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to think that the piano teacher should teach DD sight reading before exam...

(29 Posts)
Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 10:46:35

My DD (10) has been learning piano for 3 years with the same piano teacher, who she really likes.

She did her grade 1 two years ago and got a distinction. Went into exam confidently and loved the experience. She then did her grade 2 a year ago but only got 10 (out of 19) for her sight reading, so despite a 29 (out of 30) for one of her pieces and distinction level in everything else, she got a merit overall. Again, v confident in the exam and happy with the merit (as I was).

So...she has her grade 3 exam in 3 weeks time and her piano teacher is now saying that she is going to fail her sight reading again. The teacher says that all else is distinction level, but that she is 'hopeless' at sight reading. My DD has now become really anxious about the whole thing - says she is too nervious to think when at her lesson and that she is now really nervous about the exam. Yesterday when I picked her up from her lesson her teacher said that she is making lots of mistakes in everything now and in her view it is just an age thing and that she needs to do more practice at home on sight reading.

She practices her sight reading regularly, but I have no musical ability so cannot tell if it is right or not. I am a single parent so no other help at home.

AIBU to think that the piano teacher should be helping her with this, or at least building her confidence with only 3 weeks to go?

ps anyone know of a good piano teacher in the Chichester area????

Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 10:47:45

Meant to say that I would be happy with a pass, so no pressure from me for a distinction...

Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 10:54:30

Sorry, also meant to say that the teacher only started on the sight reading 2 weeks ago, dispute the problem at grade 2 and that the 'teaching' seems to consist of asking her to play the piece from the book and then telling her that she got it wrong...

whackamole Thu 20-Oct-11 10:59:42

YAB a bit U. Only with regards to your last comment though - because that is what sight reading is! You get shown a piece, can't practice it (IIRC) and then have to play it as best you can straight away.

However the teacher should have addressed this before, but it is hard to know whether they have, but haven't mentioned it as specific 'sight reading practice' or if he/she is just popping a piece of music in front of DD and telling her to have a go.

It may very well just be that she is not great at it. I wasn't, I always fell down at that part of the exam - it is extremely nerve-wracking even just in front of the teacher let alone the examiner!

Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 11:02:15

The problem is that she does not seem to know the basics of music notation. For example she does not know what the sharp symbol is. She plays extremely well by ear so I think that she has 'got away' with not being able to read music thus far...

DontCallMeFrothyDragon Thu 20-Oct-11 11:02:21

She should have started teaching the sight reading a long time ago. :/

By sight reading, you mean the "that note's a c, a, etc"? Right? I learnt that when I first started lessons.

I can't remember the rhymes my old teacher taught me, mind.I gave up my lessons 14 years ago.

Just a side note... DMother can't play by ear. DFather can't sight read. Both are amazing on their respective instruments, mind

Deliaskis Thu 20-Oct-11 11:05:29

Hmmm...having had piano lessons from the age of 8 to 18 and done all my exams, I would say, it is very hard to actually 'teach' sight-reading as such, in fact I don't know how you would do it.

You can make recommendations, e.g. check you know the key signature (flats/sharps) and the time signature, 'skim read' it before attempting, don't forget to look at dynamics, etc. but the point of sight-reading is just that, you see it, and play it straight away. Exam sight-reading pieces are in any case completely fake made-up passages with lots of accidentals so it's harder than just picking up a book of well known songs and playing them as they're not usually very 'natural' sounding tunes.

And so doing sight-reading practice is really the only thing you can do to get better at this.

The only 'teaching' of sight-reading that I remember was a couple of weeks before the exam just playing a couple of practice sight-reading passages.

FWIW sight-reading is harder on the piano than on other instruments IMO, as the two hands are often doing completely separate things so it can be two thought processes (until you're really good and it's all just natural), it can be a bit like the patting head/rubbing stomach thing, whereas sight-reading on my other instruments was always just one thought process, so always easier, IME.

The teacher should be more encouraging though and should be better at raising confidence this close to the exam. At this stage, I would suggest trying to help her to forget about the exam a bit - just have a couple days where she plays, but just plays for fun, then hopefully she will come back to her exam pieces with a fresh head.


Deliaskis Thu 20-Oct-11 11:07:43

Oops x-post, I wrote all that before you said she doesn't seem to know the basics of music notation. If that's the case, then yes there is a bit of a problem and YANBU. Is she not doing theory alongside the practical (not necessarily exams, but the theory books)?


Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 11:08:04

Her teacher has said that she needs to do at least half an hour sight reading a day during half term, but this is just making her anxious so am going to just let her play what she wants over half term and go back to the sight reading exercises after the holiday. DD sets herself very high standards, so some of the pressure is coming from her..

Sticklebug Thu 20-Oct-11 11:08:52

Deliaskis x post again

No, she has done no theory at all. I have just ordered some books on line so will try and help her myself...

somebloke123 Thu 20-Oct-11 11:12:30

It certainly sounds a bit remiss of the teacher only to start so recently. On the other hand if she has been achieving distinction level in all other parts maybe the teaching is OK otherwise? Does your daughter get on well with her?

Perhaps you could specifically ask the teacher to do a bit of sight reading with her each week from now on (if you decide to stick with her that is) , though obviously it's a bit late to make much difference for this exam.

It's good that she's practising sight reading at home. What music is she using for this? It might be worth getting hold of some really easy pieces - perhaps at a lower level than even the exam sight reading pieces - and preferably music that she likes (pop, rock, jazzy stuff - absolutely anything).

If she's playing stuff that is well within her capabilities this might get her used to the feeling of success, and also imbue her with a posistive feeling about sight reading itself as something which enables her to explore new music that she enjoys anyway. There's nothing more dispiriting than struggling through uninspiring sight reading tests and tripping up every other note.

By the way although 10/19 is a fail, it's not disastrous. If I remember correctly the pass mark is 67% so she's not far short.

Anyway best of luck with Grade 3 ...

shagmundfreud Thu 20-Oct-11 11:12:45

I thought learning to sight read and learning to play went hand in hand.

My 8 year old has been playing for a year and is just about to take grade one.

His teacher gets him to choose a piece of his own to prepare most weeks, and one they have done together in the lesson, so he spends quite a lot of time having to work out the notation of a piece without an adult standing over him. His sight reading is excellent.

Can you not buy some sight reading tests and get your dd to practice? If they are the appropriate grade there shouldn't be anything in there she hasn't covered with her teacher.

grovel Thu 20-Oct-11 11:15:10

What you are describing is very typical for your DD's age so I don't think it's a real cause for concern. My DS only really got to grips with sight-reading when he took up the sax (much easier, as Deliakis points out). Having "got it" with the sax he became much more confident on the piano.

ThePopsicleKat Thu 20-Oct-11 11:16:41

FrothyDragon - sight reading is when they present you with a piece that you haven't seen before and they mark you on how well you can play it there and then, so different from just being able to read music.

Deliaskis Thu 20-Oct-11 11:17:06

I would definitely ask her teacher about doing some theory then (or as you say start it yourself, although it might be hard if you don't have any knowledge, but you could learn together). I found the theory made lots of other things make sense (like why we bothered doing different kinds of scales and arpeggios etc.), and has definitely contributed to my enjoyment of playing and singing over the years. Plus if she wants to continue exams, then from memory, if she's doing ABRSM, she won't be able to go beyond grade 5 as I think you need to have grade 5 theory to do the other grades practical (although it might have changed). I know that's a long way off, and she might not even want to continue with exams that far, but if she does, it's certainly easier to learn the theory hand in hand with the practical than having to do it in a big lump at grade 5, plus it will help her playing (and sight-reading!) between now and then anyway.


singinggirl Thu 20-Oct-11 11:18:38

As a piano teacher I am shocked that she has done no theory - this seriously holds children back, since you cannot take any Grades higher than Grade 5 without passing Grade 5 theory! I recommend the Trinity Guildhall theory book, they have clear explanations and are much more user friendly that ABRSM ones. Have yuou looked at the joining the dots books for sight-reading? I do agree though, that the best thing short term will be confidence boosting though. If she is doing ABRSM, remind her that she will get 7 marks for sightreading just for having a go - even if all the notes are wrong! You can find the titles I mention on, and many other courses as well. Good luck to your DD - as someone who enters lots of people for exams (20 in the last twelve months), I have many people who struggle with one particular area, and who can still score highly because of their other strengths, I hope she continues to enjoy playing.

Deliaskis Thu 20-Oct-11 11:21:41

Sorry, would also echo what grovel says about sight-reading being hard and probably the most 'dreaded' bit of exams at this kind of stage. But it does sort of click into place a bit as you move on. I think I was about 12 (maybe grade 4-5ish) when I started to just pick up music and have a bash at it for fun, without worrying about not having learnt each hand separately.


Bramshott Thu 20-Oct-11 11:24:50

The worst thing is for her to get worried about it. If this were my DD (who is nearly 9 and learns piano) I would try over half term to:
- tell her not to worry, that many people find sight-reading hard, and that it only counts for a small number of the marks in the exam
- that said, she should always have a go - you get a certain number of marks for just trying it
- help her to work on her sightreading by looking at lots of new pieces (maybe from some of her earlier piano books)
- suggest that before she plays a new piece, she takes a minute to look it over, working out what time signature it's in, what key its in, how fast it goes etc. It might even be helpful to clap it through quietly.

Deliaskis Thu 20-Oct-11 11:29:26

Really good info/advice from singinggirl and Bramshott particularly re getting marks just for having a go, so if she does that, and gets even some of the notes right, then she is doing great. Also might be worth pointing out to her that exam sight-reading passages often sound a bit untuneful and with not very nice chords, and so if she plays it and it doesn't sound very good, don't panic, it doesn't mean it's wrong. Just thinking that if she thinks she's messed it up she might not be able to focus on the rest of the exam, so just remind her to have a go, try not to worry, and to keep it moving forward (i.e. don't go back to try and correct things), and that's plenty to get more than the 7 marks.


notimetotidy Thu 20-Oct-11 11:33:30

Stupid question, but have you taken her for an eye test recently? If she can play after practising pieces a few times she is maybe memorising them as she goes and playing by ear. My DS was amazed when he got his glasses last year and his playing improved immediately because as he says the the notes stopped blurring into each other. He said that words only did this a little bit in books but not so much that he thought anything of it. I noticed that when he got new music it was always horrendously bad but got better with practise. It was only after one really awful rendition of Yankee Doodle that I decided to take him for an eye test. I can tell you there is nothing as bad as bum notes on a trumpet!

Overcooked Thu 20-Oct-11 11:41:56

When I did this when I was at school they had a kind of space invaders game you could play to help. The notes came along on thier lines and you had to press the key of their letter before it reached you and blew you up - now this was a long time ago but I would imagine that there is a similar thing around now.

FWIW it helped me crack sight reading in both bass and treble cleff.

DeWe Thu 20-Oct-11 11:49:41

According to dd1's (very experienced) piano teacher:
Some piano teachers choose to teach playing by ear, because it is easier at first and they appear to progress faster. They then hit a point where to progress then need to learn the theory, even sometime learn how to read music. Often the children give up at this point because it seems too much of a backward step for them to take. This method is often used by teachers who don't expect to take a child beyond a particular point. (eg teaching at primary school).

This is why when we were looking for a piano teacher dh (who plays grade 8 standard and sight reading was his favourite bit... free marks for no practice he said) the first question he asked was did they do theory at the same time as practical.

Dd1 did grade 3 last summer and is about 3/4 way through the grade 3 theory book. She does a little theory at most lessons. But she is nervous at sight reading (both piano and singing) so we got her a book (off ebay) with sight reading exercises in.

valiumredhead Thu 20-Oct-11 11:55:26

My teacher says the same DeWe I started about 8 months ago and she explained that she could teach me very quickly but I would hit a brick wall later on OR she could teach me theory properly. She also said not teaching theory early on was a sure fire way of pupils wanting to give up after a certain point.

ShellingPeas Thu 20-Oct-11 12:01:59

For practical ways of improving sight-reading try the Paul Harris "Improve your Sight-reading" series of books - these are graded (published by Faber Music and support the ABRSM syllabus). I use these with my pupils and they are invaluable for teaching the basics of how to sight-read. Of course the more you play music you don't know the better you get at it too. Sight-reading is usually set at 2 grades below so if sitting grade 3, find grade 1 or prelim pieces.

One thing to think about is that at the early grades the examiner will be looking for a steady overall pulse or beat to the music, rather than note perfect playing. So if you have the 7 marks for attempting it, then add another couple for keeping a steady beat throughout the piece - you will score better than if you hesitate, speed up and slow down or go back and correct mistakes. Add in some dynamics and take notice of any musical instructions e.g. allegro, andante or the name of the piece to give an idea of how it should be played and you'd pick up more marks.

I'd agree that many children of this age tend to play by ear and memory rather than reading the notes. You could try flashcards, or there are on-line games for improving note name recall. Also writing music, making up your own tunes and putting down in note form will help with reading.

valiumredhead Thu 20-Oct-11 12:11:08

I wish I could play by ear - I have to read every.single.note. <sigh>

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