How Colour Coding Music Can Help Struggling Readers

It’s no secret that I love colour…just look at the name of my site.

But colour is not only fun, synonymous with creativity and a source of debate that’s been waged across the Atlantic for decades (we’re keeping the U, thank you very much.) Colour can also be a tool.

Colour coding, when used judiciously, can be a fantastic asset to help struggling music readers see the patterns on the staff more easily and feel confident with written notation.

In this article, I’ll show you how to do it so that it doesn’t become a crutch.

For more tips on developing confident music readers, you might also like the articles featured on my Music Theory page.

Colour Coding Intervals

This first method of colour coding music is the one I use most frequently in my studio.

What I mean by colour coding intervals is to choose a colour for 2nds, 3rds, etc. and to draw a line between the notes for melodic intervals and circle the harmonic intervals in that colour.

I use this strategy with most of my students at some point in their beginning stages of study. This is just one element in my music teaching toolkit (which, of course, is stuffed to the brim with games!) but it’s a useful one.

The most useful part of colour coding intervals for the student is the actual colouring! As my favourite yoga teacher once said, the process is the candy. 🍬

So if you’re going to try this out, don’t do the colouring yourself. Yes, it takes time for your student to do this during the lesson but it is 100% worth it.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, either. Feel free to use this strategy to focus on one or two intervals that your student is having trouble with in any piece.

Colour Coding Notes

Colour coding notes means choosing a different colour for each note rather than each interval, e.g. G = green.

For the most part, I only colour code notes for my group workshop materials. I do this to facilitate my multi-level group ensembles and make sure all students can participate fully.

In these ensembles, we often use Boomwhackers and deskbells which are in the chromanote colours, so that’s the set of colours I use when colour coding by note.

colour coded music

Using Colour in Musescore

Using the chromanote colours may also be handy for you if you want to digitally colour code your students’ music. You can use the free Musescore software to automatically convert the notes to these colours, which is pretty neat.

In case you’re wondering, I did not use this Musescore plugin to create Brother John notation above. That was done in Adobe Illustrator so the Musescore notation will look a little different, but is a great easy option.

Colour-Coded Notes for Students with Learning Differences

Some students with special needs and learning differences will find notation that is colour-coded by note easier to read in general. This is a great tool to have in your toolbelt and definitely worth a try if your student is finding reading challenging, for whatever reason.

I have found this especially helpful for my students with Down Syndrome, however – as with everything – you’ll need to experiment to see what suits as every student is different.

Do you use colour coding to teach music reading?

What ways do you use colour? Which methods have been most helpful for your students? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below. 🙂

10 thoughts on “How Colour Coding Music Can Help Struggling Readers”

  1. I do use colour coding with Kodály syllables. That means: Do is always RED, So is always BLUE, etc., no matter what key you are in. It’s very helpful for beginner reader but also it gives you better understanding of the key change which proves to be a challenge for most. It also breaks that fixation on C major position. So with a new song/ piece we sing in solfa and then the child colours each note according to solfa. Sometimes we colour only first note of the phrase to give them some orientation. This technique has been essential part of my teaching for some years.
    Thanks and have a nice Sunday, Nicola.

  2. Thank you, fun ideas. I have color coded notes , dynamics and which hand to use, but never intervals. I’m very excited to try that. It really does help with struggling students. Fun fact , I have been starting to color certain parts in my own music. Especially dynamic marks that I always seem to miss.

  3. About a third of my beginners do better if we take time to color code the notes. (They do the coloring.) There’s a developmental vision aspect to this where it hard for some kids to see the contrast caused by white paper and black notes (their eyes have to work extra hard so they miss steps and skips, for example.) Color the notes and it is instantly better. Also the color coding helps them learn note names as we “color all the C’s”, for example. And we can talk about patterns – ‘”ee where it starts and ends?’ I also think it helps set up aural expectations of what they will hear, and helps them listen to their playing. Most quickly grow out of needing this.

  4. I also use color to show the phrasing, especially when slurs are first introduced, using a new colour for each new musical idea or musical sentence. And red on the hot staccato dots if we are missing those.

  5. I have been using color coded music literature and color coded musical instruments in my personal life and as an music educator for several decades. It is an awesome tool for so many types of individuals out there, a real music color system for visual learners!


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