Many teachers up and down the country will often get a negative response from a pupil when studying sight-reading. As we know, most exam boards for the graded instrument examinations will feature sight-reading in some part in the overall assessment. Quite often pupils will enjoy the process of learning and performing their pieces but can have much less enthusiasm in improving their sight-reading. In some pupils minds, it often gets referred to as ‘the dreaded sight-reading’, that bit of the exam where they dread having to play something that they have never seen before.
As with most skills in life, if the practise has been neglected, the success will be limited. Far too often, teachers don’t place enough importance of sight-reading in their lessons, and in some cases, will only attempt doing a few practice, specimen sight-reading tests a few weeks before their candidate’s exam. Then, the disappointing result at the sight reading element at the grade can lead to the student thinking ‘I can’t do sight-reading’, when in actual fact, they are fully capable but have not put in the hours of practice.
Teaching a pupil how to read music is a very different task to teaching them how to play the instrument. As we know, many students can pick up tunes with a good musical ear and play from memory.
That skill should be celebrated, and we should not distract from its importance. However, most teachers recognise, when you combine the talent of a good musical ear, together with competent sight-reading proficiency, the results can be outstanding.
Every teacher will no doubt have their set ways in their approach to teaching sight-reading. In my experience, teaching piano at Piano Tuition Cardiff, the Paul Harris series of books proves to be most fruitful. Link here to his Grade 1 book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Piano-Grade-Improve-Your-Sight-reading/dp/0571533019.
I know Paul Harris has also provided sight-reading books for other instruments too. In my experience, his approach to sight-reading regarding building on melodic ides and rhythms can help the student progress quickly. Once the student can identify the key of the music, I suggest they play the scale before tackling the piece. Any complex rhythms can be tapped out before hand.
Putting exams to one side, the ability of a musician to sight-read a sheet of music is a great asset in one’s musical arsenal. The joy that a student can get from picking up a piece in a relatively short period of time is second to none. After all, isn’t that the whole purpose of taking instrumental lessons? To give the student a musical independence where they can digest a score and give a performance without the guidance of a teacher.
I have heard no end of times from pupils, particularly adults, the reason why they wish to take piano lessons is because they have a dream of one day being able to pick up a piece of music and be able to play it- whether that be a classical piece, Beatles song or a modern day pop tune.