In my teaching I like to focus a lot on sight reading. I feel that it is imperative to help my students develop strong sight reading skills in order to become confident pianists and musicians. A strong sight reader is a musically-literate pianist! Plus, isn’t that a goal of every developing pianist – to be able to sit down and play a fun song they’ve never played before and enjoy the experience of exploring new music?
Today I’d like to share 6 awesome ways to help encourage super sight reading in your studio. Some of these can be done from the very first lesson! Let’s help nurture a new generation of super sight readers!
1. Learning Steps and Skips
Young pianists can learn to sight read by simple intervals (steps, skips, repeats) from the very first lesson! I get out my Giant Floor Keyboard and my Giant Floor Staff and we practice walking up and down the keys and the staff in steps and skips, then we transfer that to the piano with our fingers! We cover high and low, and sometimes I take my little students to my staircase so we can practice stepping and skipping up and down the stairs – then we relate it to the staff!
The most effective method I have used for transferring these concepts to actual sight reading is using my Steps and Skips Strips, which are included in my French Piano Pack. Students as young as 4 and 5 become super sight readers using these fun flashcards. Students pick a starting note on the piano, then we play the short melody on the card while saying “step up,” “skip down,” “same,” etc. Students LOVE putting several cards in a row to create awesome, long sight reading songs!
2. Learning Landmark Notes
Students who know a few landmark notes on the staff and are proficient at sight reading steps, skips and repeats are able to sight read pretty well on the staff, even if they have only been taking lessons for a few weeks. I find that the quicker you can get students reading on the actual staff, the better! It is a HUGE confidence boost when a student can go home and tell their parents that they read actual music on the staff for the first time! I have some super fun Paris-themed Landmark Notes resources available in my French Piano Pack that will help familiarize students with the landmark notes in no time. It includes a landmark notes cheat sheet, two sets of flashcards and two worksheets to test their knowledge.
3. Speeding Up Note-Naming
As students branch out and learn more notes on the staff, they need to be able to name and play them quickly in order to improve their sight reading. These fun and colorful Rainbow Flashcards (available in my Irish Piano Pack) encourage students to play two notes in a row by floating the wrist up after the first note and landing directly on the second note. When students can play notes quickly without fishing around for the correct key, their sight reading speed will increase dramatically!
4. Using Good Sight Reading Techniques
When students have a little guidance on good sight reading steps, and use these steps each day in their sight reading, their sight reading will improve every day! I like to teach my students 4 steps to sight reading. First, look ahead at the piece and be aware of what is coming up! Find the correct hand position, and second, play the song at the speed of no mistakes – which means SLOW enough to not mess up. No matter what happens, try not to stop or skip a beat. Third, ask yourself “How did I do?” and point out any tricky spots you may have messed up on. Fourth, play the piece once more, this time going for accuracy.
Download the Sight Reading Tracker to give your students a fun and colorful reminder of the sight reading steps, so they can improve day by day!
5. Creating a Studio Sight Reading Challenge
In my studio we are starting a fun sight reading challenge this month; I want my students to sight read a TON this semester, so for each song they sight read throughout the week they get to put a little fuzzy in a jar in the studio. When the jar is all filled up they will earn a pizza party at the next monthly group class! Setting a studio-wide goal to work on a specific skill like sight reading is a great way to motivate your students. It creates a sense of community and a little bit of a social aspect to piano.
6. Improving Your Own Sight Reading
Take a 100-piece sight reading challenge with your more advanced students and improve your skills together! Choose a composer and sight read all of their piano works. Or, sight read works from composers of the same musical period. Or, choose sonatas or preludes and fugues or miniatures. The point is, get yourself sight reading on a daily basis. It’s an amazing way to improve your skills, to become acquainted with more piano literature and to set a good example for your students.