Grade 4 & 5 Sight reading - ABRSM

Welcome... :0)

The sight-reading for the ABRSM exam is we have 21 points at stake. What is the examiner looking for? The previous 3 aspects have expanded and we now have to consider the style and period.

  1. Rhythm (Semiquaver developments, triplets, compound vs simple time developments)
  2. Note accuracy (Spotting chord shapes, arpeggios, scale patterns, relative keys, key signature fluency)
  3. Articulation and Dynamics (Pedal, Broader range of musical terms)
  4. Style and Period

How do we work on these features?

We would use exactly the same steps as perviously laid out for Grades 1 and 2 with some adjustments needed for the variations in the aspects mentioned above.

Again, I would refer to Paul Harris’s Improve your sight-reading. It goes through key by key, adding rhythms and difficulty at each stage.

1: Rhythm

Semiquavers - These cause difficulty in counting as the student can shorten the length in the beat in a will to develop rhythmic consistancy. When sight-reading a piece which uses semiquavers in simple time, the student should always count 1 + 2 + 3 + etc...  in preparation for the bar ahead that contains them. For compound time this isn't necessary. The distinction should be made between the two though.

Triplets - When counting triplets followed by notes which aren't, it's important to try and Imagine where the next main beat will fall. A special emphasis should be made on understanding how to move from semiquavers to triplets for Grade 5.  Count like this 1 +, 2 +, 3 - trip - let, 4 i + a.

Another good exercise is to learn the rhythm with the counting and then try doing it just counting the main beats and to imagine where the others will fall. A game taking it in turns to clap a straight rhythm with the another person putting in the triplets is good too.

Compound vs Simple - This is again a development from what was introduced in Grade 3 but is introducing 6/8 time too. Make sure you test the ability to switch between simple time and compound time. Especially when counting semiquavers as mentioned before.

2: Note accuracy

Spotting chord shapes, arpeggios and scale patterns - This is a very important skill to speed up you absorption the information. It is important to be able to recognise chords and their potential position or inversion. It is equally important to be able to recognise intervals and by the position of the two notes. A great app for this is called musical intervals.

Relative keys and key signature fluency - No extra keys are added from Grade 3 to Grade 4 but Grade 5 has a significant addition of keys up to 4 sharps not including C sharp minor.

Test the ability to quickly recall the 2 keys which have multiple flats and sharps. Start with the minor 1st as generally people refer to the major first and work out the minor from that. This should be done away from the piano as well as in front of it.

Try working backwards with this. E.g How many sharps does F sharp minor have? and What minor key has 3 sharps?

Also spend a lot of time clarifying the roll of the raised sharp in the harmonic minor as it can be visually confusing. E.g G minor having 3 black notes.

3: Articulation and Dynamics

This should probably be avoided till much later on in the process as rhythm and note accuracy are still the most important elements. That said it most definitely plays a stronger roll especially in Grade 5.

Pedal - This is added in Grade 5 and exercises at reading lead sheets can be a fun way to learn about sight reading this linking the chord changes with pedal. This can also be tied in with an awareness of when chords change within notation. Go over a piece and see if you can spot the changes just by the notation alone.

Broader range of musical terms - This is something that is quite thoroughly covered by the ABRSM theory syllabuses and if you learn all of the terms with those syllabuses then you'd be fine. That said a great ap is called music tools and you can look anything up there.

*Remember that accuracy of rhythm, notes and expression are more important than speed. If you can't play it vivace, don't. Take everything at a speed you can play it. If it says Rall... then take advantage of it and really buy some time.

4: Style and Period

This is an aspect that is covered very well in the Aural part of the exam and is probably more applicable to the Grade 5 than the Grade 4 but it plays a part in both. A good understanding of the characteristics of the 4 time periods of that part of the exam will ensure this is covered. Tie this in with the Aural test.

E.g Do an example of classical aural test for the C part of the test and then ask the student to do a sight reading in that style. Refer to the pieces to help them to recognise the characteristics.

You can also use other examples and ask them to listen to other music relating to it.

Good luck :0)

Kevin Matthews,

PianolessonsUK, Brighton and Hove