Issue 87: Sight-reading skills for piano music exams

I’ve a student preparing for a grade 5 piano exam who is totally terrified of the sight reading element. Her note reading skills are good, and she is fine with rhythms.

So, what is the problem? I think it is to do with confidence, and maybe some bad experiences in the past.

We tackled some grade 1 and 2 sight-reading tests in the lesson, and I began to get an inking of what was going on.

To begin with, she wasn’t reading the notes in relation to each other – i.e. looking at the next note in terms of higher, lower, and how many steps away, in notes, or fingers you need to go. Instead, she was working out what letter the note was, and then finding it on the keyboard.

The other problem is that when you are sight-reading an orchestral instrument – as in trombone (her other instrument) or cello (my other instrument), you only have to read one line at a time. Obviously it is better if you can read and understand more than one note at a time, but at base level you deal with just one note and another note and another note etc.

When you are sight-reading piano music, you have to deal with two lines, and make decisions about which notes are played together, when, and how. These decisions start happening at grade 2. Obviously, it is far quicker and better to read the notes as “miss two fingers” or “thumb” than try and identify letter names.

So, to build up confidence and expertise, I gave her a book of grade 1 specimen tests to get her eye in, and build up some positive experience. That went well, and we moved on to grade 2. A week at grade 2 and she is reading the tests reasonably fluently and accurately, and her confidence is building.

I reckon it will take a couple of weeks at grade 3, which is when your hands start to change position, indicated by a change of fingering on the music. Grade 4 by half term, and then, with a fair wind, we should be in a position to tackle grade 5 without tears, if with trepidation. We shall see.


This entry was posted in Lessons that have happened, Piano, Sight Reading and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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