Sight Reading - What Are We Really Teaching?
I teach sight reading. I teach it because it’s a vital skill for a musician to have. But I don’t teach sight-reading by using sight-reading method books*, and here’s why:
Most of us equate sight reading as something which is assessed, either in grade exams or auditions, or some other type of assessment. My sight reading has been assessed many, many times over the years, and every time, it has been via a solo piano performance. But here’s the interesting thing; when I ask myself when I have actually solo sight read as a professional pianist, the answer is never. I’ll repeat that. I think it’s important. Not rarely, not infrequently. Never.
I have sight read as an accompanist, as a duo, in a chamber group, in an orchestra, and I have busked my way through folk and jazz lead sheets. But apart from the slightly odd environment of 1:1 teaching where I have to sight read bits of student-standard music, I have never needed to sight read on my own. And as far as I can work out, nor do any other musicians. We sight read as orchestral players, as chamber music members, as duos, and in bands, but it is quite extraordinarily rare that we have to stand up in front of an audience and sight read a solo work. So why is so much importance placed on solo sight reading ability? Why do exams boards not accompany their sight readers to provide the same sort of support that an accompanist (or soloist) would? Why is the universally accepted form of sight reading not accompanied? Why are we as teachers mostly obsessed with this artificial construct of sight reading solo works?
These are questions I can’t answer. Or I can, but the answer I have is that I suspect the current status quo is dysfunctional and based on an outdated concept.
As for me, I’ll just keep going with the duets.
* Unless I'm actually coaching how to sight-read for a specific exam. In that case, using sight-reading method books based on exam style sight-reading is ideal!