Music, School of


Date of this Version

December 2005


Published in UPDATE: Applications of Research in Music Education 24:1 (Fall–Winter 2005), pp. 44-56. Copyright © 2005 by MENC: The National Association for Music Education. Used by permission.


Sight-reading is an integral part of the musical experience for all musicians. Pianists, in particular, often find themselves confronted with situations that necessitate adequate sightreading skills. The widespread need for sight-reading at the piano may be due to pianists’ widespread participation in collaborative music making. The size of the piano literature also contributes to this need, in that the repertoire is so voluminous that no one player can be familiar with all of the solo and collaborative pieces written for piano, nor do recordings of every piece in the literature exist. This is particularly the case with the pedagogical literature. Professional pianists often sight-read in the course of collaborating with other musicians or accompanying choral ensembles. Teachers frequently sight-read through a large volume of literature to determine which pieces are appropriate for their students and further call on their reading skills to demonstrate these pieces to their students. Also, student pianists sight-read in diverse situations (e.g., sight-reading pieces), including competitive situations such as festivals or contests. Sightreading can be considered a procedural component of learning repertoire as well. The nature of the sight-reading task varies according to the situation in which it is undertaken. Perhaps pianists are given a few minutes to engage in examination and preparation of material, or they may be called upon to sight-read music with little or no preparation. In any case, performance of sight-reading material precludes total refinement of physical movements in the motor execution phase of the task. The sight-reading task may be viewed in direct contrast to a repertoire task in which the pianist has engaged in weeks and often months of cognitive and motor training and thus gained a high level of physical familiarity with the music. A review of the pertinent literature regarding the cognitive and execution demands of sightreading offers some insights for educators striving to find pedagogical strategies that help their students surmount difficulties of sight-reading. While the literature reviewed and teaching applications derived from this literature relate primarily to piano sight-reading, observations are readily adaptable to other instrumentalists.

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