It’s been one of those interesting weeks when a bunch of things just come together.
Monday, after being astounded that a student in her 4th year couldn’t tell me what rit. meant, I created a blank GLOSSARY to be filled in by each student as they come across new terms; Tuesday I went to Rideau Music, our local independent printed music store, and purchased the new Piano Adventures Primer Sight Reading Book(looks great!) as well as a few volumes of the Improve Your Sight-Reading books by Paul Harris (I’ve been looking for better alternatives); Tuesday night I placed an online order for Bartok’s Mikrokosomos (I’ve never actually seen or used these) and the Paul Harris books that I didn’t find earlier in the day; Wednesday morning, out of the blue, my friend and colleague Greta Hansen-Carballo e-mailed me the link to this online book, which pulls it all together.
Sight Reading Skills is available online at a minimal cost. It is the best book on sight reading that I’ve ever come across. This is a user-friendly book – about 50 pages, not just of text, but also full of practical suggestions and exercises to improve and teach these skills. Interestingly enough, her first suggestion for music to sight read through is Mikrokosomos. This is the first of a good long list of suggested sight reading pieces that ends with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
One suggestion is to set up a sight reading diary, which would include pages for writing down the name, composer, and edition of every piece sight read, as well as pages for writing down the definitions of new terms (GLOSSARY!). These will definitely be going in all my students’ binders for next year’s lessons.
Particularly useful will be some of the exercises to improve one’s keyboard orientation – exercises that help with the memorization of the feel of the intervals, jumping from chord to chord, and a different way for young students to memorize note names. Maydwell ends with a Sight Reading Checklist, which she encourages us to write out on cardboard and put it on the music rack right beside the music. I always go through a checklist like this verbally, but why didn’t I every think of actually writing them down so the student can refer to all the points at home? I’ve taken the liberty to reproduce her SIGHT READING CHECKLIST.
Quotes by and about the great composers on sight-reading abound throughout the book – always set in a nicely-bordered text box. C.P.E. Bach said that memorized pieces should be played in the dark in order to work on keyboard orientation, which is a necessary skill for sight-reading.
The conclusion to Sight Reading Skills resonates with me. I’ve often felt this way, but had never articulated it. In Faith Maydwell’s words:
“It never ceases to amaze me how strong the urge to sight read is after a relaxing walk, meandering through an art gallery, attending a wonderful concert, savouring a delicious meal and reading about music or great literature. Whatever it is that ignites your creative impluse – go for it!”