The ability to Sightread, can it be learned?

How very interesting are all the suggestions I’ve read in the matter of sightreading, and certainly I have been a sightreading clarinetist all of my life. In a way my offering duplicates the others, but I have two suggestions available for everyone who has found this ability to read music at sight somewhat daunting, elusive, if you will.
There are two books ,superior to all others which teach this part of our business:
“Elementary Training for Musicians”, by Paul Hindemith is the first. This is not elementary at all, but the most elusive kind of singing exercises I’d ever seen. I used it to teach myself and classes of students for many many years with astounding success, and it was not me, but the book that did the teaching. These are singing exersises that look painfully simple, yes they look elementary, but I never had a student who could do them without intense sorting out of the rhythms and melodies at home or wherever they did this work. You have to count at the same time as you sing, and the first onslaught of difficulty proves to you that this cannot be done without study and the ability to sing,rather than play the simple and short examples. By sing, I meant, that yes, all clarinetists must be able to at least sing the Hindemith Exercises. It makes you much more than what you were when you first were shocked by their apparent simplicity, and very complex look at music. Or perhaps think of them as different, requiring the making of skills heretofore simply regularized by the dozens of ear training treatises, which are all the same. You see a couple of phrases and then the others are already in your mind. Hindemith was a great composer, but an even greater teacher, and this book is one that I suggest for your consideration. Go slowly, ten or fifteen pages will help you enormously to improve your ability .
In the manner of playing, there is another short work of scales,in my opinion simpler than sequential exercices. “Emile Stievenard Study of Scales”.Well, you are saying this guy is really completely absurd, these are just scales. True, but do them correctly you will improve your reading to the killer level in a short time. You start with two pages of C major, perhaps twenty different lines of C major.This must be done with a metronome set at 40 beats per minute. The first is a simple staccato C major scale played in eightnotes forte, followed by three beats rest at the same tempo, continuing on to the second line, yes, still in C major, but in eighth note triplets, played pianissimo. The metronome continues at this painfully slow tempo, and, well you cannot do it, without jerking into the triplets and playing much too loudly, until you and your fingers and your ear gets the jist of this syncopation that you must perform silently while counting those three beats rest.
This is the way of Stievenard and it continues throughout the book, always changing and always demanding you to change tempi, touch, dynamic, articulation, and range as well. You have to perform the change as the metronome clicks the remaining beats rest, and commence the next in exactly the time, tempo, articulation, of the previous, and everything has changed.
Done correctly it teaches you to sit in an ensemble, listening to the rests go by as you prepare for your entrance and make the necessary changes to come in exactly intime, which will please, the section, the conductor, and yourself to a considerable extent. Think of being able to divide a quarter note triplet totally accurately in an enrtrance marked pianissimo, either in Chamber Music or in a symphony orchestra. And this works in any musical milieu.
We as students found these works to be frustrating beyond comprehension, especially the Hindemith, however if anything can teach one to read at sight, these two works are without peer, and not frequently experienced.
My students used to talk behind my back, and they’d say, “this guy can read flyshit!”…and that, friends is a compliment.

Good luck in all of your endeavors.

Sherman Friedland


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