Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading

Yesterday’s blog post described the benefits of using duets in the lesson for improving sight-reading.  Today, I have a few recommendations for books that work well for this purpose.

“Improve Your Sight-Reading! Duets” by Paul Harris

19832058These books are gold, I tell you!  I found these books when they were featured on the “New Items” rack at my local music store a few months ago.  I purchased the Grades 0-1 book (Beginner to Early Elementary) and the Grades 2-3 book (Elementary to Late Elementary). I hope additional levels will be released soon!  This series is published by Faber Music (not to be confused with Nancy & Randy Faber’s materials).

Take a look at some sample pages below.  One page is marked as the teacher’s page and the other page is marked as the pupil’s page.  The sight-reading examples are short and sweet.   Continue reading “Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading

Most of the time, my students get plenty of practice sight-reading just from trying out their new pieces each week during their lessons.  If necessary, I will have students purchase a dedicated sight-reading book.  However, my favorite way to improve sight-reading with students is through frequent duet sight-reading together.  

At each lesson with students who need improvement with sight-reading, we save the last 1-3 minutes of the lesson for playing a duet or two together.  It is a wonderful way to end a lesson!  

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Why do duets work so well for improving sight-reading?  There are many reasons:  Continue reading “Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading”

Reading Notation, Reviews, Technology

Aug 2013 Giveaway: SightReadMinor app for iPad

mzl.kzclobbb.480x480-75Remember my review for the SightReadPlus app for iPad?  Well, here is an update:

I’ve been using it here-and-there with students during lessons with great success.  I love being about to choose the key and make the student have to really think about the various key signatures.  As I mentioned in the previous review, I appreciate that the app keeps the student accountable to the beat so the student does not feel it is an option to stop playing if they make a mistake.

I’ve also recommended SightReadPlus to a few of my adult students, who love that fact that the app shows them how well they did — both with the pitches and the rhythm.  It’s like having your teacher at home with you when you practice!  I have really been impressed with the usefulness of SightReadPlus.

Good news — The developers behind SightReadPlus have just released a sequel: the SightReadMinor app.  SightReadMinor works much the same way as SightReadPlus, but it contains 2880 short exercises in all minor keys for $4.99 (SightReadPlus contains 4800 short exercises in all major keys for $7.99).

More good news — The developers have also offered two promo codes of SightReadMinor for a giveaway!  In order to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post about how your Fall studio planning is going.  :)  A winner will be randomly chosen after Midnight EST on Thursday, August 15 and announced the next day.

Reading Notation, Technology

App Review & Giveaway: SightReadPlus

bg-1-273140SightReadPlus — $7.99 *for iPad only*

Update: also check out my short review of SightReadMinor ($4.99).

SightReadPlus is an app for iPad for piano students.  The app not only contains thousands of sight-reading exercises, but it also “listens” to the student play on their piano and evaluates their performance based on accuracy of pitch and rhythm.  I love this technology!  SightReadPlus is a great tool to improve students’ sight-reading abilities, especially in preparation for examinations or adjudications that require sight-reading.

The 4800 sight-reading examples in this app are appropriate for beginning and elementary students.  The range of notes in each exercise is limited to major five-finger patterns, and all exercises are either for RH or LH (never together).

The exercises are divided into 10 levels.  Level 1 begins with half note and whole note rhythms in 4/4 time, with intervals limited to 2nds.  The more advanced levels contain intervals up to a 5th, rhythm values such as dotted quarter notes and eighth rests, and a variety of time signatures (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8).  The exercises can be played in any key.  Continue reading “App Review & Giveaway: SightReadPlus”

improving as a teacher, Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

The Role of Intervalic Reading when Reading Music

A few weeks ago, I added a new game to my Shop called the Ice Cream Interval game.  In that post, I briefly mentioned the importance of being able to read intervalically when reading music and I’d like to discuss this further today.

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While it is important for students to be able to identify the names of notes quickly, it is equally important for them to read intervals as early as possible in their studies.  While I am a big believer in drilling note-naming flashcards, I am an even bigger believer in drilling intervals.  Continue reading “The Role of Intervalic Reading when Reading Music”

Reading Notation

Missing Steps to Learning to Read Music

xxl_Note_on_a_glassIn the comment section of previous post, a reader asked for suggestions with helping a young student connect notes on the staff with their names and their corresponding piano key.  I gave a response in the comment section, but thought I would share some of those thoughts with you all as a separate blog post!

Sometimes, beginners (or even transfer students) seem to be missing a piece of the puzzle for understanding note-reading on the staff.  Below is a description of how I would systematically try to figure out what is missing with a student who is struggling with note-reading!

I would first make sure the student can say the musical alphabet verbally forwards and backwards. This seems basic, but believe it or not, sometimes beginners miss this step, and then note reading makes little sense to them!

The next step is making sure the student knows the names of all the piano keys. My favorite thing to do is to ask them to find 3 C’s on the piano, and then 3 D’s (etc.). I also like using The Amazing Keyboard Race gameContinue reading “Missing Steps to Learning to Read Music”

improving as a teacher, Performances, Practice, Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency

Have you ever have a student play a piece with frequent hesitations throughout, even though you know they can play much better than that?  This phenomenon can occur with all ages/levels of students.  Why does this happen?  What is going on when this happens?  This article will examine possible causes of and solutions for a lack of fluency.

A lack of fluency could be caused by a number of things:

  1. A lack of the proper technique required for the executing the piece;
  2. A lack of familiarity of the notes of the piece;
  3. A tempo that is too fast for the student’s ability at that moment; or,
  4. A lack of mentally “chunking” the information on the page properly.  The analogy I use to refer to Number 4 is that the students feels like they are wearing horse blinders, or are mentally experiencing tunnel vision.

Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency”

Conferences, Reading Notation

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?  Continue reading “OhioMTA Conference 2011 (1): Learn at First Sight by Margaret Young”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Phrase: Look & Think Ahead

A few months ago, I read an research article about sight-reading that stated that professional pianists read something like eight notes ahead at any given time while sight-reading (I wish I could cite the article, but I don’t remember where I found it – if anyone knows of it please tell me!).  The article, however, wasn’t very clear about what the “eight notes” referred to (harmonically? melodically?), especially since it seems that this would change depending on the texture, meter, and tempo.  Regardless, I found it interesting to consider how far ahead one can be looking and thinking ahead while reading in order to be better prepared for what is coming up.  (How many notes can YOU think ahead?)

Personally, I think reading is mostly about “chunking” – recognizing groups of notes as chords, patterns, and other groupings.  I do find, however, that students benefit greatly from being taught to “look ahead” or “think ahead.”

A young student of mine this week was playing a two-lined piece where the RH and LH move up an octave to echo what was stated in the previous two measures.  The first time she played the piece, she had to briefly pause to think and move her hands to the right place before going on.  She had been practicing this piece all week and I could tell she knew where her hands needed to go.  Nevertheless, the spot was catching her unaware.  Mentally, she wasn’t prepared for the octave move and therefore her hands weren’t ready on time either.  We talked about this, and we reasoned together that she needed to be thinking ahead in order to be ready on time.  After this, of course, she was able to play the piece fluidly.

Now the question may be, is it more effective to instruct students to “look ahead” or “think ahead?”  Any opinions?

Photo Credit: pfly | CC 2.0

Conferences, Group Classes, Music Camps, Reading Notation, Rhythm, Teaching Piano

2010 MMTA Conference (4): Functional Skills are Important by Martha Hilley

What follows are the notes I took from a session with Martha Hilley at the 2010 Michigan Music Teachers Association conference.

FUNCTIONAL SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT TO EVERYONE ~ by Martha Hilley

“Functional skills” include skills such as harmonization, improvisation, transposition, rhythm, and theory.  There are many fun ways to incorporate functional skills into group/private settings.  Today we are going to try out some examples:

Rhythm Activities

Activity #1. Make up a series of patterns such as:

Tap   Clap    Tap    Clap
Tap   Clap  |___|  Clap
Tap  |___|   Tap   Clap
Tap  |___| |___| Clap

Put them on a transparency or write them on a whiteboard.  (The box is the quarter rest.)  Most students don’t have time for rests!  They want to keep going.  So give them something to do during the rests (e.g., saying “rest” aloud; or making some kind of movement during the rest).  This is a great activity for class piano or monthly group lessons. Continue reading “2010 MMTA Conference (4): Functional Skills are Important by Martha Hilley”

Ear Training, Practice, Reading Notation, repertoire / methods, Teaching Piano

Introducing Students to New Pieces

The first look at a new piece is crucial.  As accomplished pianists/teachers, we automatically know to scan the piece to check the time signature, key signature, texture, composer, title, etc. before playing through a piece.  Of course, we were trained to go through those steps before sightreading through a piece.

Before having students sightread, what do you say/do with them to introduce a new piece?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Here’s some things I’ve tried: Continue reading “Introducing Students to New Pieces”