piano lesson

Sight-reading, Transposition, and Ear-Training for the Adult Piano Student

Setting aside a segment of lesson time to work on sight-reading and transposition is an essential ingredient of piano learning. It sensitizes a student to interval relationships while inviting an analysis of notes within a tonal, harmonic, and rhythmic frame.

In the transposing universe, Bartok’s *Mikrokosmos provides an excellent source of such material in graduated levels. Book 1, given to my UK-based Skype student, (second year of study) contains miniature pieces (a few lines each) replete with asymmetrical rhythms, and modal progressions.

Bartok Mikrokosmos #3

Bartok’s snatches are in marked contrast to MAJOR/minor exercises found in Burnham’s Dozen A that sound predictable as they march up and down between the tonic and dominant.

The one below, begins on the 7th degree of Major Scale, meandering in chant-ike fashion over a five-finger spread, yet not “feeling” like a traditional, beginner-centered pentascale “position.”

Bartok Mikrokosmos #4

This particular sample challenges a student to begin his transpositions on the “ti” of a scale- (using solfeggio) shifting consciousness away from the usual downbeat DO, or its equally popular Dominant note, SOL. While Do and Sol enjoy high status among the 7 solfeggiated syllables, usually boxed in by fingers 1 and 5, Bartok’s shifting Mikrokosmos melodic landscape invites the ear into new sound regions imbued with rhythmic surprises.

In the lesson segment below, Sam transposes pieces #3 and #4 from Bartok’s Book one. Keys are then assigned for the following week, though impromptu transpositions and sight-reading activities offer more opportunities to develop musical skills.


“Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos Sz. 107, BB 105 consists of 153 progressive piano pieces in six volumes written between 1926 and 1939. The individual pieces progress from very easy and simple beginner études to very difficult advanced technical displays, and are used in modern piano lessons and education. In total, according to Bartók, the piece “appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some cases only partially solved in the previous piano works.” Volumes one and two are dedicated to his son Péter, while volumes five and six are intended as professionally performable concert pieces.[1] Bartók also indicated that these pieces could also be played on other instruments; Huguette Dreyfus for example has recorded pieces from Books 3 through 6 on the harpsichord.

“In 1940, shortly before they emigrated to the United States, he arranged seven of the pieces for two pianos, to provide additional repertoire for himself and his wife Ditta Pásztory-Bartók to play.”


How to Improve Sight-reading


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