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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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.

How to Teach Violin to a Toddler

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Toddlers are interesting little human beings. They are SUPER creative, curious, and bright. Toddlers mean well, but still seem to leave a road of destruction in the wake of walking through a room. But regardless of their organization skills, they are still the light that illuminates our future. They too, need support in creative endeavors — like playing the violin!

Many people are trying to find out things that are of interest to their children and teaching them these things at a very young age. Because kids are like sponges, the earlier they can begin learning specific things, they better they are at them. You can use a DVD to teach violin to your toddler. You don’t even have to know how to play yourself. You can get a beginning violin instruction program and help your child learn at home. All you have to do is follow the instructions given in the program. You will know shortly whether your child has an interest in the violin or not.

Top 5 Ways to Introduce Your Toddler to the Violin

  1. Live concerts
  2. Music games with and instructor
  3. DVD of fun violin concerts
  4. Bring a Musician in your home to perform for your child
  5. Buy a toy violin for your child to try out

If they show an interest and want to keep learning, you can find a private instructor to help them develop their talent even further later on. If they don’t take to the violin, you can always introduce them to other instruments and outlets of creativity.

With Deep Appreciation,

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Why music education is important in public schools

We all know this — but what do we do about it?

This article is a call to action. I’m asking you to contemplate the information I present and talk to your local school district about getting more music to more children in more places.

Music education contributes largely to the overall success of the student in both; life and academia. Music engages both sides of the brain in a way that will change the life of the child forever. 

At the end of the day, what we want is what we select to focus on. Now, it’s time for us to focus on what is best for the next generation.

The choice is yours…

But, while you are contemplating, I will showcase some cold hard facts regarding the benefits of music education in schools.

Recent studies have indicated that adolescent music education produces greater observable physical development in the brain,[2] and an average of 27% higher math scores,[3] 57 points higher SAT scores[4] and a 46% increase in IQ scores.[5] In addition to these documented benefits on intelligence, music education has been shown enhance learning in all other subject areas by improving their study skills, receptiveness to instruction, social and emotional development. Students that participate in school band or orchestra also experience the lowest rate of gang activity and substance abuse. Most importantly, the cognitive and behavioral advantages of music education are shown to affect all students, regardless of their ethnicity, “at-risk” status, or socio-economic background.[6]

“We believe the skills the arts teach -creative thinking, problem-solving, risk-taking, teamwork and communications – are precisely the tools the workforce of tomorrow will need. If we don’t encourage students to master these skills through quality arts instruction today, how can we ever expect them to succeed in their highly competitive business careers tomorrow?”

-Richard Gurin, Chief Executive Officer, Binney and Smith, maker of Crayola crayons

 

Music requires study skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills and as these are learnt and developed they expand the student’s abilities in other academic areas and help them become better students. – Students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT: students in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math, and students in music appreciation scored 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on the math, than did students with no arts participation. — College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. Princeton, NJ: The College Entrance Examination Board, 2001.

The evidence is resounding and unavoidable. How much longer shall we stand by and allow our future to slip through our fingers?

The ball is in our court, we have the choice. We must take action today!

Will you make the choice and take the action today that will change your life and the life of our children forever?

If so, here are some action steps you can take TODAY


Action Steps


  1. Print this article.
  2. Ask for a personal “sit-down” meeting with a local educational authority.
  3. Hand deliver this article — in combination with personal research.
  4. Make it your overwhelming commitment to keep on the heels of local educational authorities until they MUST change the level of music education.

 

Live your inspiration deliberately! 

With Deep Appreciation,

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Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com


[1] Brian Foster, “Einstein and his Love of Music,” Physics World (Jan. 2005), .
[2] G. Schlaug, L. Jancke, Y. Huang and H. Steinmetz, “In vivo morphometry of interhem ispheric assymetry and connectivity in musicians,” Proceedings of the 3rd international conference for music perception and cognition (Liege, Belgium, 1994), 417-418.
[3] Amy Graziano, Matthew Peterson and Gordon Shaw, “Enhanced learning of proportional math through music training and spatial-temporal training,” Neurological Research 21 (March 1999).
[4] College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. The College Entrance Examination Board, Princeton, NJ, 2001.
[5] Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky and Wright, “Music and Spatial Task Performance: A Causal Relationship,” University of California, Irvine, 1994.
[6] “Benefits of Music Education,” MENC: The National Association for Music Education, 2002.

Apply These 2 Secret Techniques To Improve Music Education

Okay, these secret techniques may not equal to something the government would deem “secret” but, these are techniques I can personally vouch for drastically improving the way I teach music.

We all want improvement. We all want to better. But we often don’t start with ourselves. We look to outside resources to improve what we are doing.

Let’s shift our focus to our selfs, and apply these techniques in order to change the game of teaching forever.

  1. Check ourself at the door: This technique requires you to stop before you inter the classroom. Make sure to keep your personal life, daily stressors, and anything else that may hinder your teaching at the door and not in the classroom. You must leave everything behind. This will drastically improve the way you teach. You will be leaving all that mental baggage, therein, not allowing it to influence your choices as a teacher.
  2. Ask the Student and Listen: Ask the right question of your students and listen, deeply, to their answers. This will give your massive insight into how they are thinking and what their needs are. Ensure that your questions are direct and with intention. If your intention is to gain insight, your questions should reflect this. The answers you receive from your students will not be what you’re looking for. You are looking for how they are responding and the implications of how they respond. This will give you an edge in your teaching game.

Live your passion deliberately!

With deep appreciation,

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Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com