view of a child with dyslexia. 

bottom of page