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Sight-reading is an appetizer to main course detailed practicing

I’ve often met very skilled sight-readers who were not necessarily adept at playing their assigned pieces smoothly with good fingering and well shaped phrases. It’s because they viewed the first “read through” as a primary goal. They had gotten so used to a superficial overview of a piece, that to go to the next step, buckling down to practicing each hand alone, counting carefully and observing phrasing with dynamics, required a load of patience.

From my perspective as a teacher, the biggest treat that comes out of mindful practicing in detail, is the joy of playing a piece with confidence and complete musical surrender.

The question is how to motivate students to go the distance from the starting line “read” to the finish line, deep layer absorption of a selected piece.


A teacher might play through a composition showing a student how she parceled out voices along the way. Singing a sample line while having a student READ another voice in slow tempo can spark interest in a more detailed approach. Or turning the selection into a slow motion duet, with individual lines shared between pupil and teacher is another strategy.

If you take a more advanced composition like the Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor where the opening bass line ascends in 4ths from A to D to E to A, such a readily digestible path of notes could launch interest in a layered learning process from the ground up:

While the student played the opening measures of fundamental bass notes without after beat chords, the teacher could play the melody above framed by her counting. This “reading” would provide the sense of wholeness instead of fragmentation.

Hopefully, during the week, the student would follow through with separate bass line practice, imagining the beautiful melody above. In the course of time, the pupil might take the lead, playing the soprano line at the top, while the teacher traced the bass line. The after beat chords occurring on beats 2 and 3, could be separated out as NEIGHBORS, with their close alliance to each other. A student could play these slowly as the teacher provided the missing FIRST impulse of each measure.

The collaboration of part parceling would provide a modeling process that could build on itself.

Very young students love duet playing, and a teacher can capitalize on this engagement by doing the same kind of sharing that she applied to more advanced music.

For Primer pieces there is often a duet (secondo) part for the teacher. While a beginning student practices the melody, usually divided between the hands, a feast par duo awaits him, as rich harmonies expand his musical universe.

Along the learning path, a teacher can help a pupil understand the outline of a melody by fleshing out note repetition, echo phrases, and skip or step-wise movement.

Playing a Baroque of Classical era Minuet, affords the perfect opportunity to divide parts or voices between student and teacher, then flip them around for variety. Many beginning adult students also enjoy being able to trace one voice while the teacher “fills” out the texture, adding one or more parts.

Students who have the patience to learn their music in stage layers, generally end up playing compositions with more ease and agility than those who are eternal sight-readers.

It’s no big surprise. A patient approach underscores the whole music-learning process and applies to so many diverse areas of study.

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