The ABRSM’s newest app – the Sight-Reading Trainer – was launched last month. Designed to help pupils ‘develop the skills to quickly spot the key features, patterns and characteristics in music before you play it’ this new sight-reading app costs £4.99 and is available on the App Store and Google Play.
For that you get a series of games that enable pupils to unlock pieces of sight reading. The app has 31 pieces per grade and covers grades 1-5 (piano). So a total of 155 pieces of sight reading.
Curiously, the concept behind the app comes from a series of blog posts featuring 7 Steps to Sight-Reading Success that Sally wrote here on The Blog over 18 months ago. Since then, Sally has worked on this project as a consultant. Then earlier this year, Sally, Fiona (a member of The Community) and I authored the questions for the app.
Click here to watch the Facebook Live event which marked the launch of the Sight-Reading Trainer app with ABRSM Chief Examiner John Holmes and Dr Sally Cathcart (our very own Co-Founder here at The Curious Piano Teachers)!
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trialling the Grade 1 level of this app with my piano student Francesca. The games were an instant hit. I also noticed that if she didn’t get all the questions correct first time, Francesca would keep playing until all 3 stars were achieved. This, in turn, will ‘unlock’ the piece of sight-reading.
However, after gaining stars, this definitely wasn’t Francesca’s idea of a bonus prize! In order to encourage her to purposefully engage with playing the sight-reading, this is what we did…
For anyone who’s familiar with the fab 30 and 40 Piece Challenge Charts that you can download from Wendy Stevens website, this is a similar idea.
There are 31 pieces of sight-reading per grade (Grades 1-5) on the ABRSM Sight-Reading Trainer. So the chart is numbered 1-31 to allow pupils to track their progress. When the whole kit and caboodle of activites have been completed for 10 pieces, the pupil will receive a prize. And, at the end, for completing all 31 pieces – there’s a bonus prize!
Click here to download a copy of the Record Chart
Here’s the plan…
- Francesca writes the name of the piece. These pieces are called Allegretto, Andante, March, Sadly, etc. Maybe not the most imaginative, but great for getting to grips with Italian terms and tempo. Currently Francesca is compiling a list of Italian terms in her notebook and finding out the meaning of any terms that she’s not yet familiar with. Another idea might be to ask Francesca to create her own – more imaginative – titles for some of the pieces.
- Francesca records her success when she’s achieved 3 stars for each game. This is the first big – and definitely fun! – stage of the task: play the 3 games on the ABRSM Sight-Reading Trainer app. The games are Rhythm Match, Pitch Patterns, Quick Fire Five and What’s the Difference? – click here to find out more
- Francesca makes a video of her playing the sight reading piece. Rena Upitis and her team of researchers at Music Tool Suite have observed that students typically practise something that they’re planning to video many, many times before they actually record it. Rena says: “Even though it’s only their teacher who will see it, there’s something about creating a video recording that raises the practising bar.” And she’s absolutely right! When we trialled this idea of videoing the sight-reading task in the lesson, Francesca recorded multiple ‘takes’ and persisted until she was happy with what she’d played. Is this really ok for sight-reading you ask? My view is that it’s the process that counts here – and since there’s a lot of learning and pupil self-reflection going on that’s already improving Francesca’s sight-reading skills, I’m happy!
- Francesca completes a Self-Assessment Sheet. Francesca and I designed this together during a lesson. Then we spent a couple of lessons completing the sheet together so that Francesca had a really clear idea of how to assess her videoed-performances. (More on this below).
- I complete a Teacher Assessment. This is where I read Francesca’s Self-Assessment Sheet and watch her video to see how well they tally. During the first couple of weeks, Francesca often thought she’d done better than she had in reality. For example, the ‘Yay! Totally rocked it’ box would have been checked for the ‘notes’ section, despite the fact that she’d totally ignored the key signature! Subsequently, I asked a few questions that enabled her to figure out the problem – and then she recorded an updated version. However, with regular practice Francesca is now knowing to check for these little problem areas that include: ignoring the key signature, reading the correct pitch shape but not playing the correct pitches because she’s moving by step instead of by skip, etc.
So is this process actually making a difference? In a few short weeks – yes, it is!
MORE ABOUT THE SELF-ASSESSMENT SHEET
Here’s the Self-Assessment Sheet – click here to download a copy
- Count in: where Francesca is expected to count in – aloud – before starting to play.
- Rhythm: how accurate was it, were there any hesitations?
- Notes: sometimes Francesca will be oblivious to an incorrect note – yet, by identifying and addressing the issues, she is starting to increase her accuracy significantly.
- Fingering: because there’s a box asking her to consider this, Francesca has consistently considered her fingering carefully (noting the fingering given on the sight reading pieces on the app).
- Hand position: for Grade 1 sight-reading pieces, this is about having both hands ready to go before starting to play.
- Dynamics: oh my word – Francesca has really rocked her dynamic contrasts, all because it’s a check-point on this self-assessment sheet!
- Kept going: because it doesn’t sound like a piece of music when it’s riddled with hesitations.
- Next time I want to improve: this is really useful. Francesca normally does a great, fluent job when reading the pitch direction – but sometimes moves by step rather than skipping notes. Highlighting areas that need attention have enabled her to become more purposeful when playing subsequent pieces of sight reading.
I DON’T NORMALLY DO REWARDS BUT…
There are plenty of pretty convincing arguments out there – such as this one – about why we shouldn’t dangle the proverbial carrot in front of our piano students.
However, in line with being able to achieve ‘3 stars’ for successfully completing the games on the ABRSM Sight-Reading Trainer, I decided to award a total of 4 prizes for video-recording each piece and completing a self-assessment.
So when 10 sight-reading pieces have been completed, a prize is awarded. Fortunately, Francesca is easy pleased. It would seem that a bag of Pinballs is gold!
It’s worth noting, however, that when we award prizes (sweets, etc.) that we need to inform and check-in with parents for child safe-guarding and protection purposes.
If you’d like to give this a whirl, here are the downloads. Keep me posted too, I’d love to know how you and your pupils get on!
Get the Sight-Reading Trainer app for £4.99 – click here
Record Chart – click here to get your FREE download
Self-Assessment Sheet – click here to get your FREE download