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Sight reading - help!


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#1 zwhe

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 09:29

I have a pupil who I have completely failed to teach sight reading to. He is playing pieces at grade 8 level, but struggles with grade 1 sight reading. The issue is his learning style - he studies the score while listening to recordings, then memorises, so his reading skills are very poor. I have tried random notes so he has to find them quickly, and music without clefs so he can follow the line rather than reading the notes, but he always stops and goes back over what he has played until it is perfect - he doesn't seem to be able to stop himself. He knows I won't let him take the grade 8 exam until he can  pass the sight reading as he is hoping for a distinction, but nothing seems to help. I have never experienced sight reading so bad before (my dyslexic pupil is better at it!) and I am really running out of ideas.

Any recommendations?


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#2 Love piano

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 09:47

I know this will only go a small way to sorting this sticky problem out, but I tend to cover the notes with a blank piece of paper once the student has played that note, so going back isn’t an option. The students tend not to like it, but it does help propel them forward. 
 

I think there’s even a Sight Reading app available that does a similar thing......

 

Good luck - I suspect this is not going to be resolved overnight! 


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#3 Latin pianist

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 09:50

How much does he want to be able to sight-read? Can he recognize notes? If I was him I would actually go back to grade 1 sight-reading and work my way up. Has he done grade 5 theory? Can he understand written rhythm? He has to want to do this.If it's not important to him he never will learn.
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#4 musicalmalc

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 10:19

what does he want to do after G8? Why is he learning?

 

If he wants to only play for himself then I suppose it isn't that important (apart from the block on G8) but if he thinks it might be fun to play with others or accompany in some form then obviously sight-reading is really an essential skill as you don't always get the music in advance.

 

Actually - is accompanying a possibility to help him get over the "stop and correct" syndrome?

 

You could try finding music that doesn't have recordings but you simply have to do lots of it. I used to get handfuls of books from the library and sight-read them, not because I was deliberately trying to improve my sight-reading but because I was interested in playing lots of music (a lot was not classical - musicals, song arrangements, all sorts).

I have the problem of starting sight-reading from scratch again using chord names as I have started playing in a swing band. Fortunately about 70% of the rep does have notes written down but I have a long way to go to translate chord names to fingers at tempo.


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#5 wendym

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 13:23

I would definitely recommend going right back to the basics of gr 1 sight reading. For people like your student, they need to hear something to duplicate it - and there is no way to do so with sight reading material until you can start to hear it in your head whilst looking at the score - and that only comes with lots of practice and starting with the basics.

Absolutely NO stopping to correct - the aim is to keep going - I know some people really struggle with this but you have to be ruthless for the sightreading skills to improve. At the end of each exercise, if you must, assess what went wrong and then have another go, but again, no stopping til the end. And work through each of the grades slowly and don’t move on to the next level until accuracy and fluency, including rhythmic fluency, is achieved at that level - sight reading can be learned and practised and it will improve rapidly with enough work.

And the absolute joy of being able to sit down and play new music straight away is worth every ounce of effort.
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#6 Boogaloo

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Posted 11 October 2019 - 23:43

You don't mention how old this pupil is but if he is doing Grade 8 then he must be old enough to take responsibility for his success. I would endorse Love Piano and use a piece of paper as I've had a lot of success in the past with that. There are also plenty of note-learning apps that he could use in his own time. It would seem that this isn't your problem, though, but his - it seems that you are doing as much as you can. Perhaps your pupil needs to learn a valuable lesson - he wants a distinction? Then let him take the exam, possibly miss the distinction, and then come to the realisation that only he can learn the notes which will ultimately help him gain what he desires. Harsh, but by Grade 8 a student really should be taking responsibility for their own learning and their success/failure. (Sorry if this is a babble - it's late!)


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#7 EllieD

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Posted 12 October 2019 - 07:43

... - he studies the score while listening to recordings, then memorises, so his reading skills are very poor.

 

I'm wondering what your student is getting out of following the score. Is he understanding anything at all, particularly rhythmic values? If he is learning from memorising what he has heard, that is certainly very clever, but there would be little understanding of what written notes mean. I assume this is what is happening, as it is otherwise impossible to see how someone who can play Grade 8 pieces can't even manage Grade 1 sight reading. I assume he has Grade 5 theory, so he should know what note values mean, but perhaps he has difficulty in putting this into the context of playing the piano.

 

Also, how aware is your student of the problem? If he knows it's an issue and is prepared to put in the hard graft, he probably has at least 3 years before that Grade 8 distinction is going to happen. Even if he works at it every day for those 3 years. 

 

If it is a lack of effort, then I agree with those who say put him in for the exam … 

 

I do also wonder though if there is something else going on that is preventing him from being able to read music? If he has tried to learn to read it, and never managed it, maybe there is some kind of music dyslexia? 


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#8 ma non troppo

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Posted 12 October 2019 - 09:49

I've had candidates who were poor sight readers still achieve a distinction!
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#9 Latin pianist

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Posted 12 October 2019 - 10:06

I think I would be less concerned about the distinction than about the ability to sightread. I have found over recent years that hardly anyone becomes a really good reader. The ones that can read well stand out among my pupils.
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#10 Piano Meg

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Posted 12 October 2019 - 12:34

If his reading skills are as poor as you say, I'd think his general music reading needs to improve before he focuses on exam-style sight-reading. I'd go for volume of music - lots and lots of pieces, easier than he can manage (even if it's literally CDE-CDE-), gradually increasing the difficulty. He probably won't like it because it'll be well below the kind of sound he's used to making, but I think experience is the biggest factor when it comes to sight-reading and you just can't fast-forward! Adding sight-singing would help (and with the aural!). I had some success with a similar-ish transfer pupil (not grade 8) with Accelerated Piano Adventures - starting from the beginning and forcing him to play something from the score each lesson, alongside the harder music he liked. If you really want to push it, you could only let him play new music from the score each lesson!!!?? Flip-a-rhythm is good for focusing on rhythm reading.


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#11 zwhe

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Posted 14 October 2019 - 10:48

I know this will only go a small way to sorting this sticky problem out, but I tend to cover the notes with a blank piece of paper once the student has played that note, so going back isn’t an option. The students tend not to like it, but it does help propel them forward. 
 

I think there’s even a Sight Reading app available that does a similar thing......

 

Good luck - I suspect this is not going to be resolved overnight! 

Unfortunately he just panics when I do that!


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#12 zwhe

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Posted 14 October 2019 - 10:58

If his reading skills are as poor as you say, I'd think his general music reading needs to improve before he focuses on exam-style sight-reading. I'd go for volume of music - lots and lots of pieces, easier than he can manage (even if it's literally CDE-CDE-), gradually increasing the difficulty. He probably won't like it because it'll be well below the kind of sound he's used to making, but I think experience is the biggest factor when it comes to sight-reading and you just can't fast-forward! Adding sight-singing would help (and with the aural!). I had some success with a similar-ish transfer pupil (not grade 8) with Accelerated Piano Adventures - starting from the beginning and forcing him to play something from the score each lesson, alongside the harder music he liked. If you really want to push it, you could only let him play new music from the score each lesson!!!?? Flip-a-rhythm is good for focusing on rhythm reading.

Yes, I had thought about sight singing - he's been doing Trinity, so he doesn't need to, but it might be useful at this stage. 

He's doing grade 5 theory in November and finds it quite easy as there is plenty of time to work everything out. I think he has got a bit of a hang-up about it now and thinks he will fail before he even tries.

He is still quite young (just turned 13) so there's no rush, but he has said he would like to be a professional pianist. He understands the importance of sight reading, as unless he is a concert pianist (his first choice of career!), he is likely to have to sight read often. I've told him that once the theory exam is over, we will be concentrating on the sight reading. Meanwhile he can just continue to increase his repertoire, which can only be a good thing!


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#13 zwhe

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Posted 14 October 2019 - 11:02

 

... - he studies the score while listening to recordings, then memorises, so his reading skills are very poor.

 

I'm wondering what your student is getting out of following the score. Is he understanding anything at all, particularly rhythmic values? If he is learning from memorising what he has heard, that is certainly very clever, but there would be little understanding of what written notes mean. I assume this is what is happening, as it is otherwise impossible to see how someone who can play Grade 8 pieces can't even manage Grade 1 sight reading. I assume he has Grade 5 theory, so he should know what note values mean, but perhaps he has difficulty in putting this into the context of playing the piano.

 

Also, how aware is your student of the problem? If he knows it's an issue and is prepared to put in the hard graft, he probably has at least 3 years before that Grade 8 distinction is going to happen. Even if he works at it every day for those 3 years. 

 

If it is a lack of effort, then I agree with those who say put him in for the exam … 

 

I do also wonder though if there is something else going on that is preventing him from being able to read music? If he has tried to learn to read it, and never managed it, maybe there is some kind of music dyslexia? 

 

I think I was a bit unclear - he isn't playing by ear, he's working out the notes from the score and then playing them. It is pitch he has difficulty with, not rhythm, so he memorises a bit at a time before he plays it. For example, if he was learning twinkle twinkle, he would work out the notes - CCGGAAG, then play them. Then he would do the same with the left hand, before moving on to the next bit.


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#14 EllieD

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Posted 14 October 2019 - 12:08

Oh, I see! That sounds very like me when I first got my hands on a piano when I was a teenager, learning pieces bar by bar, painstakingly, but completely unable to play without watching what my hands were doing. Please reassure him it is completely possible to improve from rubbish to something OK, as if a not particularly talented middle aged woman can do it, a clearly talented 13 year old can!! (There, that should fire his competitive juices!!) The key thing to learn when you have this learning style is to look ahead. Play the sight reading so slowly that you can read at least one beat ahead, then try and increase how much ahead you can read. If it means you're going at one crotchet every ten seconds, so be it. I am now able to read ahead pretty well. It means I can glance down at the keyboard when I need to, which I know isn't the ideal for sightreading, but if that's how you've learned to play the piano, it's best to go with your strengths I think.


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