My first ever piano teacher, back in maybe as long ago as 1960 or 1961, was one of the Old School. I mean the sort who plays you a bit of the tune, and you play it back, and she says “no, no, not like that” and plays it again, and you try again, and she tut tuts again, and shows you a third time, and each time you copy her you get a bit better…
I remember her name, let’s call her “Mrs Fanshaw”, and that she ALWAYS wore her hat.
I also have not forgotten that she used to tap my knuckles when I got it wrong.
As for sight reading – forget it. Where do you put your hands if you can’t work out the notes?
After three years I could play easy pieces at a pre-grade 1 level, from memory. And that was all. My technique was gruesome, and I could read neither pitch nor rhythm notation.
Realizing that was probably as far as I was going to get with that teacher, my parents found me a new one, who had an uphill task persuading me to read music, play scales and bend my fingers.
This early experience has dominated my piano teaching ever since. I do my utmost to de-mystify reading music, teach scales effectively and make sight-reading a positive and exciting activity through all kinds of games, tricks and treats. Here’s a sight-reading activity which works well;
once a piece is fairly well known, I start playing “pick-a-bar”. The game is that I can pick any bar I like, and they have to play Just That Bar, preferably with the correct fingering. You can play this game for either hand, or hands together. Just make sure that there is sufficient fingering in place (BUT NOT EVERY NOTE, PLEASE!) to ensure that they will start the bar on the correct finger. This does several useful things in one go – it is an easy way into sight-reading as they have already learned the notes, it knocks the “always have to start from the beginning” habit stone cold dead, and develops their familiarity with the connection between written and remembered notation. Give it a go!