Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5 Kinds of Hard

As summer vacation starts, I'm beginning to tackle some "back burner" kinds of things. One of these has been to revamp the sight-reading I use with juries and ensemble auditions.

The first step: I've been composing half-page sight-reading pieces. My goal is to have 10 such pieces (I've written 6 thus far) and then rotate them.

As I compose these things, I want something that works musically and presents a variety of challenges. This brings me back to my of my doctoral dissertation days.

The title?

(Warning: do not read this title if you are operating heavy machinery)

Pedagogical Materials for the College-Level Trombone Student: The Application of Objective Grading Criteria to a Selected List of Materials as Determined by a National Survey of College-Level Trombone Teachers.

OK, I hope you had a nice nap.

Here's one of the questions I was dealing with in this dissertation:
What makes something challenging?

Pieces receive a difficulty grades but, what makes them tough? We understand intuitively that there are different kinds of challenge. For my dissertation, I identified 5 types of challenge:

1. Melodic/Harmonic
Challenge coming from: awkward intervals, tough key signatures, chromaticism/atonality

2. Rhythmic/Metric
Challenge coming from: strange meters, tricky rhythms

3. Notational
Challenge coming from: clefs, dense accidentals

4. Agility
Challenge coming from: arpeggios, leaps

5. Fluency
Challenge coming from fast runs

So basically, one of the things I did in my dissertation was to go through a standard list of etudes and give each one 5 difficulty grades.

OK, back to the subject of sight-reading....

Sight reading is a tricky thing to practice because you need lots of stuff to sight read.
How to go about it methodically?
Yes, I've looked at the Lafosse series but, as time passes, the need to read manuscript slowly diminishes. Also the speed of clef changes is a little ridiculous as you advance.

If someone wanted to set up a systematic approach to sight-reading, they could organize it around the 5 areas of challenge. Treat them singly and also in combination. For example: one section that has lots of leaps but isn't too tough in other ways.
Later, you might have another section that is rhythmically tough and harmonically weird.

Or, how about rhythmically tough, harmonically weird, with lots of clef changes and strange meters...oh wait, that's the Blazhevich Clef Studies.

Who knows, maybe this summer I'll get motivated and churn out lots of sight reading....

(don't hold your breath)

Oh yes, one other thing: I plan to sign up for the online service Sight Read This. Hey, it's only $4.95/year. Maybe I'll blog about my opinions once I use it a bit.

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