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How To Improve One's Sight-Reading

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Playing a new piece for the first time is crucial. As accomplished pianists/teachers, we automatically know to scan the piece to check the time signature, key signature, texture, etc. before playing through a piece.

Many students find sight-reading difficult and a chore. They struggle through note reading, and keeping the rhythm. Before having students sight-read, what do you say or do with them to introduce a new piece?

Here are some ideas that I have tried:

  • Before playing it, Scan the piece.  Ask the student what he/she notices about the piece.  Look for key and time-signature changes, places where the hand(s) move to different clefs etc.  Ask the student specific questions: “Do you see anywhere else in this piece where this theme or pattern occurs?” or “Can you point to all the places where there is an interval of a 6th?”
  • Count and clap the rhythm of the piece.  I’ve found this to be very helpful with young beginner students who are not yet accustomed to sight-reading.  The rhythm practice is always beneficial – I have found that singing the pitches also helps them learn how to “hear” the pitches in their head (thus it works as an ear training exercise too).  This help students get an idea of what the piece sounds like.
  • Discuss the piece's background.  For Example, Discussing about the the composer of the piece, the historical background of the piece (i.e., what period of musical history was it written), the title of the piece etc.
  • Discuss the compositional techniques and composer’s intentions. For example, if a piece is about a merry-go-round, we will discuss how we can create the right mood and energy level to create the happy atmosphere, or how to portray the carriages going round and round.  We would also discuss how the composer used certain articulations, note values, dynamics, etc., to help create that effect.

Going through the following steps such as these with the student helps establish better sight-reading skills. I hope this helps you to improve and develop your students' or your own skills in sight-reading. Do share your ideas if you have more interesting methods. I will love to hear from you.