Strategies for Teaching Sight-Reading

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Strategies for Teaching Sight-reading
By Casa Ng (2013, Hong Kong)

How can improve sight-reading? Educators advise to improve sight-reading by doing it frequently. (Andreas C. Lehmann, & Victoria McArthur. 2002) But can it really be improved simply by playing more repertoires? Are there any type of practice activities we can follow in order to improve the sight-reading skill in a systematic way? To help students get improve the sight-reading skill more efficiency and effectively, we should first understand the process of sight-reading, the problems occurred during the process (the difference between good sight-reader and a novice), and the solutions for those problems (the essential skills required to become a good sight-reader). When doing sight-reading, we have to come across the sequence of events:

Perceptual process >Cognitive process>Kinesthetic (visual & auditory input)(thinking) (playing)

Perceptual process
Sight-reading is a multi-tasks activity, reading efficiently can help to gather more information not only limited to pitch and rhythm but also dynamic, articulation, expression, and musical structure etc. According to human’s occulomotor behavior (Sam Thompson, & Andreas C. Lehmann. 2004), our eyeballs have to jump to different places on the page to find relevant information in order to get a whole picture of the score. Advanced sight-readers' fixations directed across line and phrase boundaries allow them to get more information while less experience sight-readers tend to focus on individual note. (Andreas C. Lehmann, & Victoria McArthur. 2002). So that an experienced sight-readers can read around six or seven notes ahead while novice can read only two to three notes ahead. (Sam Thompson, & Andreas C. Lehmann. 2004). This process can be developed through training. Ask students to look at a score for 10 seconds, then cover it and ask them to describe what they see such as key, time signature, musical structure, dynamic directions, and pitch etc. in order to train students to grasp more information with shorter and fewer fixations. When doing sight-reading, some students have slow eye movement and they usually stare at one individual note and don't move forward even after playing the note. Ask them to count the beat is not very useful because they will count like "1 2 3..... 4..", stop at the place they find difficulties or they simply ignore the counting when using metronome. Those individual involved in chamber and orchestral music usually have a better sight-reading skills not only because they need to read large amounts of music but also need to maintain the forward movement together with other players. Piano students usually have less chance to play in chamber, but teacher can play duet with the students and get a similar result.

Auditory input seems to be an irrelevant element in sight-reading. When talking about auditory in sight-reading, it can refers to inner ear (hear the sound in the head) and auditory feedback (listen the music we just played). If we can hear the mental “sound” before we actual play, we can play it fluency and avoid making mistakes (Paul Harris, & Richard Crozier. 2000). On the other hand, auditory feedback can serve as a cue of expectation of the next notes which lead to a more musical performance. (Andreas C. Lehmann, & Victoria McArthur. 2002). Aural skills training like sight-singing and identification of cadential progression can also benefit in sight-reading.

Cognitive process
One of the important papers in psychology “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” (1956) by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller suggested that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory (memory span) is 7 ± 2. However, we can increase our short term memory capacity by chunking – grouping information into meaningful units. In the following...
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