PracticePrompt Blog

An Extreme Sight-Reading Pre-study Checklist!

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on January 31, 2012

We are used to the idea of “Extreme Sports” so how about an “Extreme Sight-Reading Pre-study” Checklist? ¬†ūüėČ

Lately I’ve ¬†formalised my sight-reading practice into two tasks: firstly an away from the piano pre-study task of around 20 minutes. ¬† Secondly the play through at the piano.

The aim of the pre-study of the score is to really suck out as much information as possible.   This is completed prior to sitting down and playing through the piece at the piano.   I think that this skill is one aspect of what good sight-readers do intuitively and quickly.

To help this process, I started writing a check list of things that I must look for in the score during the pre-study. ¬† In recent weeks this has now evolved into the “Sight-Reading Pre-study Checklist” shown here and which has gone through several cycles of revision.

My experience using this has been very positive in that it helps to grasp and assimilate the score and keep focus during the pre-study of the piece. ¬†What has also been an eye-opener, is writing out the notes, staffs, scales runs, chords and so forth on the blank staffs I’ve put in the checklist. ¬† This greatly helps with the decoding of for example, the highest or lowest notes on each staff and those in particular with lots of ledger lines.

I’m finding it’s currently taking around about 20 minutes to go through a simple Grade 2 piece (ABRSM).¬†¬†¬† I’ve also noticed that the number of problems encountered during the “real” play through at the piano have reduced (and so I have dropped the ‘at the piano’ ¬†study task to 3 minutes).¬†¬† Any problems are noted down afterwards. ¬†The completed forms for each sight-read piece are available for¬†subsequent¬†review.

Further details and a link to a PDF of the checklist can be found  in the full article.  The checklist is in an evolutionary state and your thoughts, ideas and comments are most welcome!



Sight-Reading Test (4) 20110409

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on April 9, 2011


Today I took my fourth in a series of D.I.Y sight-reading tests using ABRSM specimen tests.¬† You can find the previous three listed under the “Sight reading” category on the right….

 So what happend?


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A new year – a new beginning

Posted in Deliberate Practice by elwynrees on January 2, 2011

Last year has been a bit of an “annus horibilis”.¬†¬†¬†Early in the year I started getting numbness in my left hand little pinkie, this worsened eventually affected my outer side of my ¬†left hand with the fourth and fifth fingers¬†becoming less than useless.¬†¬†¬†¬†All last years plans¬† for learning advanced pieces went out the window!¬†¬†¬† I effectively took¬†nearly two months off (with just a couple of practice sessions).¬† I focussed on conservative treatment and stretching/stengthening exercises.¬†¬† All of this seemed to help¬†greatly.¬†¬†¬†I continue with these exercises as often as¬†I¬†can remember¬†but try to do four or five sessions weekly.¬†¬† These involve stretching exercises for golfer’s elbow, cubital & carpal tunnel and a couple of strengthing exercises using hand weights.

The time away from piano¬†provided an opportunity for a re-think.¬†¬†Upon return, I started working on sight-reading and completing¬†learning all the scales around¬†the circle of fifths.¬†¬†¬†¬† Now I wish I’d¬†taken this approach when I first returned to piano several years ago.¬†¬† Still, better late than never.¬†¬†

The sight-reading has been incredibly interesting.¬†¬† It’s gone off the boil a bit¬†over the Xmas period, but hoping to get back into it ASAP.¬†¬† Sight-reading lots of easy material has been very useful, but studying pieces¬†1 level above the sight-reading level has been very revealing.¬†¬† These are like a mini-audit of¬†abilities, and completing¬†one piece a week has covered a lot of¬†ground (compared to my former approach of spending months on a single piece).¬†¬† This has revealed technical¬†weaknesses¬†in my left hand in particular.

Lately then, I’ve been focussed on lots of technique: scales,¬†a Hanon¬†(no 5) and some of my own making to improve my left hand and the¬†weak fouth finger in particular.¬†¬† All this work being done to a metronome.¬†¬†¬† For¬†a while I think I was too focussed on just being able to ratchet up the tempo regularly.¬†¬†¬†¬†Whilst this has greatly improved, its not the key focus (which is increasing control and dexterity,¬†of the left hand).¬† Alternatively, perhaps I’ve completed¬†“phase one” of getting scales and the Hanon to a metronome setting of 76 (four notes per click).¬†¬†¬†

My philosophy now is to treat all these exercises like learning to speak a language fluently (I’m still struggling with just one).¬†¬†¬†What I mean is to¬†completely internalise the skill and play with the brain.¬†¬†¬†I completed¬†30 cycles¬†scales¬†around the circle of fifths, but for many that were new I was¬†“working out” each minor scale from the relative major.¬†¬† Now¬†I try to anticipate the notes each time before playing.¬† I’ve even gone back to playing 1 octave of quarter notes with one finger, but trying to visualise the scales first.¬†¬†¬†Lately I’ve been playing quarter notes (1 octave), eighth notes (2 octaves) and then sixteenth notes (2 or 3 octaves) with several repeats, first¬†HS then HT and then playing with rhythms and alternating stacatto/legato.¬†¬†¬†¬†During the last 6-7 months, the study task time for this has increased from 15 to 30 minutes.¬†¬†¬†In addition, I have one focussed task to¬†work on the current “worst scale”.

The Hanon exercise (I’m only doing one) has been a revelation.¬† Hanon/Czerny exercises seem to get a lot of¬†crticism and it’s been useful to default to this camp and take the “I learn technique from doing pieces”.¬†¬† I now don’t believe this to work.¬†¬†¬† It just seems so sensible to work on the technical building blocks that are the basis for all pieces, rather than struggle with them in situ.¬†¬† When young,¬†¬†my piano teacher gave me Czerny exercises (101) which¬†I didn’t enjoy.¬†¬† But I can see the point in musicless Hanon, where you learn fluency in generic finger patterns (which is my primary left hand weakness overall).

In many ways, this has been a bit like starting over and¬†I’m enjoying the sense of doing it¬†“properly”¬†for once!

Sight-Reading Test (3) 201001124

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on November 24, 2010

Today I took my third in a series of sight-reading tests using ABRSM specimen tests for grades 1-3, so has there been any progress?


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Sight-Reading Test (2) 20100925

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on September 25, 2010

        Today I took my second sight reading  test. 

So have I stood still or has there been some progress?


Sight-Reading test (1) 20100829

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on August 30, 2010

Took my first sight reading “test”.¬† This was to set a base line and get a more objective view of just how bad I am at it. Read on for the grizzly details…


A Change of Tack…

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on August 21, 2010

A change of tack seems to have occurred of late.¬†¬† I have caught a “back-to-basics” sight-reading bug.¬†¬†¬†Some¬†¬†thoughts and ideas, and the usual philosophical ramblings follow.¬†¬†

A method (Dr Dianne Hardy’s) for improving sight-reading is described and a DIY approach outlined…¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†


Sight-reading: YouTube Tutorials, Notes and Thoughts

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on August 14, 2010

There are many piano tutorials on¬†YouTube and¬†¬† I started reviewing some of these.¬†¬† You can find a¬†collection of ¬†these and a summary of their key points and my thoughts and strategy in the full article… (more…)