OhioMTA Conference 2011 (1): Learn at First Sight by Margaret Young

The recent Ohio Music Teachers Association conference I attended was wonderful.  I had the opportunity to meet other teachers both near and far from where I am in Ohio, and I also learned a lot!

The first session I attended was an informative presentation by Dr. Margaret Young.  Dr. Young cited a large number of research studies throughout the session and had a two-page bibliography in the handout (!).  I will not be providing those facts and citations here, but rather presenting a summary of some of the points Dr. Young made.  If anyone is interested in more in-depth information about Dr. Young’s session, I’m sure you could contact her and see if she’s willing to share a copy of the handout.  :)

Learn at First Sight: A Review of the Current Research Literature on Sight-Reading

Dr. Young went through a number of questions, each time answering in detail what the research says about each issue.  Some of the questions were: What does sight-reading involve?  What factors influence or predict sight-reading success? 

Then Dr. Young discussed some possible methods for improving sight-reading include: shadowing (aka “ghost playing”), error detection, colored notation, chunking procedures, pre-playing score study, rhythmic reading drills, and tonal pattern training.

At the end of the presentation, Dr. Young provided some practical suggestions for us as musicians and teachers:

  • Do not cover the score for students as they sight-read in order to force them to look ahead!  This is not supported by research, since expert sight-readers look both forward and backward to gain information.
  • Research supports that maintaining rhythm and meter is the most important part of sight-reading.  Sight-reading in groups (whether in duet with the teacher or another student or two) is helpful because it forces the readers to maintain the beat and meter.
  • Encourage students to look for the “big picture” when they sight-read.
  • When sight-reading, don’t think of what you are doing, but think of what you are going to be doing.
  • Using notespellers and similar methods of note-naming reinforcement does not improve reading skills, according to research!   Students should learn to skip the “naming” step altogether and learn to simply associate the dots on the page to the corresponding piano key.  In addition, students should learn to quickly recognize intervallic relationships.
  • Research shows that practicing sight-reading from an early age is important, particularly before the age of 15.
  • Using music that has clear patterns for students to “chunk” in a single fixation is important.  Teachers should help students recognize these patterns by asking them to find things they recognize before sight-reading the example.
I learned a lot in this session!  The list of practical suggestions at the end made me really re-think how I present sight-reading.  And it’s comforting to know that these ideas are supported by the research out there.  :)
Joy Morin is a piano teacher in northwest Ohio (United States) who enjoys keeping her teaching fresh with new ideas and resources. ColorInMyPiano.com serves as a journal of her adventures in piano teaching as well as a place to exchange ideas and resources.

Joy has blogged 1142 posts here.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 13 October 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow. such a refreshing read after reading so many awful ’10 ways to sight read’ and ‘how to sight read better’ articles where the author has no clue what they are talking about.

    This is the MOST important and foundational part of teaching sight reading –

    “Research supports that maintaining rhythm and meter is the most important part of sight-reading. Sight-reading in groups (whether in duet with the teacher or another student or two) is helpful because it forces the readers to maintain the beat and meter.”

    So many teachers make the horrible mistake of thinking ‘sight reading’ is about ‘reading notes’ – It is not at all about that. The notes are the LAST thing you should think / worry about.

    In other words, nobody will be able to follow you if you are simply trying to play all the right notes – if you are too busy neglecting rhythm. But they WILL be able to follow you if you keep the rhythm and play wrong notes and omit notes.

    Love it.

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