The Music Corner for Piano Lovers

An Easy Way to Incorporate Sight Reading into a Lesson or Practice Session

05 Oct 2014 News

Lesson and practice time is at such a premium, it's no wonder both teachers and students complain there just isn't enough time to focus on both repertoire and sight reading. But the pianist who is unable to sight read is rather like the actor, who seeking to perform Macbeth, finds himself struggling to spell and pronounce each word! I'm hoping the ideas in this week's post will help you incorporate sight reading into your lesson or practice time.

The mistake we often make is to consider sight reading to be an exercise in playing a piece or a couple of lines without any prior mental preparation. This is a certain exercise in disaster unless the piece is very, very easy. If you  were planning to read aloud from a play or poem, you'd quickly scan the piece before doing so. That same approach has to be applied to sight reading music.

Keep in mind that how quickly you can scan a piece depends upon how much practice you've had. When you first start off, it's going to take a little bit of time. With practice, you'll find you can quickly assess the character of a piece - so quickly, that it seems like you never even scanned the piece.

When you get used to scanning or prepping a piece before actually playing it, you can use any piece - even one that's at your level or higher to sight read. To begin with, when you start a new piece or even a new section within a piece, before you begin working on it, select a couple of lines to sight read. Whether you'll select one phrase or two will depend upon your own abilities and how difficult the piece is.

Now think about what it is you want to achieve. What do you need to do to perform the piece at sight?

1)  At a minimum, you need to identify each pitch correctly. When you see an A4 (the A in the acronym FACE), do you correctly see it as an A rather than an F or a C, and do you know where that note is on the piano? Are you familiar with the key signature, and do you know which notes need to be raised or lowered? Circle those notes.

2) Next, you need to understand the time signature and the rhythm.

3) In addition to understanding pitch and rhythm, you need to be able to coordinate both hands together and play and read from the Grand Staff. At the most basic level, this is what you should be able to do.

4) Can you perform the dynamics, slurs, articulations while you do all of the above?

5) Can you shape the phrase and achieve hand balance and independence?

6) Are there trills, grace notes and other ornaments that you can perform? Note, that if you can perform these while sight reading, you don't need to be reading this post! If you can't, it's okay to be like the musician Monteverdi refused to hire because the man ignored every ornament in any piece of music he played! You're sight reading, so do whatever you need to do to make it easier on yourself to perform the piece or the couple of phrases to the best of your ability.

As you go through the list, don't worry about things you're not adept at - such as shaping a phrase or including dynamics while you play. Your control over the piano is dependent not just on your technique, but also on how difficult it is to perform the first three steps. So, if you're sight reading from a piece that's at your level rather than below it, don't worry about not being able to play all that expressively. Also, don't worry about performance marks you don't understand. Make a note of these, so you can explore them later.

In my next post, I'll talk about the specific steps you need to prepare to sight read; one other skill you'll need to sight read successfully and a new skill you'll acquire as a result of sight reading regularly.



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