Using Colors to Teach Music – Some Things to Consider

Mention colors and music notation among two or more music teachers and a debate will surely ensue. Proponents of using color coded music believe that the method is a surefire way of having instant success in making music while opponents may see it as dumbing down. Walking the center line may be the safest stand on this subject; here are a few considerations on the subject regarding handchimes and ringing along with suggestions for experiencing the best of both worlds.

As proponents of using colors to teach music literacy, we are very sensitive to those who cannot see color or experience color vision deficiency. About 8% of males and .5% of females experience this deficiency. Therefore, we advocate using colors along with a second method in all lesson plans. For instance, if using a color to indicate pitch also use a shape as a secondary indicator as used in the ChimeWorks Icon Chart.

Using Colors with Lesson Plans in the General Music Classroom or Choral Rehearsal
Colors are familiar and easily recognizable to most which makes them a great precursor to music notation to teach eye-hand coordination as well as tracking from left to right for pre-readers. One color may indicate a pitch as in using icons or it can signify a chord for creating harmonies while accompanying a melody. These methods are used by having a central focal point for the children to follow as indicated by the music leader. The use of an interactive whiteboard or projection is highly recommended.

When introducing music notation, a simple melody using colored note heads helps to simplify finding the correct space and line to follow on the staff. Once the concept of locating a specific pitch on the staff is taught, eliminating colors is encouraged.

Attaching a colored band to a handchime is an accessible means of designating an instrument to the appropriate pitch or chord. These functional bands are easily wrapped around the handchime tube, are effortlessly removed and can be reused.

Creating resources using colors is simple with the use of a computer. While working with Chroma-NotesTM notation in Finale PRINTMUSIC® is the simplest method of producing colored music notation, general resources can be produced in word processor software. An important aspect of creating resources is that you keep the colors and symbols consistent when assigning them to pitches. Using the ChimeWorks Icon Chart as referenced above, allows you to maintain uniformity when using available resources in the marketplace as well as creating your own.

Using Colors with the Handchime Ensemble
Long a source of debate in the ringing world is marking the handchime/handbell score. While these instruments are a great tool to teach music at any age and countless youth and adults have been able to learn music skills by ringing in a handchime/handbell ensemble, there has been contention along the way.

Early in the handbell movement, indicating when to ring the instrument in a particular hand was indicated by a circle around the note head often in red and blue. Through the years, experience taught us that using a circle may not be the best indicator as the marking distorted the score by blocking the purpose of a particular note head be it melody, counter-melody or harmony. Gradually, highlighters came into play. With the use of highlighters in two consistent colors for example, yellow for left hand and pink for right hand, the note will be designated without obstructing its purpose and any other markings such as dynamics, articulations or techniques.

While using highlighters to indicate notes in a score, the ringer can be trained to locate their assigned pitches and with standard handchime/handbell assignments, know that their left hand is ringing the pitch on the space and their right hand, the one on the line. It can, sometimes, be difficult to ween a ringer off the use of color coding a score. Adults have more difficulty losing this crutch than children, however, the ultimate goal is to use ringing as a tool to teach music literacy and to nurture musicians of all ages.

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