We all want sight reading music at festivals to be effective and free of surprises. Often simple changes lead to big results when sight reading at festivals!
The past two weeks have been all about sight reading music for me. I just finished two amazing days judging the sight reading portion for Music Performance Assessment Festival at the Santa Fe Schools. I had also just finished sight reading at festivals with my own groups the week before.
Having the two experiences back to back was so helpful. It allowed me to see things from both perspectives. It allowed me the time to step back and examine different groups and what made them successful. So here are my highly subjective observations about making small changes that will improve your festival sight reading score.
How to Make Sight Reading Music at Festivals More Effective
Make Classroom Sight Reading Practice Harder Than The Level at Festival
All educators know that sight reading needs to be a level below the playing level of the students. Here is the thing – performing at festival is very different than sight reading in a practice room. When nerves strike, you can expect anything to happen. The students need to be in environment where they feel a sense of safety. For that reason, you want your class to sight read at the festival one level BELOW THEIR CLASSROOM LEVEL! In other words the classroom preparation needs to be harder than what they would get at festival.
This is the only way you would have a guarantee for things going smoothly. All the groups who performed well and got a 1 rating had a sense of “this is easy for us”. The pice was not just at their level, It was slightly below.
The only way that can happen is to make sure to keep up with sight reading in the classroom. AND progressively make the sight reading selections more difficult.
So if your plan is for your groups to be able to read Level 1 music at the festival, make sure that in the classroom they get to the point they can comfortably read Level 2 consistently.
Be Careful About Rhythm Changes Between the Sections
As we all know, rhythm is much more important when sight reading music. I have gotten to observe quite a few groups now. ALL the groups who made a mistake at their sight reading had a similar problem- as the students were not aware of the score, once they felt that another section changed their rhythm they felt unsure if they are playing the right rhythms. They all made a mistake not because they didn’t know what to play, but because of that hesitation. That hesitation sometimes lead to intonation problems. In other situations it lead to the students getting lost in the score. To prevent that consider:
- Let your students know about what you see in the score to prepare them.
- Practice rhythm changes and staying confident when a different section plays something else.
- It is important that your classroom sight reading preparation has lots of opportunities to practice reading different parts. Some sight reading books and exercises are almost entirely in unison. While this is a good first step, you need to branch out of it as well.
- The above considerations can only work when the first tip is in place- practicing in the classroom needs to be more difficult than what the students would get at festival.
- We are coming to the next helpful tip – clap the parts!
Don’t Forget Clapping when Preparing the Students for Sight Reading Music
Most music festivals would give the music director about 10 min to prepare the music for the sight reading piece. Within this time the students can clap, sing, etc. They however cannot play on their instrument. All of us music teachers have different ways to have students internalize the notes and rhythms before they play.
Observing more than 50 groups do this in a different way, clapping seemed to be the one element that worked best in the time of pressure.
Why? It gets the students engaged right away. It also helps students hear the other parts as they are clapping. It integrates all elements of pre-reading.
So do what you usually do to prepare your students BUT also make sure they clap either the whole sight reading selection or the key sections.
There is No Way Around Consistency When Sight Reading Music
There is just no way around this! No matter how you prepare the kids, no matter what your teaching plan is, there is no better way than simply doing it.
Start sight reading music practice at the very beginning of the school year, not a month before your music festival. Make sure you do something connected to sight reading music with your students for a few minutes every day. The more sight reading your students do, the better they will get.
This is something I observed for my groups this year in comparison to the last. It was quite a hectic year and I simply did less sight reading with my most advanced group. As a result, I felt less confident in the sight reading room. My students are quite strong players, but they did make small mistakes non of us expected. These mistakes were easily avoidable.
Improve Your Intonation Score
This could be very tricky. Intonation is usually a category on the orchestra sight reading music judging sheets. No matter how well the students read, their general intonation skills will affect the score. This is especially tricky at the middle school level where students are still developing their basics.
Keep practicing scales in order for your students to learn the tonal center of a given piece.
It matters how comfortable the students feel with the finger patterns. This goes back to the first tip. If the students have done scales and work on D Major for years, seeing a piece in d Major would be easy for them. You can then transfer that knowledge into more difficult keys.
Intonation can be quite tricky. I have a few more posts coming on the subject. Stay tuned. It would also be incredibly helpful if you share specific questions or struggles you have had with intonations for younger students/ Please share in the comments or drop me an email.
The Festival Is Not Over Until The Sight Reading Is Over
Many students get relaxed right after their festival performance and before they enter the sight reading music room. This leads to problems.
Be careful About Overstepping Your Boundaries at the Festival
Your score is at the hands of the judge. At this point you have done everything needed to prepare your students. This is the time to simply be patient, composed and do your best!
The posts in this blog are meant to have helpful tips. And others are more personal in nature. So with the personal side in mind I am writing a post on some of the things that I have seen during festivals. You can read the post here. And very likely that I have been one of these teachers at one time or another. Yet, we ALL need to be careful about overstepping our boundaries when at music festivals.