Topic: Sight Reading Problem

I have a student that has difficulty in sight reading.  I will try describing it best I can. If anyone has the slightest idea of what is going on here please contact me.

When she plays something for the first time she'll play several wrong notes even very slowly. This happens even when she has worked on an exercise for awhile.  She has to play something over and over again to actually  memorize the notes instead of just reading them in order to play a passage correctly and even then there will be a wrong note here and there.  She seems to get lost in the notes and cannot focus well enough to play them correctly. Is this a focusing problem?  She seems to get really stuck with certain groups of notes, not all. Scales and arpeggios seem to be ok for the most part. It is an exerecise or technical peice where she has the greatest difficulty.  Take a piece of music say in B major; she will begin playing the piece and for no apparent reason play a G natural or a D natural instead of the sharp.  Why I ask?  She doesn't know; her finger just automatically goes to the natural and cannot remember that the piece is in 5 sharps.  Dbl sharps/flats or accidentals are a problem. She'll foget the f dbl sharp a couple notes later.   It's like she looking at  the notes but NOT seeing them.  Are they not regestering or processing fast enough in order for her to play them correctly?  She does not have this problem in reading words in a sentance. She reads fine.  But when reading music she just simply cannot play all the notes correctly even in a technical piece that she has worked on for a good while. ?  She can only read the notes that she is actually playing and make mistakes there too. She cannot read ahead because she can't remember the notes immediately behind so she has to play one note at a time so to speak.  A very frustrating problem. She has a great sound, makes great reeds and has a lot of talent.  Just this problem.  She also has seen her optomitrist describing her problem and wears corrective glasses so it is not an eye problem the Dr. states. Have I described it enough for anyone to recognize?  Thanks. 
Charles

Last edited by ALaubin800 (2007-09-04 08:01:52)

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

Charles,

I have two students who sound a lot like yours. My students have untreated Attention Deficit Disorder. It would seem that this particular mental malfunction is pretty incompatible with the efficient and accurate reading of music. Rhythm seems to be a big problem for many ADD suffers as well. The solution to the ADD problem is medical treatment. I'm not diagnosing your student, and I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of ADD medications. I'm personally a very staunch believer that if the brain doesn't function according to manufacturer's specifications, it needs to be fixed.

David Crispin
Crispin's Creations and Accessories
freelance oboist. Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
www.CrispinsCreations.com

Re: Sight Reading Problem

We have someone in our ensemble who cannot look at a piece of music and imagine how it sounds, even if he has played it hundreds of times.  One of us next to him has to hum a few measures sotto voce just before every piece - then he has the revelation, "Oh, so THAT's the one!" and then he's o.k.  He knows how it goes.  He has been diagnosed with a learning disability, not dyslexia or ADD but something else.  He has to practice 2-3 hours a day in order to manage.  He also has much trouble with sight reading.  He has a great tone so it's such a shame he has this problem.  He is no good at listening, a real disadvantage in an ensemble - when he gets on a rhythm he just plods along and if he misses a beat we all have to adjust around him.  In other areas he's as normal, a great businessman and organizer, etc., but he uses many devices to help him in this.  There are many types of learning disabilities, and your student obviously has one of them, but like our member, it might not necessarily respond to any sort of medication.

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

Thanks for the input.  Where does one go to get help with this condition or at least begin? 
Charles

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

I may not know as much as you do about teaching music, but I know a lot about learning disabilities, having spent 17 years earning graduate degrees in the field (slowly!) and 25 years teaching LD students in high school.  It's NOT clear that this student has a learning disability. In fact, if her reading skills and academics are OK, she definitely does not have a learning disability, by definition.

Here's how an LD teacher would approach this problem: analyze the task to be performed and specify what the learner can and cannot do. Then teach the missing skills by gradual steps before having the student perform the task unassisted.

From your specific examples, it seems she misses accidentals, but does not misread notes on the staff. And apparently she doesn't hear that the missed notes are wrong. I think you're saying she can play the right accidentals in a scale where they are marked in the key signature but not on each note. Is that right? If so, she knows at a verbal level which notes are sharp or flat in each key, but she's not thinking fast enough to apply that knowledge in playing.

Try this: have her preview each selection before playing. She should make a mark above each note that should be a sharp or below each note that should be a flat. Then have her play the selection slowly. Do this with everything she plays until she achieves accuracy most of the time. Then continue to preview, but without marking the music. Just have her say the note names including sharps and flats before she plays the selection.

Also, because you seem to say that she does not hear that her notes are wrong, you should do some ear training. I suppose many people know more than I do about this. But maybe you start by making her aware of the feeling of tonic, dominant, and leading tones'

With regard to her not thinking fast enough to think of everything she needs to remember, this sounds like some talented music students I've had. They can do a pretty good job of sounding good on the basis of their talent. So they bluff at their lessons without putting in enough practice time to turn their new skills into habits. However, there are more and more skills to process at a conscious level, and they get confused.

Now just for the record: dyslexics do not see things backwards, and 2/3 of children medicated for ADD do not really have it, and medication is not the only or best way to deal with ADD.

Louise Hillery
amateur musician, professional learning disabilities specialist

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

Louise, I agree with your suggestion for slow steps in getting certain things down, like accidentals, etc.  I do know that our ensemble member, who has had help in his learning problems, writes all sorts of things on his music (how he reads all that stuff when playing I do NOT know) and it does seem to help.  Also, I think the reason our member does not listen well to the rest of the ensemble is because he is concentrating so hard on the music he has to play, that's just one extra thing too much.

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

Without attempting to deal with all the musical questions in the above discussion, I'll just make an observation. The general public is discovering what many educators realize when they first read descriptions of learning disabilities: we all have idiosyncrasies in the way we think and learn.

I think an effective music teacher needs to think in terms of what a student "hasn't learned yet" rather than what the student "cannot do." And a effective student must be willing to put in the effort to strengthen their weak areas.

Keeping in mind that this is the "Health" page, not the Pedagogy page, I'll stop here. But many questions brought up above would merit more discussion.

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Re: Sight Reading Problem

The vast majority of students here on Long Island have experience playing only in bands,  not orchestra. They very rarely ever get to play in any key with sharps and therefore find it very hard to read anything in sharps.  Lots of drill on sharp scales,  simple pieces in sharps etc is requited to overcome this.  The band method books sometimes put such emphasis on the common band key signatures that they think ALL Bs are automatically B flats...the simplest keyboard background helps them to visualize that A # and B flat are the same note.   Lots of patience and drill is required teaching these students, especially if they do have some attention disorder in addition.    Lois Barton

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