Advice for pupils

Performers demonstrate their mastery by restraint.
    Just blasting away as loud & fast as you can impresses only the ignorant (admittedly 98% of the population) but even they will grow tired of it eventually. Like a racing driver you need to keep power in reserve for when you really need it - when showing off can have maximum effect. In any case, going flat out all the time doesn’t show good judgment & is likely to result in a crash.

Who are you playing to?
    A performer’s career depends on impressing - not the general public - but discerning professionals, be they professors, managers or producers. These are the 'gate-keepers' who control funding &/or college admission. Just as important as learning the notes is 'learning the rules’, discovering the aesthetics as well as the technicalities of performance valued by the ‘gate-keepers’ - and then giving it to them. You may not agree, but you can’t bend the rules until you’ve understood them.
    My personal opinion is that exams don’t really contribute to this process but competitions do as you can hear other performers, receive direct feedback from the adjudicator, and see whom s/he considers the best performer … tho not always why!

The most important thing about SIGHT-READING is to keep the musical narrative clear so that the listener gains an impression of the whole piece, no matter how sketchy. This is far more important than playing all the notes. In practice this means
  1. Keep the beat at all costs - which gives overall coherence to your effort.
  2. Prioritise the melody so that the listener can follow ‘what you're saying’.
  3. Leave out whatever interferes with them. (As your skills improves you’ll find you can include more, but also part of your improved skill shows itself in judging what can be omitted.)
Imagine you were listening to someone reading a chapter that neither of you had seen before. If they read it out in a flat voice stumbling over words & pausing for breath in the middle of phrases you’ll have only the haziest clue about the sense of the piece.
    It’s the same in music. You can sight-read text because you’ve done it every day since the age of 6. To develop the same skill with music demands a similar amount of sight-reading practise.
  • Excellent sight-reading comes from the experience of simply doing it day-in day-out.
  • With experience you learn to perceive recurring patterns.
  • With good pattern recognition you gain an intuitive understanding of how music is structured into sections (governed by cadences in art music & choruses in mass market music) and see how/why certain chord sequences are more frequently used.
  • This all goes into the experience that creates excellent sight-reading.
There are also some very important wider lessons in this about prioritising decision-making on the fly. In the long run, mastery of sight-reading confers an ability to think abstractly - to perceive the underlying patterns not merely in music, but more widely in life, both in terms of making life decisions and assessing probable outcomes of human interaction/s.
    In my observation it is quality of decision-making that most distinguishes people who achieve something worthwhile in their lives & relationships from those who don’t . Successful decision-takers are those who are close to their intuition, but able to interrogate it consciously, and thus avoid the twin traps surrendering to blind instinct or being indecisive 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought’. This is exactly the lesson that sight-reading forces you to learn: to perceive patterns intuitively and discard what isn't essential.
    This is also the quality of a good communicator - keeping the narrative clear. Good communicators don’t tell people things they don’t need to know. They listen with a ’third ear’ to avoid deluging the public with unwanted info that only serves to confuse. Music demands the development of this third ear - the ability to listen to the sound you are making independent of the cyber-noise created by your gestures & exertions - and sight-reading helps this almost more than any other musical activity.
Example: Microsoft used to build hugely complex GUIs (graphic user interfaces) because they weren't sure exactly how people would use it. Apple (under Jobs) kept to extremely simple GUIs because they'd worked out what created a user-friendly experience. That is the goal of becoming a musician - giving listeners a user-friendly experience.

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