Sightreading 101: Intervallic Reading

Welcome to week 3 of this Sightreading 101 blog series! If you read last week's post, you may have noticed that several times I mentioned the 'relationship between the notes,' today we're getting into what I meant by that in a discussion of "intervallic reading." So, jumping right in:

The movement from one note to another, or the relationship between one note & the next, is described in music theory as an interval. Intervals can be a step from one note to the following, a skip, or a leap from a low note to a higher note or vice versa. Intervals are given numbers depending on how far the movement is. For example,
  • One note to the adjacent note is a "second" because they're two notes apart. 
  • A skip over one note is described as a "third" because they're three notes apart.
  • If the notes are 7 keys apart, we call them a seventh, and so on. 
The line below shows us what each interval can look like on the staff.

You may be thinking this music theory lesson is great and all, but how does this help my kid with sight reading? Well, research has shown that learning to read intervallically (steps, skips, ups, downs etc) demands more declarative knowledge & execution planning than naming every single note as we go. So we think ahead, and we have a broader understanding of how the music works. And when professional musicians or accompanists really stop & think about how they read music, they overwhelmingly realize they aren't thinking in note names anymore, but are just following the line. And we do this by reading our starting note, and then recognizing intervals. A student who is learning to recognize intervals will only need to memorize the handful of landmark notes to get started, and from there, they can follow a line of music with more ease, creating space for them to think about musical expression & interpretation earlier on in the learning process.

To bring it back to the language literacy analogy from the first post in this series, when we learn to read language, we start with the letters, and then we work on sight words, and pretty soon we're not really seeing the letters anymore. We see the words, and we even begin to see sentences and phrases as one piece.
Stop and think about how you're reading this sentence.
Now read it again, this time try to say the names of each letter to yourself as you go. Do you feel it slow you down? Does that feel like the best way to read a sentence fluently? Not at all, right?! So while knowing the names of the letters is obviously important - because it gives us a starting point, and some terminology to communicate about language, to ask for spelling help, and to build words and sentences - we don't see them as individual components when being fluent readers. Letters are a part of the whole. Reading music is no different, notes are not just isolated, individual tones, they are part of a musical phrase, and when we see those phrases take shape as a whole, instead of taking one note at a time, that's when we've achieved a level of fluency. 

The final post of this series will have some helpful tips for implementing good sight reading habits in home practice, but I'm going to put a quick tip about intervallic reading specifically here: If your student is struggling with a note in a new piece, ask them to look at or imagine a note they already know, and then encourage them to count up or down to the mystery note. This is a simple way to offer your child support during home practice, while reinforcing landmark notes & intervallic reading. It also has the added benefit of teaching some problem solving habits that will carry beyond music reading. 

And stay tuned for how we turn our sight reading into a super power of sorts with next week's discussion on Audiation.