sight reading

New Online Workshops

Our online workshops and events programme for the next few months features a combination of repeats of popular events and new sessions based on requests and feedback from our participants to date. We’re also delighted to welcome two new presenters, Ken Johansen and Penelope Roskell to our programme! The following are some of the events that we have lined up for the summer: Practice Tools (Part 1 & Part 2) – A repeat of Graham Fitch’s Practice Tools workshops which give detailed demonstrations of how to apply various tools to make your practising more effective. Memorisation – By popular request, this new workshop follows-on from the Practice Tools workshops and focuses on methods and techniques for deep learning and memorisation. Developing Sight-reading Skills (Part 1 & Part 2) – A workshop in two parts by Ken Johansen based on his advanced sight-reading curriculum, providing an interactive demonstration of essential sight-reading skills, including eye training and flexibility. Click here for more information or to book your place. Healthy Technique & Injury “Clinic” – Penelope Roskell will be presenting her approach to healthy piano technique, followed by a pianist injury “clinic” in which she will answer questions on preventing and recovering from injury. Click here for more information or to book your place. Piano Technique Workshop – A repeat of Graham Fitch’s workshop on various aspects of piano technique covering topics such as technical fundamentals, scales and arpeggios, building speed and an introduction to the concept of forearm rotation. In addition to these online workshops, we regularly broadcast various free live events from our Facebook page. Videos from past live events can also be watched on our YouTube channel. Further details regarding these events will be announced shortly […]

By |June 25th, 2020|News|0 Comments

A Lesson in Sight-Reading from Julia Child

This weeks’ guest blog post introduces the newly published second part of our advanced sight-reading curriculum by Ken Johansen, associate professor at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and Online Academy contributor. *** *** *** The first requirement of sight-reading is that we keep going and not stop to correct mistakes. This is fundamentally different from practising, where we stop to root out mistakes as soon as they occur. This requirement obliges us, first of all, to choose our sight-reading repertoire carefully, so that we are able to keep going without making too much of a hash of things. Secondly, it means that when mistakes do occur, as they inevitably will, we must be able to sail through them without fear or regret. What Julia Child said about cooking applies equally to sight-reading: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” A “what-the-hell attitude” in sight-reading doesn’t imply that we don’t care about what we’re doing, but that we give priority to our musical experience – our first encounter with an unknown piece of music – rather than to monitoring our success or failure in reading the score accurately. After all, in cooking it is our enjoyment of the food we’ve created, and what we’ve learned from making it, that matters most, not whether or not we’ve followed the recipe in all its details. Such an attitude requires flexibility, not only in the spirit with which we confront challenges, but in the musicianship with which we adapt to them. Just as experienced cooks know how to adapt when the soufflé has collapsed or the roast is undercooked, so experienced sight-readers find ways to […]

Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum Launched!

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. *** *** *** 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 […]

By |January 23rd, 2020|News, Practising|0 Comments

Can Sight-Reading be Taught?

The Online Academy’s collaboration with the Read Ahead team is a very happy one for me, since I can heartily endorse the innovative programme they have created to help pianists develop their sight-reading skills. Today’s post is a guest post by Ken Johansen and Travis Hardaway from Read Ahead, and I shall now pass you over to them. ***   ***   *** Most piano teachers agree that fluent sight-reading is a very important skill, one that ideally all students should develop. Fluent readers are more at ease at the piano, learn music more quickly, have broader musical horizons, make music more often with others, and receive more opportunities to perform. The question is, how do we help our students to develop this fluency? We can start, first of all, by teaching them the skills that make good sight-reading possible. In reality, sight-reading is not one skill, but a set of several inter-related skills that include: scanning the score intelligently before starting, maintaining a steady pulse, keeping our eyes on the score, hearing the music in our minds, reading in groups of notes, looking ahead as we play, and simplifying the music when necessary. With the exception of the last one, these are all skills that apply not only to sight-reading, but also to learning repertoire. If we bring these elements into play at every lesson, in every piece the student learns, we will be teaching him or her not only the piece, but also the musical skills needed for fluent sight-reading. Of course, it is not enough to work on these skills solely on repertoire pieces, and only during the weekly lesson. Students must sight-read unfamiliar pieces regularly, not only at lessons, but at […]

Developing Sight Reading Skills

Sight reading at the piano is the ability to process information from a score and recreate it to the best of one’s ability on the spot. To get a high mark for a sight reading test in an exam, you might be surprised to learn that complete note accuracy is not at the top of the list. Examiners are interested in the following criteria: A performance that captures the musical essence and character of the test, with attributes such as phrasing and dynamics present A performance that flows rhythmically, sticking to the pulse as priority while allowing note errors to go by without faltering or attempting to correct them As many correct notes as possible under the circumstances; approximations, educated guesses and even omissions here and there are acceptable in the interests of unerring rhythmic flow and musical communication A note-perfect mechanical rendition of a piece of sight reading is often less impressive than one that may have some note errors and omissions and yet which conveys musical character and meaning. Over the years, I have noticed several attributes of good sight readers. Good sight readers seem to be musically literate, with a solid grasp of theory and harmony. They listen to music regularly, perhaps following along with the score, and are familiar with a lot of the standard orchestral, chamber and vocal repertoire in addition to the piano repertoire. They work with other musicians on a regular basis. Playing for a singer, a choir or an instrumentalist or playing in an ensemble tends to develop the ability to learn new pieces very fast, thereby developing reading skills. Circumstances prevent them from stopping and correcting their mistakes, so they learn to carry on regardless. They […]

New Sight-reading Resources Added To The Online Academy

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve partnered with Anacrusis to bring their innovative sight-reading curriculum, Read Ahead, to the Online Academy. This partnership will see the addition of a comprehensive set of sample materials for sight reading added to the Online Academy. The materials can be used as stand-alone sight reading exercises or with optional apps that add further interactive functionality. What is ReadAhead? Read Ahead is an exciting new program that helps piano students to improve their sight-reading ability. This unique curriculum is based on an extensive collection of carefully ordered compositions with related exercises and quizzes that help students develop the mental and tactile skills necessary for fluent sight-reading. How does it work? The syllabus is divided up into levels based on difficulty. Each level is comprised of a number of articles which in turn each constitute one day or a practice session’s worth of material. Articles contain several exercises and sample sight reading pieces. The pieces can be used “as-is” on screen or downloaded for printing purposes. The experience can also be enriched by using accompanying apps for iPhone or iPad. Interactive exercises on each day are identified in both the article and the app with the following icons: Touch exercises introduce patterns or technical issues that will be encountered in that day’s practice. This icon indicates a Memory exercise. Touch it on the corresponding day page in the app to practice a passage while training your short-term memory and decoding skills. Read Ahead exercises are complete pieces of music for sight-reading. Instructions, quizzes and tips on how to read them more effectively can be found in the app along with a built-in metronome preset to the correct tempo for each piece. In the iPad app, the music disappears in […]

By |March 30th, 2017|News|0 Comments

Developing Sight Reading Skills

I get a lot of questions about how to improve sight reading. Teachers don’t seem to find the time to cover it in lessons, meaning students have little incentive to practise it at home. And yet the ability to read and process information readily from the printed score is surely one of the most important skills they should be acquiring? Players with weak reading skills often have good muscle memory, they are able to look away from the printed page quite early on in the note learning process – little wonder their reading skills suffer when their eyes are permanently focussed on the fingers. Sight reading involves assimilating information from the page and decoding it on the spot. The ability to do this presupposes a certain amount of theoretical knowledge (another area that is sorely neglected), but the single most important factor in getting good at it is to be doing it regularly. With Other Musicians Sitting at home ploughing through dreary sight reading tests just doesn’t seem to cut it. Even though you know you’re not supposed to stop for mistakes, you just hate getting it wrong. You’re not inspired and you can’t wait to move on to more interesting things – such as your pieces. A great way to develop sight reading skills is to play with other musicians. Duets or music for two pianos, collaborating with singers, instrumentalists or choirs – I suggest finding any situation where you cannot stop under any circumstances (or you’ll be letting the side down). Singing teachers, instrumental teachers and choir directors who don’t have a pianist would be grateful for your efforts, no matter how rudimentary they may be to begin with. You will get better as you go on, […]

Efficient Practising for Busy People

This is the follow-up to last week’s post, in which I outlined the first few stages for cleaning up a piece beset by errors, stumbles, approximations and other anomalies that might have crept into the playing either as a result of overplaying, or faulty (or incomplete) learning in the first place. Actually, the process I describe is good for initial note-learning as well – it’s just a thorough method for inputting the correct information into our brains, ears and fingers in as deep and permanent a way as possible. We build our house on bedrock and not on shifting sands. Routine Maintenance Let me clarify what I mean by overplaying. While I am fascinated by all the neurological research I read in other blogs, I am not a scientist and my findings come mostly from my wonderful training and from my own experience as a pianist and teacher. One thing I know for certain is that playing a piece over and over again usually leads to sloppiness,  imprecision (as motor skills lose finesse), ennui and a certain staleness. The clue to keeping everything in tip-top condition is the use of routine maintenance procedures in the practice room. This includes slow practice (for fast pieces), fast practice (for slow pieces), working with each hand alone, practising in sections and many other practice tools I have given before. I include quarantining those areas of the piece that cause you trouble – isolate these spots and work on them daily, before during and after your scheduled practice. Don’t think that just because you have learned a piece, you can now put the cork in the bottle and avail yourself of the contents whenever you feel like it. A car enthusiast […]

By |February 21st, 2014|Practising|7 Comments

“But it Takes Me Ages to Learn a New Piece!”

One of the saddest things about our exam culture is spending the best part of a year on three pieces and a bunch of scales, polishing every little detail until perfect. A couple of weeks after the exam, the student has nothing to play because they have forgotten their old pieces and won’t be ready with the new ones for a while yet. This structure means they often have very poor reading skills and are ill-equipped as practical musicians. It is hard to fathom is that a supposedly advanced piano student with years of lessons behind them would not be able to get up and play Happy Birthday by ear at a party, or to read at sight simple accompaniments when called upon to do so. A very distinguished colleague who taught high-level conservatory students would only ever hear a piece once or twice. Even first year students had to bring something new each week, and while the pressure was often quite intense every single one of them developed the skills to assimilate music very quickly. They had to! Apart from playing extremely well, the best of them became excellent sight readers capable of working out complex scores within a few days. They were flexible and marketable pianists with a large repertoire, just what you want from a conservatory education. Quick Studies Not every one of our students would be able to handle this sort of pressure of course, and don’t get me wrong – spending weeks and months polishing and refining certain pieces is absolutely imperative! There is no way we can develop pianistic excellence and finesse without this. To redress the balance between the type of painstaking and time-consuming practise involved in perfecting a piece and the […]

Firm Foundations

A late, esteemed colleague who had amazing sight reading skills once told me he never read through more than once a new piece he was about to learn. It was just too risky for him – on a second reading he would already have been forming habits that would hinder him in the finished version, when it eventually rolled off the other end of the production line. This might be sloppy fingering, sketching (rather than etching) accompanimental figuration, or even learned-in wrong notes. Yes, practice makes permanent and habits are formed alarmingly quickly. Let’s make sure they are good habits rather than bad ones. A mañana attitude to proper learning of a piece, while giving us a limited amount of instant pleasure is actually the shoddiest possible of foundations if we have any aspirations to perform it at any point in the future. If we allow ourselves repeated buskings where we guess at those passages we don’t have the patience to work out thoroughly, or gloss over others where our random fingering is clearly not working, we can expect a shoddy end result – no matter how much time we put in later. By then it is often too late, and we can expect to reap what we have sown, no matter how lofty our vision of the music or how talented we are. Just think how much time, energy and money has been spent today propping up The Leaning Tower of Pisa compared with how much it cost to erect it in the first place! Good practice habits not only enable us to feel good about our work and about our playing, they allow a structure to emerge from rock, enabling it to withstand the forces of […]