A Multi-Faceted Approach to Sight Reading
Subskills of Sight Reading
Eye movements. Better sight readers scan the page better than less skilled sight readers. Better sight readers are able to grasp more information with fewer fixations. On a basic level, students must first be able to name the note and then process a fingering.
Less proficient readers tend to focus on individual notes, rather than perceiving patterns. This is why teachers need to introduce students to music theory concepts such as intervals and arpeggios, key signatures, scale patterns and scales. If students understand the connection between key signature and scales, for example, the amount of information they have to process is greatly reduced to eight notes instead of twelve. Any accidentals are exceptions to the rules.
Better readers tend to scan ahead further in the score, but also return to the point of current performance, while less-proficient readers tend to focus on the note they are currently playing without scanning ahead.
Prior knowledge of theory, such as scale patterns and triads, assist students in recognizing patterns.
Experienced musicians have presumably practiced scale and arpeggio patterns. The kinesthetic aspect of this is inextricably connected to the patterns. That is, experienced musicians have already worked out fingerings for all of the scale patterns and arpeggios. So, not only are they more adept at perceiving these patterns on the page, but they also can immediately recall the fingerings and stickings. This emphasizes the importance of what we already preach in music education: know your scales and arpeggios thoroughly.
Better sight readers use more appropriate fingerings and stickings than less proficient sight readers. When wind players are aware of alternate fingerings, they can make choices that more effectively facilitate musical passages. When percussionists are well-trained in rudiments and various sticking patterns, they are more equipped to execute musical passages in a smooth manner.
Acquisition of Sight Reading Skills
Studies have shown that sight reading practice results in improved sight reading achievement. Students should choose increasingly difficult levels of sight reading material.
Students should scan the music prior to sight reading for difficult patterns, rhythms, key signature changes, time signature changes, etc.
Students need to understand the difference between practicing for performance and practicing for sight reading. When sight reading, students should maintain timing, rhythm and meter and avoid correcting mistakes. Errors and omissions are acceptable. Students should keep their eyes on the music and avoid looking at their hands, while getting the notes any way possible and worrying about optimal fingerings and stickings later.
Specific Sight Reading Problems and Solutions
Teaching students to recognize intervals, scale patterns, arpeggio patterns, etc., can assist students in becoming better sight readers. The ability to speedily recognize individual pitches can be improved with flash cards or computer-generated programs.
Research has shown a strong correlation between rhythmic ability and sight reading performance. This aspect can be improved through clapping rhythms with a metronome, writing counts in the musical score, drawing vertical lines that indicate alignment.
Explicit instruction should be provided that highlights the visual differences between various note values. For example, eighth notes have one beam, whereas sixteenth notes have two beams. Gestalt principles can also be useful here. Using the eighth note/sixteenth note example again, eighth notes take up more horizontal space than sixteenth notes. Observe the rhythm one-and-a-two.
One of the most common problems with younger students is stopping to correct mistakes when sight reading. This can be addressed by covering the music with a piece of paper immediately after it is played.
So, how does this help your musical ensemble group do a better job in the sight reading room at state contest? Well, ultimately it is the students who must do the sight reading. No matter how much we talk them through it at contest, they must possess the skills to accomplish the task.
Understanding of the relationship between key signature and scale is paramount. If they can see a key signature and immediately associate it with a scale, they will be much more successful at sight reading.
The usual practice of working on the sight reading process during rehearsal is useful because it makes students play in an ensemble situation in which there are distracting parts in other sections that compete for their attention. This is where we prepare for the context.