Monday Mailbag – Sight-Reading for Strong-Eared Students

I have a student who is 13 yrs old.  He is extremely passionate about playing the piano and can sit down and create songs by ear, but his reading skills are far behind.  He recognizes this and wants to take the time to learn, but many of the methods seem too young for him and I don’t think the “older beginner” methods will work either.  Do you have any students at this age?  If so, what do you find works the best?  He is homeschooled so he seems more advanced than your typical 13 year old; I want to make sure that he doesn’t start out frustrated.   Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!

Do I have students like this? Ha! I think a conspiracy has been plotted against this can-hardly-play-by-ear teacher to load my studio with 13-year old play-by-ear students! 🙂 Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I do have a handful of students who are pretty close to the above description. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Keep encouraging their ear! One way to do this is through the Any Song Assignment. Lots of fun!
  2. If you want to avoid the method books, just start giving the student easy level supplemental books that they can play through. The best way to improve sight-reading skills is by doing lots of it! And there are so many great books available now that you can easily find repertoire at increasing levels of difficulty that a student can work through.
  3. Check out the Across the C’s series of sight-reading worksheets that I developed several years ago. It’s a completely different approach to sight-reading, but draws heavily on principles of landmark and intervallic reading.
  4. The Notes in the Fast Lane series by Susan Paradis is fabulous!
  5. One thing I’m trying this year is using sight-singing as a way to build sight-reading skills. I can’t weigh in yet on its effectiveness, but I have high hopes!
  6. Sometimes having the student notate their original compositions or arrangements is a great way to help them develop sight-reading skills in reverse. It tends to make them much more aware of details in the score and reaffirms the value of learning to read music well. I give my students a special manuscript book that they can use for this purpose.

I’m sure this is an area that is common to many of us teachers. Do you have students who fit the above description? What effective approaches have you found to help them learn to read music well?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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