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On sight-reading

10 years ago


To support our sight-reading books, Joining the Dots, we asked three teachers to share their own top tips with you.


Claire Lavery, piano teacher

Sight-readingSight-reading is one of the most effective ways to improve your playing proficiency. I find the following tips help pupils to get the most out of their practice. I encourage them to look through the piece of music and think STARS to check the Sharps and flats, Time signature, Rhythm, and Style and dynamics. They must then remember the three golden rules: never stop, keep going; look a bar ahead; and look at the music and not at your hands. Finally I always say to my pupils, ‘When you practise try reading something new every time’.

Jackie Frost, clarinet and saxophone teacher

Sight-reading is often viewed as something to be feared. However, a methodical approach can work really well to change a pupil’s perception and can be applied to any new piece of music. I always adopt the following technique:

  • Gain an understanding of pupils’ difficulties, asking for total honesty.
  • Remove any time restrictions, such as the 30-second preparation time required in an exam.
  • Break the task down into manageable chunks.
  • Analyse the music with your pupil. Look at the contours of the music and identify any scale, arpeggio, notation or rhythm patterns.
  • Exercises using flash cards with rhythm patterns or notation patterns can help.
  • Use pulse games to establish a strong sense of pulse. Encourage a realistic pulse when sight-reading.
  • Ask pupils to play the relevant scale and arpeggio first, identifying any notes affected by the key signature.
  • Encourage pupils to keep playing despite any mistakes.
  • Only attempt the playing of the passage when, after thorough preparation, it is fail proof. Successful attempts will build confidence.

Helen Tudor, flute and piano teacher and music theory lecturer

Joining the Dots, Volume 4‘Look at this score, you have 30 seconds, now play’ is a daunting phrase. Some teachers fail to set aside the time to develop the necessary skills and the result is a rushed, last minute introduction to sight-reading prior to an exam. It is vital to regularly include sight-reading activities in the lesson.

Rhythm and pulse often prove most challenging. I have therefore created rhythm flash cards where the student claps to a set pulse on the metronome. Many musicians have found this to be effective. You can also use such flash cards for counting, voicing aloud the divisions.

Alongside the rhythm and pulse activity, extracts of new music can be used in order for the pupil to practise pitch, phrasing, dynamics and expression.

This article was originally featured in the January 2010 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

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