Advice on improving sight-reading

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Paul Janssen
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Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Paul Janssen » Mon Mar 06, 2017 12:57 pm

Hi All,

My son will be taking his first classical guitar exam in two months (AMEB Grade 3 exam). He has been working steadily over the last year on the technical work and repertoire however has neglected his sight-reading. As a result, his teacher advised us to purchased a copy of the AMEB sight reading book and to include one or two sight-reading exercises as part of his daily practice routine.

His teacher also instructed him to only play each exercise once and then move on. The rationale (and I think this makes sense) is that if he repeats an exercise he will begin to memorise it and therefore it will no longer be sight-reading. However, my question is what should he do if he gets it wrong? And does his teacher's advice actually make sense or are there benefits to be had in sight-reading the exercise once and then repeating it until he gets it right?

I appreciate any guidance that any of you may have on the best approach so that he gets the maximum benefit.

Thanks in advance,
Paul

dtoh
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by dtoh » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:36 pm

IME, if the sight reading exercises contains movements or chords that you are not able to do smoothly then there is a benefit in repeating the piece or practicing the specific movement or chord. Being able to instantly recognize a pattern of notes is fine, but it won't do you any good if you're hands aren't able to execute.

JohnB
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by JohnB » Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:00 pm

Best to think about what will happen in the actual exam. I think it is usual that the sight reading example is fairly short and, at least in the ABRSM exams, the candidate has 30 seconds to look through the piece and try out any bits.

The important thing is to get him into the habit of taking a sight reading exercise, looking through it, checking the key, the time signature, the tempo marking, any dynamic markings, etc and then playing it through without stopping. If he makes a mistake - to ignore it - keep to the pulse and carry on. Mentally counting will help him carry on through any mistakes if they occur.

Also, IMO it is good to get into the habit of looking at the notes ahead of what he is actually playing. (Actually, for me it is absolutely essential to read ahead.)

(Think as though you are playing with other musicians - they aren't going to stop for your mistakes - keep counting and play through the mistakes.)

The best thing is to do as much sight reading practice as possible - and once again, sight reading without stopping, keeping to the pulse of the music and not worrying about any mistakes. The more he does the easier it will become.

Sorry for not answering the question!
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso"

robert e
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by robert e » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:11 pm

I agree with everything JohnB says about sight reading in general. However, I'm not familiar with AMEB levels though and don't know is and isn't expected of Level 3.

Sight reading practice is just that, and you need an unfamiliar score to do it. You can, of course, reuse things after enough time and/or exercises have made you forget. And the more the better. A lot of music follows similar patterns and the more one reads, the more familiar these patterns become--on paper and in the fingers.

As John says, if one makes a mistake, one must keep time and move on, picking up the score as soon as possible. But again, I don't know what AMEB expects. However, when the practice exercise is over, your son should try to analyze why the mistake was made and what he needs to do to address any problems. He may simply need to slow down a bit, but it might be things like unfamiliar notation or dynamic markings, confusion about repeat sections and types, accidentals, fingering, etc. Mistakes will identify areas for study or practice, or that simply need refreshing or clarifying.

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petermc61
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by petermc61 » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:35 pm

I disagree with advice to repeat it too much. Maybe have a go another time weeks later. The important thing is to feel confident playing it and moving on even if there are a few mistakes. In addition to the book you have bought I would download D01 (probably 2-3 levels below what his exam pieces will be) and practice short sections (say 8 bars) from those pieces. If they are too easy or he runs out them try some D02 pieces as well.

Salvador
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Salvador » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:50 am

Usually I repeat the pieces like 2 to 3 times. I always remind myself the left hand positions of the piece so i can be ready in advance and minimize mistakes. Sight read a lot of pieces. Even the intermediate pieces, no need to play it on tempo, it's for sight reading practice only. To me honestly i don't like sight reading lol.

JohnB
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by JohnB » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:08 am

It is fine to repeat the pieces as long as you recognise that when you do that it is no longer sight reading. It can be useful if there were bits where you tripped up - in order to analyse what made you trip up so you can deal with the issue.

People (including myself) have recommended sightreading pieces a grade or two below the level of the exam. It is a great idea to incorporate that type of sightreading into one's practice sessions.

BUT

It is also important to practise on examples of the type of sight reading exercises that are used in the exams. These are different to normal pieces - they are specific exercises for sight reading - so it is important to get used to playing them (in addition to general sight reading).
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso"

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Paul Janssen
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Paul Janssen » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:51 am

Thanks everyone for the responses. I think the main things to take away from this are:

1. Sight Read lots of different pieces at a level a grade or two below the grade being studied (I liked the idea about using D01/D02 material)
2. Spend some time looking over the piece first noting things like time signature, key, basic rhythm, position etc
3. Generally only play a sight-reading exercise once
4. Try and avoid stopping or repeating sections (soldier on).
5. Play it slowly
6. Incorporate sight-reading into the daily practice routine (a little each day)

I think this is a pretty good plan of attack. We used many of these strategies tonight and I felt that it went better. At the end of the day, something is better than nothing, but at least now I feel we have some direction.

Steve Langham
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Steve Langham » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:58 am

Paul, I did the AMEB grade 3 exam last year. I also had and used the AMEB sight reading book. It's a good book and has lots of good appropriate pieces in it which matched the level of the piece I was given in the exam. I suggest you have him start at the earlier grades in the book to build up some confidence and work his way up to the grade 3 level sight reading. I would go through a set of some pieces in my practice and after a few days I might come back and repeat the same pieces but I never felt like I was memorising them. There are a lot of examples in the book and so when I came back to them it felt pretty much like I was starting over. My mistakes certainly vouch for that!
As per above comments, make sure he's comfortable with the rhythm first and then the note accuracy second. Correct rhythm with some duff notes will sound better than the other way round.
I'm doing grade 4 now, I still find the sight reading to be a chore!
Don't forget the aural work as well for your son.

Cheers

Steve Langham
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Steve Langham » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:10 pm

One other thought I just had... The AMEB grade 3 sight reading material equates to 2 levels below grade 3. IE, grade 1 material. So you doing the grade 3 exam you are expected to be able to sight read only grade 1 pieces so if you start giving him D02 pieces to sight read then he'll be doing more complicated pieces than he needs to.

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Paul Janssen
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by Paul Janssen » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:33 pm

Steve Langham wrote:Paul, I did the AMEB grade 3 exam last year. I also had and used the AMEB sight reading book. It's a good book and has lots of good appropriate pieces in it which matched the level of the piece I was given in the exam. I suggest you have him start at the earlier grades in the book to build up some confidence and work his way up to the grade 3 level sight reading. I would go through a set of some pieces in my practice and after a few days I might come back and repeat the same pieces but I never felt like I was memorising them. There are a lot of examples in the book and so when I came back to them it felt pretty much like I was starting over. My mistakes certainly vouch for that!
As per above comments, make sure he's comfortable with the rhythm first and then the note accuracy second. Correct rhythm with some duff notes will sound better than the other way round.
I'm doing grade 4 now, I still find the sight reading to be a chore!
Don't forget the aural work as well for your son.

Cheers
Cool. Thanks for your comments Steve. We haven't even begun looking at aural work yet although I'm sure his teacher will start to introduce this over the coming weeks.

Are you able to say how indicative the Grade 3 sight-reading exercises in the AMEB sight-reading book are of what he will actually encounter in the exam? We have gone right back to the start of the book and have nearly finished all the Preliminary exercises. But that still leaves Grade 1 and Grade 2 to go over before we even get near a grade 3 section. Baby steps I guess!!

DerekB
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by DerekB » Tue Mar 07, 2017 1:34 pm

Lots of practice is the secret. It is worthwhile buying the sight-reading books for other boards. Although the approaches differ slightly they are the nearest thing to the exam pieces you can find. Another source of free grade 1 material is the Iceland Guitar School.

Remember it is more important to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time.
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kmurdick
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by kmurdick » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:11 pm

The ability to read well is much more important than being able to read at sight. In addition, the better reader you are, the better sight reader you will be. Here is what I mean by good reading. Choose a piece of music that is beneath your current level. Take a portion of the piece - perhaps just one line - visualize playing the portion in your mind without using the guitar. Then see if you can play this portion on the guitar slowly without error the first time you play it. If not, repeat the process. If you can't get it at some tempo after two or three tries, it means you are using material that is too difficult. Remember, you can already sight read music at some level. The purpose of practicing good reading techniques is to push this level up.

The reason I do not like the idea of just practicing reading at sight is that you end up practicing errors. Visualization allows you to look ahead and play the notes accurately.

JohnB
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by JohnB » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:44 pm

Just another thought. Back in the late 60s/early 70s I used to have hour long lessons and my teacher (an experienced teacher) used to devote around 15 minutes at the end of every lesson to sight reading duets - in order to both help develop sight reading skills in his students and also to accustom them to playing with other musicians. I've always thought that it was invaluable.
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso"

robert e
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Re: Advice on improving sight-reading

Post by robert e » Tue Mar 07, 2017 8:02 pm

kmurdick wrote:The ability to read well is much more important than being able to read at sight. In addition, the better reader you are, the better sight reader you will be. Here is what I mean by good reading. Choose a piece of music that is beneath your current level. Take a portion of the piece - perhaps just one line - visualize playing the portion in your mind without using the guitar. Then see if you can play this portion on the guitar slowly without error the first time you play it. If not, repeat the process. If you can't get it at some tempo after two or three tries, it means you are using material that is too difficult. Remember, you can already sight read music at some level. The purpose of practicing good reading techniques is to push this level up.

The reason I do not like the idea of just practicing reading at sight is that you end up practicing errors. Visualization allows you to look ahead and play the notes accurately.
This is more or less how accomplished musicians sight-read, by my understanding--commonly a measure or two ahead, or if the passage is not busy even further. Before playing at all, they have scanned for key, modalities, potentially tough or easy spots, and for idiomatic and generic features.

I agree that for either purpose, the accumulation of conscientious reading experience is an essential driver of progress. Your approach is certainly valid (and part of a proper approach to learning a piece, too), but so is the sight-reading approach outlined previously in this thread. They each emphasize different reading skills. Different students at different stages may benefit more from one than the other, but it's good practice at every level to do both.

JohnB's point is well taken. One reason classical guitarists are notoriously poor readers is that most of us do far less ensemble work--if any--than players of other instruments. Ensemble playing develops not only reading but listening skills--two skill sets that overlap and reinforce each other.

I'm sure this is what you meant, kmurdick, but it needs to be said that the approach you describe should involve audiation as well as visualization.

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