v. 1, no. 2/May 1, 1998


Teaching Sight-Reading at the Piano: Methodology and Significance

by Dianne Hardy

Commercial Sight-Reading Books

A considerable amount of commercial books for sight-reading are directed to the pre-college piano student. Some are books that are independent of a series and some, especially more current ones, are part of a method book series. The Seven Magic Steps to Speed Sight-Reading, by Shinn (1971) outlines seven steps to aid in sight-reading. These include: (1) fundamentals, (2) interval recognition, (3) chord recognition, (4) inversion recognition, (5) arpeggios, (6) pre-reading of score, (7) increase of eye span. The author outlines all of the above steps and includes short exercises that emphasize them, but the instruction moves rapidly and the drills are sparse. This is not a series, but rather a single ungraded book.

Grove (1985) wrote Practical Sight-Reading for Beginners, books one and two. In addition to the books, a cassette tape is included to play along . Since this series, in a manuscript format, presumes no prior knowledge of music, it begins by introducing basic music concepts. There is extensive written work, like a note speller but the few piano exercises are difficult. Throughout both books the student is instructed to play drills along with the tape while saying the names of the notes. No finger and no dynamic or articulation markings are indicated. Students are instructed to write in the names of the notes before sight-reading the exercises. Although the concepts quickly become advanced, the music for sight-reading is never written on the grand staff. Instead a single staff is used.

Keys to Sight-Reading and Musicianship by Andrews, Ringhofer, Sclater, and Toyich (1983) combines theory with sight-reading in the belief that students will sight-read with greater proficiency through analysis. All playing examples are short excerpts of music from major composers and each is prefaced with many theoretical questions about the example. There is only one book and it is not graded.

Richmond's Sight-Reading Secrets (1985) stresses the need to play with the correct pitch, rhythm, and fingering. This book requires extensive verbalization as the student plays the drills. However, most of the drills are described only , with the music not being written out. Consequently, there is very little actual reading included in the one ungraded instruction book.

Havill (1967) wrote You Can Sight-Read , books one and two. She admonishes students to count aloud and not look down. Every music example has an accompanying rhythm and keyboard drill and transposing and ensemble playing are included. The format of the books appears to be directed to the older or adult piano student.

Hickman (1986) wrote Music Speed Reading for Beginners. The single, ungraded book consists of twenty lessons which are divided into three parts each -rhythm, intervals, and ear training. Except for the rhythm exercises, which are not on a staff, there are no stems on notes so the student playing the note drills plays any rhythm and pitch he or she chooses. There are no clef signs; instead, the music is written on a single staff and the keyboardist is instructed to combine staves. The dynamic markings are few and no markings for fingering or articulation are given. Richman recommends reading as fast as possible.

Olson (1982) wrote Right From the Start: A Rapid Piano Reader. This is a collection of elementary reading materials that focus on reading, rhythm and specific concepts. The drills are short and each identifies a particular problem with a different picture for reading, rhythm or other elements. The ungraded collection contains a few duets.

Berlin (1986) revised an earlier course into Four Star Sight-Reading and Ear Tests. There are eight levels in this attractive series where he has outlined a different exercise or drill foe each day of the week. The student is instructed to do the reading at home and the teacher gives the test at the lesson. Several sight-reading aids are stressed--keeping eyes on the music, learning to feel the keys, being accurate with notation and fingering, recognizing and following melodic progressions. Berlin instructs the student to use various playing techniques: (a) name the notes as they are played, (b) name notes and fingering and then play, (c) name the first note of each hand and then play, (d) place the hands and play. The weekly tests for sight-reading and ear-training are located in the student's book, and there is no criteria for assessment although the tests are representative of what the student has been reading in longer excerpts.

Butler (1983) wrote Sight-Reading is Fun, books one and two, an attractive series in which he stresses the need for sight-reading to begin when a student first reads music. The emphasis is on the concept of reading, not practicing the music. Suggestions are given to the student before reading: (a) observe the key signature, meter, etc., (b) keep the eyes on the page, (c) look ahead while reading, (d) keep going.

Sandercook (1979) wrote Help Yourself to Sight-Reading, an intermediate level book in which the author emphasizes pre-study followed by reading in three ways: without looking at the keys, from memory looking at the keys, and from memory with eyes closed. She stresses practicing the example until it is accurate.

Guhl (1989) who developed a series of books entitled The Magic Reader, levels one through four, stresses counting and keeping the beat. The books are outlined well with short and concise examples although not all keys are explored. She wrote additional books in 1991 called Sight-Read Successfully which coincide with level four of The Magic Reader. Each day's work is outlined and the stress is on reading, not practicing.

The remainder of the commercial sight-reading books are part of current piano series of books. Sheftel (1986) wrote a series of sight-reading books to correlate with Alfred's Basic Piano Course, levels 1b, 2 and 3. They are titled Folk Songs Around the World. In addition, the series contains ensemble work, keyboard skills, rhythm drills, theory and instructions to practice the sight-reading drills.

Bastien (1977) wrote a two volume course for the older beginner. Sight-reading is stressed in Musicianship for the Older Beginner, which also includes technique and theory. Sight-reading exercises are included in each unit. The material is easier than the repertoire the student is performing. Bastien emphasizes pre-study, tapping the rhythm, keeping the eyes on the music, looking ahead, and not breaking the rhythm. In 1976 Bastien also wrote the Bastien Piano Library, which has specific sight-reading books for levels one through four. In these books, he admonishes the student to keep eyes on the music, look ahead and keep going. All of the different major keys and many minor keys are dealt with throughout the four books.

Jane Bastien (1990) added sight-reading books to the Bastien Basics course. A Line a Day includes primer, book one and two. There are two parts to each drill for reading (a) the daily note search has students name and play notes in correct places on the keyboard, (b) the student sight-reads three, four-measure phrases. The student keeps track of progress with a chart and is encouraged to play each piece until it is perfect.

Kowalchyk and Lancaster (1988) authored the sight-reading books for the Glover Piano Method. They are called Sight-reading and Ear Training, primer through level four. The authors correlate sight-reading and ear-training activities. Each piece for sight-reading is preceded with chords and patterns and easy keys are used with transposition. The authors emphasize keeping the eyes on the music, clapping and counting the rhythm before playing, preparing hands over the keyboard, counting aloud, and playing slowly;. Students are told to practice the assigned pages.

N. Jane Tan (1991) has written a series which is directed at developing the four memories employed in sight-reading: automatic, visual, tactile, and analytical. The Well-Prepared Pianist addresses them at each lesson. There are two guidebooks for teachers and student books for a primer and levels 1-A, 1-B, 11-A, and 11-B with the musical examples being a practical application of the author's philosophy. Although the teachers' guidebooks have many suggestions for teaching sight-reading, which appear to reflect the most current findings of research, there are few if any instructions for using the books so it is unclear how to teach the material.

Kowalchyk and Lancaster (1995) wrote Sight-Reading Piano to correspond with each of the levels of Alfred's Basic Piano Library. Included are rhythm sight-reading drills and improvisation exercises to develop tactile freedom on the keyboard. The exercises are short and the music is easier than the corresponding pages in the Lesson Book. Realizing that material can only be used for sight-reading one time, the authors suggest the following procedures: a) The student initially sight-reads the page for the teacher at the lesson. b) The student plays the page one time each day during the practice week. c) The student plays the page again for the teacher at the next lesson and discusses problems encountered in the performance.

A sight-reading aid for the teacher is the Music Machine ( Burkes and Daley, 1982). Each book contains several songs bound together and segmented into four sections. So for each melody there are several options, depending on which sections the teacher uses. By using different combinations of melodies, a "first time" situation is continually created. The series includes a primer, level one, level two, intermediate, and a special collection entitled Joybug Jazz.


� 1998 University of South Carolina School of Music