This week’s guest blog post announces the launch of a unique new online sight-reading curriculum for advanced pianists by Ken Johansen, associate professor at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and Online Academy contributor.

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Introducing the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum to readers of this blog. This is the curriculum that I use in my class for piano majors at the Peabody Conservatory. It has been nearly twenty years in the making, and I believe that there is at present nothing else quite like it, in print or online.

Virtually all piano teachers agree that sight-reading is an extremely important skill, perhaps even the most important. At the same time, it is a difficult skill to teach. It requires a vast quantity of carefully-chosen music, and the gradual, but concurrent, development of multiple aural, analytical, technical, and cognitive abilities. In this curriculum, we work on each of these component abilities – twenty of them altogether – individually, tackling the complex multi-tasking activity of sight-reading from twenty different angles, as it were.

Improvement in sight-reading comes not simply from playing lots of pieces, but from acquiring new habits, and learning to think in new ways. Each of these new habits of mind needs first to be isolated, worked on with deliberate attention, and repeated in enough musical examples to become second nature. Whether we are learning how to read ahead, mastering dotted rhythms, or practicing the simplification of complex textures, we first need ways to think about these things, then lots of musical excerpts to practice them on, without too many other difficulties to distract or confuse us.

Each of the twenty modules in the curriculum therefore begins with an introduction that describes the particular skill to be learned, suggests ways to think about it, and gives practical methods to practice it. Then follows a collection of scores, twenty to thirty pieces in most modules, which provide ample practice in the skill. Each piece is annotated with specific instructions and suggestions, to help students practice in a deliberate way, with clear goals. The curriculum can therefore be worked through individually, unsupervised by a teacher, or used in the context of a class, as I do at Peabody.

The great joy of sight-reading comes from musical discovery, and this curriculum opens countless paths to explore. It contains hundreds of pieces by dozens of composers, in many different genres, from solo piano pieces to chamber music, song, and opera. This sense of discovery, not only of the music itself, but also of our own interaction with it, through sight-reading, makes this curriculum not only instructive, but highly enjoyable to work through, as countless students have told me through the years. I hope that you will find it equally helpful and pleasurable!

Ken Johansen

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The first part of the Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum, Eye Training, is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

Further Reading & Resources

  • Introduction to the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum – Click here to view a general introduction to the curriculum
  • Eye Training – Click here to view the introduction to the first part of the Advanced Sight-Reading curriculum
  • The Joy of Sight-Reading – Click here to read a collection of free articles by Read Ahead developers Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen on the Online Academy
  • Read Ahead – Sight-reading exercises for elementary to intermediate levels on the Online Academy – Click here for level 1, click here for level 2, click here for Level 3 or click here for Level 4 (recently added)