The guessing game of sight-reading

Have you ever had a music student who tends to guess when sight-reading?

Many years ago I taught a new learner who was what you might call a ‘lazy sight-reader’. They pretty much guessed the notes, hitting a piano key and hoping it was correct rather than working it out properly.

Frustrating, right?

I found that if I corrected them as they were playing this made it worse! Relying on me, they probably thought, “oh if I go wrong my teacher will tell me, so I don’t need to think too hard for myself!”.

With piano there is often a point where a student will run out of fingers and realise they have gone wrong somewhere. Letting them hit that brick wall and realise, “oops what have I done here!” can sometimes be a more valuable learning exercise than the teacher pointing out the mistake immediately.

My first strategy was to cut out any correcting while they played. We talked about it afterwards instead so I was no longer their personal “mistake prompter”! The student had to take on some of that responsibility instead and it immediately cut out some of the guessing.

My second was to come up with ways to get them more invested and actually want to play the sight-reading exercise right. To find a way to motivate and inspire.

I decided to turn it into a game. The following two ideas are really simple and easy to implement.

‘Reading Roller’ only needs a dice and a sight-reading exercise of your choice. Roll the dice and your student has to make fewer mistakes than the number on the dice to win. If you haven’t already discovered Google Dice, it’s a really useful tool for generating a random number and the dice number can be bigger than six. You could also ask Alexa or an equivalent to give you a number!

‘Counting Champ’ can be played over several weeks and is a fun sight-reading challenge. Put a sight-reading exercise in front of your student and keep a tally of mistakes made (you could limit this to note accuracy or alternatively mark both rhythm and notes – to suit the individual student). Students have to beat their previous score. You could even set a target to reach.

By far the biggest impact in my studio, however, has come from a roaring lion and a collection of cute garbage bins! It’s amazing how much more invested a student is in getting the notes right when there is a game involved.

Games like ‘Don’t Wake Lenny’ and ‘Garbage Monsters’ are fully customisable by the teacher. The notes are draggable up or down the stave, so perfect if a student has only learnt a few notes up to those who know all the lines and spaces. Set the notes you want to test and once the student has played them on their instrument, choose a score using the in-built tools. This is added to the overall game score giving extra motivation to really focus on getting the notes correct!

Check out the demo for Treasure in the Desert on my Facebook page and let me know if you have any questions.

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