One of the presenters at the CFMTA "Music Inspires" Teachers' Convention, Alessandra DeCienzo, gave an inspiring presentation called, "Love at First Sight". She shared several ideas and activities that she has used in her studio to improve sight-reading.
One of the ideas was a year-round sight-reading challenge. Each week, students would have a sight-reading assignment. Exam students participated in a less strenuous variation of this, completing their sight-reading assignments at their leisure.
I decided to do a variation of her weekly challenge this year. Instead of running it year-round, I have set four stages, which take place in October, December, February and April. That gives all of us a one-month reprieve to explore other areas.
All of us (yes, me too!) have a pin on my game board:
How the Sight-Reading Challenge Works
We all are starting approximately four levels below our current playing level. It is my hope that my students will be able to comfortably sight-read music at their current playing level by April, or get to one level below it. In the process, I also hope that my slower readers will be able to "level up".
This month, I have been assigning spooky music for sight-reading. My students have the option to officially learn the music once they've "cleared" the sight-reading challenge for a piece. Like Alessandra DiCienzo's students, my students are to play the piece once per practice, without any pauses or corrections.
If they can do that at their next lesson, then they've cleared the challenge of the week and move onto the next one. Some of my students are still on the first challenge, while others are already working on a bonus challenge.
As for incentives, they are working for treats. If they clear only one assignment in the month, they get a small candy. If they complete their four and choose up to three extra songs to do for the bonus challenge, they will the equivalent of a giant chocolate bar.
Repertoire Selection for the Sight-Reading Challenge
Selecting the pieces for the sight-reading challenge has been an adventure and a chore. Thankfully, Alessandra shared some excellent links. Plus I have a growing list of online music teaching resources to draw from. Here are some of them: IMSLP Petrucci Music Library, Wikifonia, Susan Paradis Piano Teaching Resources, G Major Music Theory and Debbie Dee. I keep track of my selections on a spreadsheet saved on Google Drive, complete with the URL's.
In December, we will explore seasonal music: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. We'll either do romantic or wintry music in February and spring-themed music in April.
I have found that this is a great way to introduce students to different styles of music, cultures and different notation (i.e., standard versus a lead sheet or a sheet of chords). In this way, I hope that my students learn that sight-reading doesn't have to be a chore. It can be an exciting adventure.