Previously on my blog, I wrote a post encouraging teachers to help young pianists take on a broader view of what being a pianist can actually mean in the real world. I mentioned several other ways one can use their piano skills - as a choral accompanist, collaborator, ballet pianist, musical theater pianist, vocal coach, symphony pianist...I know I'm leaving someone out...As I see it, however, there's a slight problem. Actually, it's not a small problem - it's a pretty big problem. In order to be successful in any of these types of jobs, you have to be able to sightread music fluently and just as with any language, learning to sightread music is not as easily done in later years as it is when the brain is more pliable. Although some teachers of young pianists do spend time with their students working on this skill, I believe many others do not. I do understand that time is short and that it must be very difficult to fit in so many different skills into such a short amount of time; however, especially for those students who seem like they might continue on to music school someday, I think it is imperative that sightreading be a regular part of the learning process.
So where does my dare come in? Here goes...I dare college piano departments to start making piano sightreading a part of the entrance examination process. I think it would be a fantastic idea for several reasons...
- listening to a student sightread would instantly tell the piano faculty who was naturally musical and who was not, thereby eliminating a lot of grief later on. It can be so hard to tell how musical some of these kids are when they come in to audition playing pieces that they've been playing and performing for a year or even longer...playing pieces in which their teachers have shaped and colored each and every note...When you hear a pianist sightread you either get a kid that plays without using the pedal, without any correct rhythm, no phrasing, no dynamics, note-by-note, or you get a pianist that uses the pedal in clever ways (to help cover up some iffy parts), plays most of the correct rhythms, has plenty of dynamics, and basically makes you forget that they are sightreading. In other words, the latter are usually the naturally musical ones.
- if most of the major music schools started to include sightreading, you can bet that piano teachers of younger pianists across the country would start to focus a bit more on sightreading rather than just on performing. In turn, young pianists might get exposed to more duet playing and ensemble playing which would lead to more fun which would lead to more kids turned on to music and on to different career possibilities in the music field. Sounds good to me!