“When pupils can sight-read, not only do they do well in exams but (rather more importantly) it allows them to learn pieces more quickly, which frees up much of our teaching time, allowing us to concentrate on developing the musician. Ultimately, it gives them independence: they are able to learn music on their own – the greatest gift we can give.”
So says best-selling author Paul Harris in the introduction to Improve your sight-reading: Teacher’s Book – latest addition to his ever growing Improve Your Sight-Reading series, just published by Faber Music.
Written to work alongside the well-known, long-published Improve your sight-reading ‘pupil’ books, the Teacher’s Book mirrors the introduction of keys and concepts in those, as well as offering useful tips for teachers.
Most important of all, the Teacher’s Book includes dozens of new progressive practice tests for each of Grades 1-5, which can be used in lessons to complement the use of the pupil books for home practice.
As such, the book offers the potential to elevate what was already a great resource into a more complete sight-reading system which bridges both lesson and home use.
Let’s find out how well it succeeds in this aim…
The existing ‘pupil’ books
I am frequently asked by pupils and parents what they can use at home to help them develop more confidence with sight-reading. Often their immediate concern is that sight-reading is (quite rightly in my opinion) a core component of graded music exams; naturally pupils want to enter the exam room with confidence. But most players also readily understand the significant long-term importance of being able to play at sight, and the value of developing this skill in terms of musical independence.
The resource that I typically recommend above all others is the Improve your sight-reading series. I’ve always felt that this is ideal for pupils working at home, because the material is so carefully and well-structured, and the given instructions are so clear and helpful.
Structured around the syllabus requirements of the ABRSM Grades (there are also alternative versions for those who prefer the TCL syllabus), each book covers one grade, with 8-9 chapters (or ‘Stages’) to cover the new elements required.
Within each chapter, pupils can work through four sections:
- Rhythmic exercises
- Melodic exercises
- Prepared pieces (with questions which help the player spot the most important elements of the piece before launching in)
- Going Solo: actual sight-reading tests suitable for the grade
There is just one hitch in all this – lesson follow up. Put simply, how do I as a teacher monitor each pupil’s progress through their Improve your sight-reading book, and what material do I use for sight-reading within the lesson?
My own answer to that last question is that I have tended to use ABRSM’s own specimen sight-reading books. But of course, these don’t tie in with the Paul Harris books used at home, and I often find myself asking a pupil to sight-read a piece in a key they haven’t yet consciously tried in their work at home. A more joined-up approach is clearly needed …
The Teacher’s Book
Enter the Teacher’s Book, which addresses this issue head on, and does so with exactly the clarity, simplicity and ease one would expect from Paul Harris.
Regarding the book itself, it follows the same format and house style as all the pupil books in the Improve your sight-reading series. The sturdy, glossy card cover contains 56 pages printed on quality white paper, with nicely engraved and well spaced notation and text throughout. There is no reason to doubt that a teacher using this book daily with pupils will find it has a long shelf-life.
The book begins with several pages of advice for teachers about how we can help our pupils build confidence and fluency as sight-readers. For teachers who are unsure about any of this, these pages already justify the cost of the book. But the best is to come:
The main part of the book is taken up with more than 150 new progressive practice tests. For each ABRSM Grade, Paul gives us an overview of the Stages that appear in the pupil’s Improve your sight-reading book, followed by a page of additional material for each of those Stages to use in the lessons.
This material is all, of course, absolutely top notch. And it provides the perfect solution for the teacher who recommends their pupils use the Improve your sight-reading books at home.
For example, we can now introduce a new Stage, suggest that the pupil work through the material in their book at home for a fortnight or month, and then use the material in the Teacher’s Book to assess their progress and identify anything that hasn’t quite sunk in correctly.
I am breathing a huge sigh of relief, because at last I am able to recommend a more comprehensive solution for sight reading practice which offers books for home practice and now a perfectly matched resource for teachers to use in lessons.
And don’t forget Paul’s brilliant A Piece a Week books (reviewed here), also recently added to the growing system of Improve your sight-reading resources.
The Improve your sight-reading series was already an outstanding resource. With the addition of this new Teacher’s book it is quite simply unbeatable.
What we need next is of course a similarly brilliant Grade 6-8 Teacher’s Book!