Staff notation is a very beautiful invention. Experienced players can take one look, and immediately see everything they need to know in order to play and understand a piece. But it is an abstract system, and it can take a long time for a beginner to learn to read it fluently. Sometimes the first steps can be very daunting if, at the same time, most of the pupil’s mind is taken up with the physical problems of playing the instrument. Using colour can guide the eye, and focus the mind, in a quick and unfussy way.
In the case of string instruments, one way to use colour is to have a colour for each string. This breaks the stave up into small, manageable zones. Once directed to the right string, the beginner pupil only needs to make simple 2- or 3-way choices. The mental load is lightened, the pupil will “get to the the tune” with less effort, and the logic of the stave lines and spaces can be learned at a gradual pace.
Examples for guitar
Here is an example from very near the beginning of the first Rainbow Guitar book. At this stage the pupil is playing just open strings, so the colours do more or less all the work, immediately guiding him or her to the correct string. However the pupil is already getting used to the general appearance of the stave, and noticing that you can “see” the shape of the tune as well as hearing it.
Here is an example from a little further on:
In “Big Ben”, the pupil is playing on the same strings, but now knows two notes on the red string (G – open, and A – fretted). So the reading has become slightly harder, as each red note now requires a 2-way choice.
By the end of Rainbow Guitar Book 1, the pupil knows three different notes on the green string as well (B – open, C – 1st fret, D – 3rd fret).
So by the time the pupil has reached “Shepherd’s Hey” there is quite a lot more to think about, as each red note requires a 2-way choice and each green note requires a 3-way choice. But the colours are still helping a great deal (for example the pupil can see at a glance that the first bar is all played on the same string).
Examples for ukulele
And to show how the same idea works on the ukulele, here is an example from the beginning of the Rainbow Ukulele book, using just three open strings:
And here is an example from near the end of Book 1. By the time the pupil reaches “Turn Again Whittington” there is a whole octave from C to C in the game – that’s 2 notes on red, 3 notes on green and 3 notes on pink. So the pupil needs to know a good deal about the stave in order to read this tune – but again the colours are still helping to break things down into chunks and to separate the stave into easily recognisable zones: