Sight Reading Duos

It seems so obvious, but I'd never thought to do it.

Mary and Dora after sight reading together.

I had created pages and pages of Sight Reading Flashcards. But I'd never used them with more than one student at a time. At one of my group classes last Saturday, I had three girls about the same age of varying abilities and with quite different strengths.

I asked them to sight read some of the flashcards with one of them playing the right hand and one playing the left. The process was fascinating.

Even in the short time they did them, there was discernible progress in their rhythm and reading. Their skills were solidifying almost before my eyes.

One thing I really loved about this was the way they taught each other. Their good playing rubbed off on each other. I did almost nothing but ask questions when something went wrong.

Here are just some of the skills they were learning:

  • Music Reading
  • Following along and waiting their turn
  • Patience when another student had a problem
  • Listening and looking for patterns

We did it in a Round-Robin style - one student started playing the right hand, then switched to the left hand as a new student rotated in. 

A brilliant symphony pianist once told me the most important thing to practice sight reading is conventional patterns. "The weird stuff," he said, "You can't predict that. So you gotta be great at the stuff where you can see patterns."

The most telling thing about this happened halfway through class. Mary asked if they could watch the video they'd just made. I said, "Sure," and we started.

We'd watched about five seconds when Mary blurted out, "Can we just DO some more sight reading? That's way more fun!"

Here's Mary playing Popcorn Clouds, a piece I wrote for her earlier this year.

The first page of  Popcorn Clouds .

The first page of Popcorn Clouds.

Popcorn Clouds  comes with Preparing to Play Teaching Tips to help you teach it successfully.

Popcorn Clouds comes with Preparing to Play Teaching Tips to help you teach it successfully.

Flash Forward: These are Your Students

Sruti playing at my adult student class at the home of my student, Dave. 

They'd all brought dessert. Every last one of them. I'd forgotten to suggest some of them bring appetizers so we had a plethora of sweets. That was the only thing that went wrong, though. Otherwise, the afternoon was wonderful.

I write often about the kids I teach. I don't write as much about the adults. I teach about a dozen adult students, and they are equally rewarding in quite different ways.

Too many wonderful desserts.

Last Sunday I realized that I'd had the pleasure of teaching only one of these performers as a high school student. And even she had been a transfer from my dear friend, Keith Snell. (We should all be that lucky!)  All the rest of them came to me as adults. They'd been taught by teachers I'd never met. Teachers who'd taught them about sharps and flats, about making a melody sing and how to play in time. Far more important, though, these teachers fostered a love of music. These adult students, these doctors and engineers, want to make music. They know that they will never find anything else that will give them the same satisfaction. The same way to express themselves.

To the teachers out there doing their best every day, remember that what you do is important. It matters.

As you watch this video, imagine each of these students is one of the little boys or girls in your studio - all grown up. Maybe it's the girl who makes you want to pull your hair out sometimes. Or the boy who brings a tear to your eye with a beautiful phrase. Because somewhere, five years ago, or fifteen years ago, or sixty years ago (yes, Dave is 84 now and still taking piano lessons!) a teacher taught these musicians that I teach today. And somewhere five years, or twenty years in the future, someone may feel about you just the way I feel about these former teachers.

To those teachers I will never have the pleasure of meeting, I say "Thank you for making music a joyous, meaningful part of these lives. Thank you for teaching."

Did you know that almost every piece of standard piano literature has been recorded and is available for instant digital download? Ever wished you had a recording of a piece from the Burgmüller Opus 100, or a single piece from the Anna Magdalena Bach Book? You can have one right now! These recordings are also available on iTunes.