Racing Training 96 exercises Reading Rhythms 136 exercises Sight-Reading Snippets 283 exercises
I’m aware that there are plenty of excellent musicians who can’t read music at all, but I’m also aware that being able to read music opens up countless opportunities. Some people seem to have been born with the ability to interpret the blobs and lines of music already in their DNA – they just take to it instantly. But (in my experience as a teacher, at least), far more pupils find the notation deeply puzzling, as if it’s some bizarre code that a sadistic lunatic thought up purely to torment poor innocent musicians.
In reality it’s just a diagram, a map of where to put your fingers, with refinements to tell you how long to stay on each note and how loudly or how fast to play. The purpose of this book is to help beginners understand the map.
A crucial part of developing good reading skills is having a strong sense of pulse, and one of the best ways to achieve that is learning to play along with a metronome. Unfortunately, metronomes (a bit like Marmite) divide musicians into those who love them and those who hate them. The haters think they’re soulless machines which destroy all chances of playing expressively, and are only used by people with some kind of obsessive urge that makes them crave order, symmetry and neatness. The lovers, on the other hand, know that the haters are just finding excuses for their own rhythmic inadequacies. Metronomes really can transform one’s ability to learn a difficult piece of music and dramatically improve one’s sight-reading skills.
There’s no doubt that some people do find them genuinely difficult to use. This is because the brain is struggling with data-overload: it’s bad enough having to wrestle with all the lines, spaces, clefs, note-values, rhythms, dynamics, finger action and posture, and now, to cap it all, there’s this annoying tick or beep demanding attention. “Turn it off!” they cry. But there’s also no doubt that being able to process that extra strand of audio data really does help you get the music right, and it develops your brain’s ability to multi-task, which is a key component of being a good musician. And the best way to learn how to become a multi-tasker is to start very simply.
Each of the three sections of this book starts simply and gets gradually more demanding, so (and I may be stating the obvious here) don’t feel you have to work through the book from the beginning to the end. For example, a lot of the early sight-reading snippets use only the narrow band of notes round Middle C, so you can work on them once you’ve mastered Racing Training exercises 25 to 42 and the first few pages of Reading Rhythms.