Monday, 18 July 2011

Sight-reading 101

Now seems like a good time to post my first blog, having just completed my second full week of teaching and settled down comfortably. I've been able to get to know the students a little better and get a handle on the challenges of teaching in India.

I arrived two weeks ago to be met at the airport and taken to my lodgings for the two months of my stay: the office of the Trinity representative in India, Anjli Mata. The area is refreshingly green and quiet with a local market and easy transport links. At first it was difficult to get to grips with the geography of the city, especially without a map,  but I soon gathered that I was some way South of the city centre in the residential  Chittaranjan Park. In the course of each week I travel to three different branches of the THEME music school; one  nearby, one further to the South closer to the other Delhi WAM folk, and one in the East of the city. Having taken in some of the sights during my days off I'm now starting to develop a better impression of the city and its sprawling enormity!

On the Monday after my arrival I had my first day of teaching at the Southern branch of THEME. My job at THEME involves taking one on one piano lessons with students who have signed up, as well as three, weekly group sessions. Naturally I was a little nervous prior to my first session but appreciated being thrown straight into the mix with a lively group class. Once I got going I found the kids friendly and responsive. At first I was very much feeling my way and improvising my subject material, however, building on this I was able to conduct more carefully planned classes during the second week. To begin with I was sceptical of taking a 'group' piano class, but soon came to realise the benefits: students can learn from each other, gain regular performance experience - vital for steadying nerves, engage in debate and discussion on technical and musical matters and overcome challenges together. Sight-reading tuition proved especially suitable for this format...

Almost all of the students here take the TrinityGuildhall exams and I was very surprised to discover that until recently, sight-reading has been optional until the higher grades. Perhaps inevitably students tend to shy away from sight-reading in favour of the 'musical knowledge' and aural choices meaning that when they reach their grades six and above they are suddenly presented with challenging sight-reading that they have no way of tackling. This lack of experience in sight-reading proved to be endemic in the students here and so, starting with these group classes, I have been taking many of the students back to basics with the initial and grade one level tests.  My ultimate aim is to build from this basic foundation over the two months, leaving them with a better grounding in the discipline and the ability to succeed at their respective levels. What I hope to get across is that as long as they have the technical facility required to the play the music, and most of them do, sight-reading is a mental process that can be learned and practised just like anything else, with tactics, tricks and appropriate exercises. My shortcomings as a sight reader have been a particularly useful source of inspiration and it’s amazing how much I've learned about my own approach during these first couple of weeks.

Each group class contains around five students and lasts for one hour. Unfortunately these are the kids’ only weekly piano lessons and as such I’m finding it hard to prioritise and cover everything – basic technique, aural, scales, grade pieces etc – in the allotted time. At one stage I hope to combine two of the classes allowing for a more in depth exploration of one of the areas mentioned above - will post on the results.

That’s all for today, will blog again soon on my experiences with the solo students!


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