I have a stack of levelled sight reading books in my studio. And they bug me. They bug me because they are taking up a ton of space on my book shelf, and while buying yet another shelf would give me a great excuse to make the trip to Ikea (yay!) I’d prefer to fill my new Borgsjö bookshelf with more useful material. And I don’t consider these books to be useful.
But I have trouble recycling anything that contains music notes…
While I used to rely on these babies to enable me to mentally say “Sight reading… Done! Boo Yeah!”… they are no longer a part of my studio. Well, they are a part of my studio. They’re the part that bugs me at the moment.
Teaching Sight Reading to Kids… Without Those Books
No matter how exciting or relevant I tried to make those sight reading books, the kids would look at me like I had just suggested they chew on a jellyfish. To say they considered the process distasteful is an understatement.
I tried to jazz it up with stickers, highlighters, lots of “theory on the page”-type teaching and even took their side and grouched right along with them about how boring these books were. But not a lot of learning was really happening. Because there’s a difference between completing activities vs. learning.
The relevancy factor was missing. And so was any sense of fun.
But don’t worry. Teaching your piano students to sight read doesn’t have to mean hours of prep time, a whole new teaching strategy or even any extra room on your bookshelf. My fundamental approach to sight reading is what I call the “FAST method”. Once your piano kids are happily using the FAST approach use the following 4 sight reading activities to make this process much more meaningful using music from any source you think would be motivating.
1. Do or Dive Day
Kids like the sound of this one. I think it’s funny too. I have a chart in my studio that some may consider to be dreadful but my piano students adore it. It’s simple: I get to choose two lines of any piece, they have to sight read it. Less than 3 mistakes means they “Do”. More than 3 mistakes means they “Dive”. If they “Do” they stay safe. If they “Dive” it means their little stick man emblazoned their name takes the plunge from the safety of the shore into the shark infested waters on my chart. They love checking which of their friends ended up as shark bait each week.
This activity doesn’t even involve playing but it really strengthens their reading skills. I choose two lines of a piece about 2 levels above where they comfortably play. In turn, we follow first the treble and then the bass line naming one note each back and forth as fast as we can with no pauses. It goes a little something like this Me: “A” Student: “Bb” Me: “C” Student: “D#” Me: “G” etc. Involve a timer and it gets exciting. Really… it does.
3. Go Go Go Stop!
Choose a sight reading piece for your student and have them begin playing. At random intervals shout “Stop!”. They then stop where they were and continue playing from a measure you point to. Switch it up. Skip ahead 8 measures. Go back 3 measures. This gives them the fantastic ability to think on their feet and pick up at any point in a piece. Sometimes I’m really tricky and even switch pieces on them mid-way.
4. Name That Tune
Once a month it’s Name That Tune Sight Reading Day. I quickly notate a song (use Finale or MuseScore to publish it) using the chorus or most recognizable part of a Top 40 hit. I mash 3 of these Top 40 songs together (but don’t put the titles!). My piano students have to sight read the mashup and then name the 3 tunes. This is a major favourite. Sometimes it’s all they practice for the week. We’re working on that one
Teaching kids to sight read on the piano doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth. Try these 4 ideas and the only teeth you’ll be seeing are the ones inside big grins.
Sometimes, inspiring your kids to practice can also be like pulling teeth. If this strikes a chord with you, consider checking out our resource, SHHHH… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice. It is an awesome tool, jam-packed with 88 activities guaranteed to get your piano kids pumped about piano practice!