Few professional musicians would question the value and usefulness of sight reading, meaning that skill which allows us to play music that we’ve never heard, just from the notation, and without preparation.
As a teacher who allows my students considerable freedom to choose the music they want to learn and bring along to the lesson, I find myself relying on this skill very regularly. And yet some teachers and students treat the development of sight reading as an afterthought, and a rather dull one at that. Compounding the problem, while sight reading has traditionally been an element of public grade exams, it is decreasingly so.
Trinity College London include sight reading as an optional test in their piano grade exams, but some teachers choose only to introduce it with “serious students” after intermediate level, and on the basis that players will at that point miraculously “get it”.
Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm will change with the launch of Trinity’s excellent new series, Sight Reading: A Progressive Method, a suite of three books offering a clear route for teaching sight reading skills from the get-go.
In common with most sight reading resources the series is linked to the grade exams, but happily it goes far beyond specimen tests and basic exam cramming, and can be used as a powerful resource to actually teach and develop sight reading ability.
As Trinity explain,
“The study of sight reading is valuable because it enables musicians to enjoy music that is new to them, either on their own or in a group. As with any other skill, confidence in sight reading comes with training and regular practice.”
So let’s take a look and see how the series can support teachers and students in those aims…
Once in every while a music book arrives on my review desk which is simply too wonderful for words, and yes! this is one of those!
Surprisingly so, perhaps, given that on paper this looks like a rather plain anthology of well-worn diploma repertoire. According to the blurb,
“This unique collection contains 21 pieces from the ATCL repertoire list for Music Performance Diplomas in Piano from 2019. The most popular recital choices join lesser-known treasures, allowing performers to create diverse and compelling programmes, whether preparing for a Trinity diploma or not.”
So you’re possibly wondering what lifts it above the exam jargon and makes it truly special. Let’s find out…
Sometimes, like busses, exam syllabi arrive more than one at a time. If it seems as if it were just last month that I wrote my bumper review of the 2021-2 ABRSM piano syllabus, well… that’s because it was. And now here is the new syllabus from Trinity College London (TCL) …
TCL tell us that this is their biggest ever piano syllabus, so there will be a lot of ground to cover in this bumper review.
Although I am going to integrate my material, I will tackle the review from two perspectives, trying to answer questions and pick up on the headline news for:
existing TCL exam users; and
those considering switching to TCL from ABRSM or another board.
So let’s discover the big stories in the TCL Piano Syllabus 2021-3…
I recently reviewed the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus (please refer to that review here), and now have the opportunity to tell you about an alternative I mentioned in that review, offered by Trinity College London’s Rock & Pop Keyboard exams.
The disclaimers I made when reviewing Rockschool equally apply here: I haven’t entered myself or a student for the actual exams, and this review is based on the syllabus, publications and resources.
I also had the chance to chat to Trinity’s Head of Product Management Julia Martin and Product Support Manager for Music Govind Kharbanda, to whom I am most grateful for talking me through their syllabus and answering my plethora of questions.
As we shall see, the Trinity Rock & Pop offering has much in common with the Rockschool Piano syllabus, but there are also some significant points of departure. Together they occupy a unique space in the market; comparisons are inevitable, but I will aim to keep them for my conclusion!
In the minds of many students (and in the case of children, their parents), two questions are constantly lurking –
How well am I doing? and,
How can I improve?
I believe teachers should routinely answer these questions, but how best to frame those answers? As a general principle I would suggest that pupils will gain confidence if they have a clear, honest perception of their progress, and goals which are detailed and encouraging.
Graded exams can offer one way – and an important framework – for pupils to gain the meaningful, quantative answers that help foster confidence.
While exams are certainly not without their issues, most of the concerns I see raised relate more to their misuse than to their appropriate use.
In this article I will consider both, and offer a personal perspective on some of the most common concerns. And in conclusion, I will try to provide an answer to the question: Graded Exams – Friend or Foe?
Piano Stories from Trinity College London Press is, without doubt, one of the most pleasant surprises to make an appearance in my post-bag recently, and for those who use the Trinity Piano Syllabus with younger children the series is an absolute godsend.