Sight reading is the act of picking up a piece of music you’ve never seen before and playing it through to the best of your ability. Proficiency in sight reading is one of the goals of any music instruction. Of course, your ability to sight read will naturally improve as you develop your note-reading skills (and vice versa). In this article, I will describe some tips and techniques that can be used in piano lessons to accelerate sight reading proficiency among piano students.
Pick the best excerpts for sight reading.
Easy: Pick pieces to use for sight reading practice that are at an easier level than the student’s normal weekly assignments. For example, if the student plays at a level 3 in his method books, sight reading a level 1 or level 2 example is a great place to start.
Not popular: Pick pieces that are not popular melodies. To get the most out of the sight reading practice, avoid pieces your students might be familiar with. This way, they can’t “cheat”, using preconceptions they have about rhythms and intervals.
Short: Lastly, pick pieces that are short enough for the student to play through within a one or two minute window.
Have the student look over and analyze the excerpt.
Before playing, the student should have a minute or two to give the excerpt a “look-through” — to look over the excerpt and pick out important details that can help as he approaches the new song. He should look for the key signature and the time signature, and he should identify the parts that look to be the “trickiest”. Your student won’t pick up every detail in this look-through. But the practice of identifying the most important components of a piece will strengthen his sight reading ability overall.
I personally like to encourage students to “ghost through” a piece — moving their hands lightly over the piano without making sound. This gives them a feel for the choreography of the excerpt.
Have your students play through their mistakes.
The ability to keep playing through the excerpt, even when mistakes are made, is probably the most difficult aspect of fluent sight reading to master. It is really easy for a student to lose her bearings in a song if notes are missed, as her hand position and/or rhythmic feel will be disturbed.
Use counting and interval-reading techniques.
You can help your students play through their mistakes by going over counting techniques. Count aloud with them to help them subdivide beats correctly.
Also, review interval reading techniques with your students so they can efficiently assess the distance between notes.
Have your students keep their eyes on the music with active reading ahead; this will keep them engaged with the pieces they are playing for the full amount of time.
Review and debrief together.
After your student has done his sight reading, review it with him. Go over a few key points and problem areas. Then either have him play the piece again or play the piece for him, with counting. This debriefing will reinforce the importance of properly analyzing a piece before trying to sight read it.
Strengthened sight reading boosts skills and confidence.
With strengthened sight reading ability, your students. overall note reading skills will be improved, and they will approach new songs with greater confidence and ease.
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