Frequently asked questions


Why does Yellow Cat use colors for music

Colors are used for the different notes and keys for several reasons:

» It is easier to see in color.
» It is easier to remember things in color.
» It helps students play notes with fewer mistakes.
» Colors look nice.

Colors are very helpful for students with learning disabilities and visual impairments. Students with poor vision often have difficulty tracking black notes on lines and in spaces, particularly if everything appears blurry. If a student has difficulty tracking, colors help the student find where he was on the page, if he has to look down to figure out where his fingers are.

Why yellow for C?

The colors were chosen to help with learning and to simplify things.

Yellow was originally used for C because I used to highlight the C spaces in a grand staff with yellow highlighter. The contrast between yellow and black is one of the most visible (think American school buses), so using it with black notes made sense.

In the music, yellow switched to black because yellow is not visible against white, but yellow is still used in the Circle of 5ths and when coloring notes over with pens or crayons.

Why purple for D?

Dragon was one of the last characters to get a color. He ended up purple because it is one of the standard colors of an 8 pack of crayons.

Why green for E

Green Elf likes to rest a lot. Green is a very soothing color for the eyes which is one of the reasons Green Rooms are green. (Green rooms are the waiting rooms for performers before they go on stage)

Elves are often colored green in fairy tales which makes it a great color for our little elf.

Why blue for F?

When I started using colors with young beginning piano students I separated the staffs by right hand red, and blue for bass.

When coming up with the colors for the Musicland stories, I kept the bass clef blue so I needed a blue character for it. The F clef lends itself to being made into Fairy's wings, so Blue Fairy was created.

Why red for G?

Following on the story about right hand red and blue for bass, Red Giant got his color due to his association with the G clef.

Why orange for A?

Albert Alarm Clock is a tough character to give a color to. His importance in Musicland is high, because he is all about time signatures, counting and tempo.

He and Purple Dragon share the fact that I wanted to keep the colors a standard 8 pack of crayons, and orange was the other color left over.

Why brown for B?

Beethoven is our only truly human character in Musicland. He has brown hair.

Are the colors for pitch or the notes?

Colors are for notes, not pitch. For example, f sharp will be blue, and g flat will be red.

I am worried about switching from color to black and white what do I do?

This is probably the most common question, so you are not alone.

When music has been written out in step format, learning it works for many different reasons, not just color alone.

For example, notes are spaced according to rhythm so a student gets a visual representation of the rhythm as well as the noted representation.

Finger numbers are written for each note to help students start anywhere in the music.

Sections are small so a student can learn everything about it without getting stressed.

Since a student masters a section before moving on to the next, and there are lots of small sections (and pages) the incentive to go back to the beginning of a piece after making a mistake in the middle is small.

None of these things has anything to do with whether or not the music is colored. If you are uncomfortable with teaching in color, simply print the music out in black and white.

Color helps, but it is by no means the only reason that this method works exceptionally well.

Is colored music real music?

Of course it is. All the scores are properly notated with standard conventions.

If you are unsure about the color, just print the scores out in black. That's why I love digital downloads.

Some strategies I use:

Start with colored music in steps print summary pages (combined step pages in black and white) Print full score in color, print it out in black and switch between them

The spacing of the scores is for maximum readability, I plan on having performance scores with fewer page turns.

More space in a score is for the initial learning and basic understanding phase of piano lessons. Many students move away from this eventually, but just as many are happy to keep going in color.


Why are there so many numbers?

Since there are different types of numbers here, I am going to answer them individually.

Why are there fingering numbers for every note?

These are learning editions. The fingering numbers are to the left of every note, so students can start at any point in a measure and play with the correct finger. The finger numbers are not above or below the staff because it is important for students to look at the notes and not above or below to develop tracking.

Because steps often start in the middle of a measure, the finger numbers need to be there to ensure the success of a student.

Having the finger numbers helps students use the same fingering every time a piece is played, which is crucial for developing strong muscle memories.

Setting up the learning environment to make it easier for a student to do the right thing is another reason that the finger numbers are there.

Why are counting numbers written in for every measure?

Counting numbers are written for each measure for several reasons.

Firstly, they provide a framework to enable students to figure out if their playing is on the beat or off.

Secondly, if they are written clearly in the music, they are much more likely to be used. It is easier to use counting numbers when the sections of music are really small.

They are written in the music because these editions were developed with teaching online in mind. If they are already written, teachers can be certain that the counting is correct in the student's copy of the music.

Why are there so many steps?

To ensure that students can learn completely, steps must include every note. Music generally has a lot of repeated sections, so those are generally only included once.

Even seemingly simple things, like a whole note need to be properly counted and accounted for, so they get equal treatment when doing steps.

When making a decision about adding another step or not, I tend to go with the extra step. I teach a lot of non-traditional learners and small steps go a long way in helping them succeed.

Can I skip a step?

It isn't a good idea to skip steps.

Even if the step appears to be easy, when a student skips it, he won't have developed the same muscle memory for that step that he has all of the other step.

If the steps are too easy for a particular student, go to the combined steps pages and play groups of steps instead.

Why 20 repetitions?

Because so many students are over-scheduled and don't practice much. It is essential that a student plays the piano during the lesson.

20 repetitions seems to be the MINIMUM number of repetitions that a student needs to do to kickstart muscle memory.

Here's the break down:

The first 5 are when the student is figuring things out, expect a lot of mistakes here. My rule of thumb is 4-7 attempts before the step is learned, depending on the age and experience of the student.

The second 5 are easier than the first, but the student still needs to be focused to be able to play a step correctly.

The third 5 are when you and your student start wondering what you will have for dinner (a tiny bit of boredom is OK here). I often mention what's going on in a step at this point, what the key is, how the sounds are changing and some technique stuff.

The last 5 are when learning gets exciting. The student has played the step enough to be able to start listening to the sounds he is playing. This leads to all sorts of associations and connections and a-ha moments.

What's the deal with 4-7 mistakes?

Mistakes are critical to the learning process. When working on something new, students make mistakes, think about it, correct the mistake, and do a lot of thinking. This is the stage in learning where new synapses are connecting in the brain.

If the step is at an appropriate level for a student, I always tell him that I expect it will take between 4-7 times before he starts getting it right. Since this is the expectation from the beginning, students don't give up so easily when there is an error.

If a student is making mistakes after the 7th time, it is a judgement call on the part of the teacher based on how close the step is to being understood, and how tired the student is. If it is at the end of the lesson, and a student is tired, I will stop. If the step truly seems to be too hard, I take a sticky note and make the step smaller, I have the student play the step hands separately, or I have the student start counting aloud which has the effect of slowing him down.