Issue 91: Sight-Reading Skills

I have been doing a crash-course in sight-reading for several pianists recently. Although this is written with the piano in mind, the same process would work on other instruments.

This is what I do for grades higher than 1 and 2:

  1. Start reading from the beginning; check clefs and key signatures.
  2. Find your starting notes with the correct fingers, and leave you hands there while you scan through the whole piece.
  3. Now scan through again, and TOUCH every note that has a fingering marked on it, as this is where you will have to move your hands. Name the note that the hand is moving to and try and fix it in your mind.
  4. Make sure you know what is going to happen at the start of the second line, if it is longer than one line.
  5. TOUCH everything that looks strange or awkward; chords, accidentals, particularly high or low notes, rhythms.
  6. Have a quick look at dynamics – where is the loud/soft bit?
  7. By now your time is probably just about up. Set yourself up for the start, and set a SLOW and STEADY pulse going in your mind. I usually mark the time in quavers. I’m not great at keeping count of┬áthe beats, so I just go “der der der der” in my mind, with each “der” being a quaver.

For Grade 1 and 2, the test is more straightforward as the hands do not move from their starting five-finger positions.

  1. Start reading from the beginning; check key-signatures
  2. Find your starting notes with the correct fingers, and position every finger over its own note.
  3. Adjust finger positions for sharps and flats.
  4. Have a quick look at dynamics – where is the loud/soft bit?
  5. By now your time is probably just about up. Set yourself up for the start, and set a SLOW and STEADY pulse going in your mind as before.

Before you reach this stage in the exam preparation, you should have spent quite some time teaching how to read intervals and chords in relation to finger and hand shapes, so that the student can read more fluently. That will make moving from note to note easier and use up less brain processing power!

Remember that sight-reading is very tiring for the student; attempting to do more than a few minutes of it in a lesson will soon become unproductive and make the student lose confidence. Always stop while you are winning!

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