Teaching

How to Get Great at Sight Reading Music

Sight reading new music can feel like a daunting task. But let’s face it, all music is new to us at one point. This is why getting great at sight reading can make the experience of learning new music by reading a more enjoyable one and less of a “homework” style activity.

So in an effort to make your next sight reading experience more enjoyable, there are several great tips and strategies in this post that will get you started on the right path.

  1. Familiarize yourself with a variety of rhythms. Start simple and increasingly change the difficulty of the rhythms you are reading.
  2. Memorize key signatures at-a-glance. IMPORTANT!
  3. Know your scales forward and backward. Literally forwards and backward.
  4. Practice playing without looking at your hands.
  5. Practice sight singing by singing the notes you are wanting to read.
  6. Take a minute to examine the piece you’re sight reading. Tap out the rhythm, read through the notes and follow the structure. Look for trouble spots that may trip you up when you’re reading.
  7. Mentally commit changes in key or time signature within the piece.
  8. Make markings on the paper (or on your tablet/iPad), if allowed.
  9. Sound the whole piece out in your head, recognizing patterns.
  10. Breathe, relax and keep going, even if you make a mistake.
  11. Use a pencil to make the note names of each note above in order to be able to focus more on the rhythmic changes.

 

When I began teaching music theory and piano lessons it dawned on me how poorly some students understand music and how it really works from the inside out. Many could play their instrument but they blindly stumbled through learning new pieces and had trouble with counting even simple rhythms when faced with musical excerpts that were not in the most basic of meters. -Leon Harrell, author of “How to Read Music”

Focus on rhythm

Rhythm is the most essential part of sight reading. If you play rhythm correctly but not pitch, at least you can stay in the right place. The opposite is not true.

If you don’t have a firm grasp of rhythm, this is where you should start. You can practice rhythm sight reading with any sheet music. Just ignore the pitches and only read the rhythms. Later you can go back through and practice reading the rhythms and pitches together.

Don’t stop when you make a mistake

So obvious, and yet surprisingly counter-instinctual. When we make a mistake, especially during an important performance, the temptation is strong to go back and fix it. But everyone knows this is impossible – time in music only moves forward. It’s done, shrug it off and move on. (If there’s a repeat, you’ll get a second chance! :))

Not only is it futile, but it’s actually counter-productive to stop and try to fix performance mistakes. You draw attention to an error your audience otherwise may not have noticed, and you make a second error by stopping time!

Learn how to plow through your mistakes rather than stopping to lament. Your judges will review you more favorably, you’ll better keep up with the ensemble if you’re not playing solo, and your audience will enjoy the music better uninterrupted.

Let the most difficult passage set your tempo

This tip I picked up years ago from a wise band director. It’s a smart way to set the tempo when you’re sight reading. (You’ve never heard the piece before, so you can’t use your memory of what it sounds like for reference.)

Of course you’re going to observe the composer’s tempo guidelines, but you’ll have room for interpretation as the performer. The most important thing when you’re choosing a tempo for sight reading is that it not prohibit you from getting through the piece successfully. And the most common tempo mistake made by inexperienced sight readers is to choose one that’s too fast.

The way to ensure that you don’t choose a tempo that’s too fast is to base it around the most difficult passage. While you’re looking over the music just before playing, find the part that looks most challenging. Finger through it on your instrument at the tempo you have in mind and be confident you can get through without making a slew of mistakes. If you don’t think you can, slow down the tempo a bit at a time until you have one that works.

Learn to look ahead

People are often surprised to learn that advanced sight readers aren’t looking at the notes they’re playing. Rather they already looked at them, and are always looking at least a few beats ahead of where they’re playing.

Think about it. You’re sight reading, so you’ve never seen this music before, save the brief moment you had to look it over before you started playing. If you’re just taking in the notes one at a time as you’re playing them, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Imagine driving a car and only watching the spot of pavement that’s visible just over the hood.

You need to learn how to be reading one measure while playing the measure that came before it. The coordination is a bit tricky, but it’s well worth the time investment to learn this skill.

Don’t forget, at the end of the day it will be you that will need to put in the work with your sight reading practice. At first, it may seem challenging. But my promise to you is that if you stick with it and take these tips and strategies to heart while practicing that your skill will improve and sight reading will become simple and seamless for you.

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Ref: Music Notes, Sight Reading Master.
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How Students Can Thrive Under Pressure

Do you want your students to perform better?

I think we can all agree that we want to see the future take off into a prosperous direction, with the students of today to guide us in the future new technologies, disciplines, and discoveries.

We can accomplish this by simply applying the correct type of pressure to students. Good vs. Bad Pressure We need to realize and be honest that our world has become softer in regards to the standards we require of students. We no longer adhere to standards that push students but rather, we adhere to not hurting the feeling instead. This means that are initial motives are anchored in the wrong place. However, we can anchor ourselves in a way that allows for high standards to be met and at the same time, we don’t damage feelings. This would be known as Good Pressure.

 

As the creation of technology speeds up and, the spreading of ideas continues to increase – we are constantly facing the challenge of keeping up with standards that constantly challenge where we are at currently. So, the importance to continuing to hold students to high standards is ever more important as we enter the next decade of technological advancement. How do we accomplish this?

 

We neither neglect students’ emotions or their potential. We tend to focus on standards when we gauge the performance of students by what we believe their potential to be. This comes out of respect and a duty to be responsible for both; how students feel and, how much more they are capable of accomplishing. The key is this: Cultivating the relationship between welcomed emotions and constant growth. There is a direct relationship between staple emotions and growth in students.


Takeaways:

  1. Keeping an open mind and not judging the current emotional state of the student. 

  2. Allowing for there to be a connection between emotion between stable emotions and growth.

  3. Making the students comfortable expressing growth through their current emotional state.

 

A new way to look at practicing music

We all hear it from our music teachers, “Practice! Practice! Practice!” But, what does it mean for us in the long term? I think what many music educators miss is the explanation and example of what long-term practicing can do for the student. For the student the drudgery and monotony of constant practice can create a grim outlook on their daily musical activities. Music students need the following two components for practice success:

1. Fun: Practicing needs to be more like play. After all, we do call it “playing music.” Practice should be outlined and described to the student as a time for them to explore and compete with themselves. They need to perceive practice as a time to be curious and to take risk. To try new ways of doing things and to engage self-teaching mechanisms.

2. Practicability: Students of all ages need to fully understand how practicing will impact their future musician-selves. This can be achieved by showing them examples of world-class musicians, explaining to them all the daily hours that went into becoming that great; with an emphasis on the musician competing with them self for that mastery. Students need to see how what they do now will impact their future as a musician. By seeing this in actuality via professional musicians, students will be inspired to work harder and longer than ever.

Once these two elements are seen by the student the teacher can prescribe practice goals that make sense for the individual level of the student. There will be a drastic shift in both, attitude and focus when the student understands more clearly why practice is such a good idea.

According to Edward Droscher, founder of Real Music Production, there are two major keys to effective practice.

1. Goals are key. It is human nature to take pride in reaching a goal whether a promotion at work or winning a competition. If you have a set goal to reach you will be more willing to put in the work required to achieve it. Some examples of goals could be to learn the latest song you’ve fallen in love with, to be able to sight read in a certain key, to develop faster, more technical playing or to reach a certain exam grade before a certain period.

2. Little often is better than a lot occasionally. One key point to remember is that repetition is the quickest way to learn something due to your brain and muscles ability to develop and store a so called ‘muscle memory’. It will take a substantially longer time to learn and retain your new knowledge if you practice for a long period but only occasionally. See tip 3 on how to easily incorporate regular practice sessions into your daily routine.

When you are having a bad day and nothing is going right . . .When the pressures of life are crowding in on you and you need some time by yourself . . When someone, or something has made you angry . . When you are bored, or when you are feeling flat or unhappy, don’t complain, just go and do some music practice. That will lift your spirits and energise you. — Ron OttleyOttley, Ron., Now I Love Music Practice (Eileen Margaret Publishing, 2009) Pg 62-63

Practicing should be taken out of the “nose to the grindstone” light, into the “play and exploration” sunshine. Students need to see an overview of how what they are doing now will make an affect on their future selves. This is enabled when the responsibility of this eye-opening is taken on by the teacher. After all, the teacher is the guide for the student to reach full potential. Therefore, the teacher’s J.O.B. is to bring the students narrowed vision of practicing into full vision of how fun and explorative it can be. Once this is achieve, the sky is the limit for both, you and the student.

Music Education Theory

rkG39rZDo you know what music education theory is? Well, MET is a complicated way of describing the concepts and building blocks of teaching music. There are different ways of approaching the teaching of music. This is dependent on each individual student and their needs. The teacher is the one really in charge as the guide to support the targets for the student. The teacher must then construct the adequate building blocks that will support the vision the student has in mind. Success is achieved when the student reaches a point at they feel like they’ve achieved the vision in their mind.

 

Here is more by Eddie Tobey:

Music education is a concept mainly dealing with the employment of education methods in teaching and learning music. There is a theory behind every concept, which underlines a principle.

Music education theory is the basis for either teaching or learning music. Basically, music education theory is a study of the elements or rudiments of music. As we know, music consists of certain basic elements, which should be studied before proceeding further. A pre-requisite to learning is that the matter of study should be interesting and any drabness associated with it should be alleviated first.

The music education theory helps in standardizing music as a field of study. This is useful to maintain a minimum standard for music so that it gains due recognition than just a hobby.

Moreover, music education theory explains the rudiments of music clearly so that the foundation is strong for a learner of music. Only if a learner is strong in the basics, will he or she be in a position to appreciate music.

Another utility of music education theory is that it guides a user to apply the correct form at the right place. The theory can be applied to any function, like composing, singing, playing an instrument, reviewing and more.

Audiation is an area of music where the listener does not listen to the music at the surface level. It refers to the function of grasping the exact meaning of the words and also analyzing what the music conveys and why the song written in such a way. It is a deep-rooted study, applying the music theory.

Prior to the establishment of a standard or theory, music was learned either by rote or listening by ear. The religious Psalms were among the first songs to be learned through these methods.

Music theory helps you in understanding and appreciating the fineness of music by thoroughly learning its theoretical elements like sound, pitch, harmony, melody, notation, and rhythm.

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An Open Letter to Gov. Brownback | Music Matters

Dear Gov. Sam Brownback,

I was inspired to write this letter to you after reading the article in The Kansas City Star titled “Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, not a piano purchase, are to blame for Kansas budget woes” by Barbara Shelly.

As an artist/musician myself, I firmly believe that music education is important for the future development of children. Students who have early musical training develop areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. When learning music, students are constantly using their memory to perform. The skill of memorization serves students well in education and beyond. In order to become accomplished in music, practice is imperative. This helps students to develop discipline in order for their musical works to sound good. Plus, they experience a sense of achievement when mastering even the smallest goal in music. Hand-eye coordination is improved and increased when practicing with musical instruments and motor skills are also developed, just like playing sports. The list of benefits goes on and on.

While the article seemed to focus on the large purchase price of the grand piano for the Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences, I would hate to see this used as a reason to divert funding away from music education in schools. I certainly can see your point in using funds more practically to help more students by hiring another teacher, reducing class sizes and improving academic achievement. But, as noted in the article, the piano purchase is a long-term investment. Perhaps there could’ve been a better use for the money that could benefit more students. But my vote would be to continue using funds for music education. Our children need another outlet for self-expression which also has benefits for their own personal growth and society. More children interested in music and the arts keeps them off the streets and focused on positive uses of their free time.

Thank you for taking the time to receive my thoughts about the importance of music education in the future development of children. As a successful young artist, I can personally attest to the benefits that music and music education have played in my life.

Respectfully,
Thomas McGregor

 

Ref: Kansas City Star article: http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/barbara-shelly/article9363872.html#storylink=cpy