Want to strike fear into the hearts of pianists great and small?… Spring some sight-reading on them!
My piano students are not what you might call “sight-reading super fans”. I am not what you might call a “sight-reading super fan.” And I’m guessing we’re not alone. I think it is human nature to find comfort in predictability and sight-reading is anything but predictable.
But there are ways to ease the pain. In a post earlier this year I discussed my FAST approach to teaching sight-reading. Today I’m going to build on that approach by giving your piano students 4 extra strategies to lean on when they’re asked to sight-read in some sort of time crunch. After all… if they had ample time to practice it it wouldn’t be called sight-reading!
Students in competitions, festivals and exams are often given a short amount of time to look over their sight-reading piece before they begin to play. But even if my students aren’t going to be placed in these exam-style situations, I still have them participate in “time-crunch sight-reading” so they are used to being efficient in their score study.
So… once your piano students have mastered a basic approach to sight reading, break out these four “mistake busters” to take their sight reading to the next level.
Teach Your Students to Sight Read Accurately By…
1. Knowing what to ignore: With a need for time management comes my #1 rule… “Don’t spend your time looking at the easy parts.” So many students go over a sight-reading piece measure by measure from beginning to end when they should really be trained to zero in on the most difficult measures; knowing that they will be able to cope with the easier material as they play. This affords students more time to work out that which cannot be done “on the fly” as they haven’t wasted valuable minutes looking at what they already inherently know.
Try This! Before your students spend time sight-reading, have them quickly cross off (with a pencil) the measures on their page that can be considered a “gimme”. For most students this would mean measures with repeating notes, notes that step, measures where there is only one hand at a time playing etc. Physically doing this then helps them to mentally do it in a real-life sight reading situation.
2. Understanding tonic, dominant and primary chords. Having the ability to quickly decode the tonic and dominant of a piece, and therefore what the I, IV and V chords are within that key puts your students way ahead of the game when it comes to sight-reading. Understanding these “building blocks” takes the guesswork out of much of your students’ sight reading (and also generally insures that they don’t commit the most dreaded sight-reading error; ending on the wrong note or chord… nothing worse than that!)
Try This! Instead of practicing sight-reading in a traditional way, have your piano students look over a short piece and simply be able to answer questions such as “Can you play me the tonic of this pice? Can you play me the dominant? What would the IV chord be? etc).
3. Looking for the relationships between notes that leap. If your beginning piano students are learning to recognize intervals between notes as they play then they’re usually quite adept at sight-reading… until a large leap appears and their visual cues may not yet be enough. For those occasional notes that break free and leap away, teach your students to look to the relationship between that leaping note and what has come before or will come after. Looking for these relationships helps to give meaning to that note and will result in less guessing and inaccuracies.
Try This! Hand your students a pencil crayon and have them find relationships between the note that is leaping and at least 3 other notes within the piece. For example, is it a 3rd higher than the previous high note they see earlier in their score? Is it a step lower than the lowest note they will be skipping down to in measures to come? Circle those with “relationships” in the same color and discuss how they are connected in some way.
4. Looking for chord shapes in left hand patterns. This ties in with knowing the primary chords too, but go one step further by having your students be able to decipher the root of a chord by using knowledge of inversions. Many kids fall into the trap of looking note per note when it comes to the left hand. Knowing these chord shapes and patterns will make a big difference.
Try this! Give your students a pencil crayon and show them a measure where the left hand is outlining a chord. After discussing which cord it is, have them circle all of the chord tones in one color. Next, go through the piece and find all of the measures that outline this same chord and do the same. Switch colours of pencils crayons and find a new measure and a new chord and repeat.
Now Throw In Some Fun!
Having repertoire that is actually enjoyable to sight read is key. With a PianoBookClub membership you’ll never run out of repertoire to use as sight reading! Throw away those dry sight reading books and instead use music that will engage and motivate your students. For just $8 a month you can build a dream library of repertoire for every level. Find out how here.