Sight Reading Research – Marion Wood

Marion will be presenting a session on her sight-reading research at the Kodály Summer School 2016.

How do we read music? Music Psychologists have puzzled over why some people become better sight-readers than others, particularly at the piano. Whilst Kodaly-related materials provide careful step by step approaches for singing, one outcome of which is excellent sight-reading, there are few comparable programs for the Piano when it is taught in isolation. The frustration that goes with the struggle to master the notation is a significant factor in students giving up the Piano, or sometimes music altogether.

In this session, I will discuss the results of sight-reading experiments that asked intermediate and excellent pianists to look at three pitches when they appeared on a computer screen and play them as fast as possible on a keyboard. After many repetitions, using both clefs in turn, and changing the key signature approximately every 80 trials, some very interesting patterns emerged.

It seems that we can separate features of piano sight-reading into two general groups: those that have to do with understanding and recognising the fundamental structures of music, and those that result directly from the way music is written down. The Kodaly approach forms an excellent basis for general musicianship, and consequently contributes to good sight-reading, but drawbacks of the actual written notation have been little-studied until now, and are surprisingly evident even in the most accomplished sight-readers of all backgrounds.

Can we use this knowledge to improve the process of learning to sight-read at the Piano (and other instruments)? Or can we begin to adapt our strategies to the particular strengths and weaknesses of different students? Both simple and more radical(!) strategies will be discussed.