Friday, January 02, 2009

Barbara Fast on Sight Reading

Sight reading can be one of the most difficult, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding skills in all of music. The reward: being able to sit down and play nearly anything put in front of you, as well as drastically reducing the amount of time needed to learn music. The best way to get there is simply by doing it day after day, month after month, going through as many pieces as possible in order to become a true sight reading ninja.

Whether you're learning or teaching this integral skill, you should definitely check out Building Blocks to Effective Sight Reading by Barbara Fast in the July 2008 Piano Pedagogy Forum. She talks about research into several facets of this skill, including some interesting eye movement facts:
It is helpful to understand how the eye functions when working to improve sight reading. There are several surprising facts to note. While musicians often feel as if they are staring in a fixed manner at a piece of music, in reality the eye is constantly moving very rapidly, performing large and small movements, about 4-6 per second. The eye takes snapshots, similar to a camera, and the brain hooks these snapshots together, so that it seems that our eyes function like a movie. (Lehmann, Andreas, McArthur 2002).

Secondly, with these frequent small and large movements, the eye moves ahead in a score, but also returns to current or even previous material. This fact runs counter to the practice of improving sight reading by covering current notes students are playing in order to force the eye to read ahead. This can be helpful in some circumstances, but should not always be utilized. The eye movements of better sight readers not only travel further ahead in the score, the eye constantly moves around, including returning to the current point of performance (Young, 1971).

She also looks at the influence of rhythmic fluency, harmonic understanding, ear training, solid technique, scanning music beforehand, and the importance of ensemble playing in a successful curriculum. Pianists here can take a cue from wind and string players, whose participation in ensembles from an early age probably results in a higher level of sight reading proficiency than their pianistic counterparts.

More Reading:

10 ways of Improving Your Sight Reading Skills

Build Sight Reading Into Your Practice Session
The Extreme Piano Guide, or 30+1 Ideas to Improve Your Practice Time
15 Ways To Add 10-Minute Practice Blocks To Your Routine

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:09 AM

    Chris - this is great stuff.

    Could you please post a related item for singers? Unfortunately, many singers struggle with sight-singing throughout their education and careers. It's an ongoing challenge, unnecessarily fraught with anxiety and even shame for many.

    Music is a language and many singers are functionally illiterate through no fault of their own. Singing training often doesn't begin early in life, as do piano training and other instrumental studies, and confident competent sight-reading/sight-singing becomes part of the cost. Most singers have lost the crucial early-mid childhood years of brain-synapse formation and language-acquisition which makes musical literacy a greater challenge than it is for many other instrumentalists.

    We need to create more tools and resources for singers and singing students to develop this crucial skill without evoking fear or embarrassment.