Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum - Part 1
Sight-reading begins with sight. Before the inner ear can begin to imagine the sound of a score, before the mind can start to decode the patterns it detects, and before the body can translate these sounds and patterns into physical gestures that transform written notes into music, the eyes must take in all the information that is presented to them. We therefore begin our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum with four modules that help train the eyes to move more efficiently and consciously as we play music at sight.
One might very well ask if the eyes need to be trained at all. They seem, after all, to do their work very well without our conscious intervention. But as with many things we do unthinkingly – the way we talk, the way we walk, even, ironically, the way we think – the way we use our eyes is often the result of ingrained habit rather than deliberate attention, and may not be as efficient as it could be. Our first task is therefore simply to observe ourselves as we sight-read, to find out just how we are using our eyes. We can only make improvements if we first know what needs improving.
Once we become aware of our habits, we can begin to change and improve them, or to develop new ones. This work is, admittedly, not easy, since we so readily fall back into our accustomed ways of doing things. It therefore takes a bit of prodding, even provocation sometimes, to help us experience new ways of seeing and thinking. With that objective, many of the exercises in these modules put sight-readers into unfamiliar situations that challenge them to use their eyes in new and more efficient ways. Filling in notes that have been removed from the score, reading from two pages at once, negotiating hand displacements without looking down at the keyboard: these and many other challenges prod sight-readers to keep their eyes on the score, skim over things that don’t need to be looked at, improve their short-term memory, and read ahead of where they are playing. While learning these valuable skills, we will play a lot of interesting, often little-known, music, which is of course the most enjoyable aspect of sight-reading.
The four modules that make up this part of the curriculum are best practised in the order presented here. Keeping Your Eyes on the Score is an obvious place to begin, since looking down at our hands while we play takes up valuable time that is better spent decoding the music and looking ahead. With Reading from Only One Staff, we begin to train the eyes to skim over parts of the score they don’t need to look at. The third module uses some innovative exercises to develop Short-Term Memory, which is essential in Reading Ahead, the last, and culminating, module of this section.
Each of these modules contains an introduction with instructions on how to practise the pieces and exercises. Be sure to read these first as they provide valuable tips and practice methods that will help you to get more out of your sight-reading. Playing music at sight is as much a mental activity as a physical one, and just as doing mindless repetitions at the gym won’t do much to improve our physical form, so simply playing through a lot of pieces won’t necessarily improve our sight-reading. With consciously directed practising, on the other hand, you should see significant improvement in your sight-reading ability after working through these modules.
- Keeping Your Eyes on the Score
- Reading Only One Staff
- Short-term Memory
- Reading Ahead
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