25 Nov 2013

Sight Reading – Gotta Love It!

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The ability to sight read well is one of the most motivating aspects of taking lessons on a private instrument.  I’ve published both a blog article and a student worksheet on why sight reading is awesome, but here’s the breakdown for parents.  Your student should understand that once they can sight read, they can track down any song they want to learn and get started on it.  Reinforce this fact at home and get them excited about it!

Have them make a list of songs they’d like to learn once they’re a great sight reader, and ask them about their progress.  ”Hey how’s the sight reading coming?  When can I look forward to hearing that Bruno Mars song you keep saying you want to learn on your own?”   or  ”Hey so now that you’re sight reading is really getting good, how many Christmas songs do you think you’ll be able to learn next year?”

The only way for students to become fluent sight readers is to do it often.  It really is just like regular reading. Once you learn to read, you don’t abandon the skill and move on to other subjects- you incorporate reading into EVERY other area of study so that students build up a comfort level that allows them to focus on big-picture concepts beyond just vowel sounds and basic words.

Weak readers put words together and form sentences, but strong readers put those sentences together with ease to achieve comprehension.  Sight reading is progressive. It’s an investigation. Students need to be taught to look for obstacles but should be equipped with tools that build confidence in knowing how to overcome those obstacles. You have to hold their hand at the beginning, and this takes time. You have to walk them through it, teach them the steps, ask questions, and oversee how well they are connecting dots. 
If you send a student home with a sight reading regiment without building up the confidence in class that they CAN do it and that sight reading is fun and exploratory, they’re not going to do it at home. Simple as that. 

Some students are more intrinsically motivated to sight read than others.  For the ones who need a little extra push, here’s an idea for parents to use at home:
Invest in some small pebbles, marbles (whatever), and have a sight reading jar.  You could work this in a few ways depending on the child and how you prefer to parent.  Drop a pebble in each time they sight read a line of something for you.  Set a reward or something they can look forward to when the jar is filled up.  If you prefer to avoid the extrinsic “give me something!” route, make them a bet instead.  Have them pick out a song they love, and tell me so I can write out a realistic arrangement of it for them.  Then, “I bet that when this jar is all filled up you’ll be able to play Harry Potter!”

If you’re excited about sight reading and advertise the benefits, your student will follow your lead.   


About the Author

Amber Staffa is a performing arts graduate of Rowan University. She holds a BA in Subject Matter Teaching for K-12, and a BM in Instrumental Music Education with a Piano Concentration, and is currently licensed in the state of NJ.

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