Sight reading – is it really that useful?

From left to right - Paloma Bruce (Opera singer and singing teacher); and Alice Letts (Piano teacher)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Have you ever been put on the spot before? Have you been given sheet music that you had never seen and asked to play it for an audience? Well, that is exactly what happened to me at the Edge in Soho Square last Saturday. At the time I was at a 30th Birthday party enjoying catching up with old friends from Wellington, NZ.

“hmmmm, this music looks very easy…”

One of my friend’s from Wellington, Paloma, handed me the manuscript for the drinking song, La Traviata. It is one thing to play a piece of music for the first time if you are performing solo, because then you can choose your own timing. In other words, you can play the piece of music a little slower should you choose. However, when you are accompanying an opera singer, it is quite a different matter!

Paloma dedicated the song to Conal, the Birthday boy! Everyone enjoyed our impromptu recital. My husband, who is Italian particularly enjoyed hearing something in his native language. However he did ask me afterwards what was that bass thing I was doing? Our little act turned out to be a musical comedy that was a great success, as part way through Paloma needed to pause to point to me at what stage of the music she was up to. It turned out I was a page behind, and that made everyone laugh. I was at least a roaring success for theatrical comedy.

This incident gave me flashbacks of my old piano exams. It finally made sense to me, what is the purpose behind being examined for sight reading. I can now see that it is indeed extremely useful to practise sight reading, as you never know when you will be asked to play a piece of music you had not previously encountered.

There are many teach yourself piano books and courses on the internet. But if one is serious about learning the piano, they should take lessons with a good piano teacher. The risk of trying to learn the piano alone at home is that one may pick up bad habits and poor technique. There are however some online music resources that may be useful to supplement your learning that you may find interesting.

I’m very excited with my newest discovery from the web, its just amazing what you can find. One of my new favourites is the website from Yoke Wong whose DVD course on how to accompany singers was featured in the issue 44 of the Pianist Magazine. In her website she also offers a DVD course on sightreading, which looks particularly good to me. Another website I found from the same issue of the Pianist Magazine belongs to Paul Harris, and he has a huge assortment of resources for the music enthusiast.

I have recently started teaching the piano to beginners, and my studio is based between Derby and Rotorua, and worldwide utilising technology such as Skype. It has been a few years now since I last attended piano lessons myself. So can you guess what is my 2009 new years resolution? I have decided to go back to piano lessons again for myself to get back to speed with studying Grade 8 and pieces for the Associate Diploma for the Trinity College London (ATCL).  Great fun!

Published by Alice Letts

Online training for parents and children. Online piano and music tutoring. Online tutoring for English as a Second Language (ESOL) with an emphasis on pronunciation. Online meditation coaching for parents and how to incorporate meditation into daily family life.

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