Sight-Reading Requirements at Concert Band Festivals: A National Survey

Article excerpt

This study, a replication and extension of work by Norris (2004), examined sight-reading requirements at middle and high school large-group band festivals across the United States. As in the earlier investigation, answers to the following questions were solicited from all 50 states: (1) Are there ratings-based large-group band festivals? (2) Is sight-reading required? (3) Are there specific classifications or levels of proficiency? (4) Is musical content specified for each level? (5) Are sight-reading and performance scores combined for an overall rating? Results showed that fewer than half of all states mandate sight-reading at large-group ratings-based band festivals at both the middle and high school levels. An even smaller number of states specify difficulty levels, stipulate musical content, and include the sight-reading score in an overall final rating. Frequency of affirmative responses to all questions was consistently higher at the high school level.

Sight-reading-the performance of music with little preparation and no prior knowledge (Orman, Yarbrough, Neill, & Whitaker, 2007)-appears to be a necessary skill for the development of musical independence (Gregory, 1972; Yarbrough, Orman, & Neill, 2007). Further, successful sight-reading evidences several components of music literacy that may contribute to life-long music making, which teachers and researchers have historically considered to be a primary goal of music education (e.g., Birge, 1928; Choate, 1968; Madsen, 2000). The publication of the national standards for music education (MENC, 1994) affirmed the importance of developing musically literate students in American music classrooms. In particular, the fifth content standard includes specific sight-reading objectives for students, grades five and above, who participate in a choral or instrumental ensemble. The corresponding achievement standards delineate music difficulty levels and also differentiate two levels of achievement (proficient and advanced) for those in grades 9-12.

For well over half a century, a plethora of instructional materials have been published to assist band directors with improving their students' sight-reading skills (e.g., Erickson, 1991; Fussell, 1985; Lake, 1938). Traditionally, most band methods include activities aimed at developing and enhancing sight-reading (e.g., Froseth, 1998; Grunow, Gordon, & Azzara, 2001; Pearson, 1994). Numerous manuals and textbooks employed by practitioners and in teacher training programs also address the value of sight-reading (e.g., Cooper, 2004; Garofalo, 2000; Kohut, 1996; Labuta, 1997). Further, they provide a variety of ideas and techniques band directors might utilize to expand the sight-reading abilities of their students.

In addition, a number of researchers have examined several facets of sight-reading as they specifically relate to wind players and percussionists. For instance, several experimenters have analyzed variables that may influence or predict sightreading achievement (e.g., Bernhard, 2003; Ferrin, 2004). Data show that skilled sight-readers inspect the music for possible problems, focus on key and time signatures, and read rhythms well (Elliott, 1982; Goolsby, 1994; McPherson, 1994). Moreover, results seem to suggest private lessons and cognitive skills (e.g., audiation, reading comprehension, spatial-temporal reasoning) influence successful sight-reading (Gromko, 2004; Townsend, 1992).

A few studies have examined the relationship between sight-reading performance and notational variables, including bar lines, spacing, and beamed or beamless notation (Byo, 1992; Gregory, 1972; Rogers, 1991). Data have indicated the absence of traditional bar lines and notational spacing does not significantly impact performance errors. Additionally, Sheldon (1996) found little difference in musicality between examples with beamed and beamless notation.

Some experimenters have considered the effects of diverse teaching methods on sight-reading development. …