Meri’s Musical Musings

An approach to developing sight-reading skills in musicians in private lessons.

Posted on: May 29, 2009

There are many musicians whose ability to sight-read is significantly below what they are able to play with practice. Perhaps this is because sight-reading skills are often learned much later than is desirable, and there is a lack of effective approaches in developing sight-reading skills. Here is one approach that I have used with a lot of success in teaching  students who are 10-12 years old to sight-read, starting, in most cases, at about 3-4 months of lessons.

            The first step in my approach to teaching private students students to sight-read is to have the student clap the rhythm of the piece before they play it with the metronome set at an appropriate tempo, and you clap or say the rhythm of the piece while they play it.

            The second step in my approach to sight-reading is again to have the student clap the piece before they play it with a metronome, but instead of saying or clapping the rhythms in the piece, you only clap or say each beat of the time signature.

            The third step is to have the student yet again clap the rhythm in the piece before playing, but instead of clapping or saying the beats in the time signature, you teach them how to tap their foot correctly, and, while playing, they tap the time signature with their foot while sight-reading. Later you may teach them to tap only their big toe while sight-reading.

            The fourth step is to have the student once more clap the rhythm prior to playing, but they do not tap their foot or toe while playing.

            The final step in my approach to teaching sight-reading is to have the student play the piece without clapping it before playing and not tapping their foot or toe while playing.

            While teaching students to sight-read, it is, of course, important to have them notice the following details before playing: key signature, time signature (be sure to include sight-reading when note values other than quarters represent one beat), whether or not the piece starts on the first beat of the bar; if not, which beat it starts on, phrasing, articulations, scale patterns, arpeggio patterns, and whether or not the detached notes are legato or staccato. As well, encourage them to sight-read with good sound quality, and have them look one bar ahead of the one they are playing; cover the bar they are playing while they sight-read until they do it with a high degree of accuracy. One could even find or create sight-reading exercises for young students, which they can incorporate in their practice sessions.

            When should private music teachers start teaching students to sight-read? As soon as they have a solid grasp of whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. It is highly desirable for private students to be able to sight-read close to what they are able to play with practice.

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  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
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