Dr. Andrew Machamer joins us to talk about how to teach and build the skills students need to be successful sight readers, not just for contest, but for life.
0:30 Introducing Andrew Machamer, Asst. Prof. of Music Education at Baldwin Wallace
1:45 What do you teach at BW? Band music ed. faculty, teach instrumental methods, woodwind methods, oversee student teaching placements and supervision. Great opportunity to be connected to teachers in the area and how everyone's managing in this time of the pandemic.
2:30 Preparing for Contest Sight Reading. What is contest?
Opportunity to get outside perspective on how your ensembles are progressing, important to do because otherwise you might just be getting feedback from administrators who aren't necessarily well-versed in musical arts. Great way to create a goal and motivation for students, as well.
3:50 Why do we do sight reading at contest?
Because it's fun! (Haha.) It deepens the experience of context, certainly. And it gives us a baseline measure of where our musicianship is. When else are you going to do sight reading and have it be as meaningful as it is when it's at contest?
5:10 Why is sight reading specific to contest? Should it be?
You can't wait to last minute to start getting ready for it. It has to be a part of your daily routine, whether that's teaching students a counting system, teaching them to break down the and's and ee's, etc... Sight reading at contest is not the end, it's a point of reference along a journey.
7:00 What does sight reading at contest look like, compared to a normal day in band rehearsal?
New music, new space, new outfits, everything will feel new. And there are time limits, 3-4 minutes of silence where everyone works on their own music. 3-4 minutes where the conductor gets to go over things, you can't play, but you can sing, etc... So, that process needs to be practiced before the day of contest.
Teach students what to look for when they first see a piece, what to do in those 3-4 minutes of silence:
Look for key signatures
Look for time signature changes
Find difficult rhythms
Expression markings: Do we know what this word means?
Always good to invite people to come in and adjudicate or clinic before contest.
And the environment may be totally different -- students might normally rehearse in a cafetoriumnasium, and at contest they're in a performing arts center, and suddenly everything sounds different. So anything we can do to get them ready for all of the other things ahead of time, the better.
9:37 And how can you prepare students for the logistics of coming into the sight reading room, getting music distributed, etc...?
That's part of the process to work on in rehearsal. Section leaders distribute parts. Especially percussion: one person responsible for assigning the different percussion parts, and getting the instruments setup so you're ready to go.
10:40 Greg: When I was a student in HS band, we practiced rep for a really long time, and worked much less on reading skills. Has that changed in the 20+ years since I was in high school?
Andrew: You've got your prepared pieces, which you want to be extremely polished. Sometimes sight reading is more of an afterthought. Plus, it takes a lot of work to get sight reading pieces ready to play for an ensemble. Practicing 3 hours before a concert isn't gonna do it, but if you spread those out, it can make a big difference.
12:30 Why teach sight reading in general?
Creates independence. They feel confident, they can get a sense of what it sounds like through audiation, or dissect the rhythms, or look at the terms and know I'll be able to perform it. The general musicianship of the player comes up through this.
13:40 What tools and skills are needed for students to be successful at sight reading?
You can think of building a heirarchy of skills, from most basic to subtle:
Notes and fingerings
Blend and balance: who has the melody?
And these all affect each other. So, for instance, with intonation, can you hear the beats when you're out of tune? Do you know how to fix it? What do you do with your embouchure, on your instrument?
15:17 Can you talk about counting systems?
Whether it's the Gordon du dude, the Kodaly, or Takadimi, or 1e&a these systems are really useful for dissecting rhythms.
16:04 Long term strategies
There are lists of what types of meters you'll see in the sight reading, depending on what class you are, then you can plan to expose students to those rhythms, that music, etc...
The Gordon method is so great because you get the 2/4 and 6/8 right away, recognizing the difference between macro and micro beats, helping students feel the difference of the subdivision between the two.
19:20 And working on ties, take the ties out, then add them back in to help students master those rhythms.
Rhythm is the most important thing, it's paramount.
20:20 How do you build fluency in the fingering/notes side of sight reading?
Scales. They're the building blocks of music. Then it's not just a fingering, but part of a scale, part of something else. All the major scales, start to get into the minors. It will also help you identify where the fingering deficiencies are.
21:55 Where can directors turn to find resources for teaching sight reading?
If you're working with high school, pull from the middle school library. Use state lists, if you're playing grade 4 repertoire, look at the lists and get some grade 2 and 3 pieces to practice.
23:05 What is sizzling? It's performing the rhythm on ss-ss-ss. It forces musicians to engage their abdominal muscles, which prepares them nicely for playing. Also helps them to get the front of the note to sound, which, in the band world, is where we need to line things up.
That silent time, it can be so easily overlooked, but the students need to know what to do before they experience it: accidentals, key changes, tempo changes, ritardandos, dynamics. They won't know to look for those unless you practice it.
25:10 Singing with bands. As a conductor it's often the best way to model. Having students sing their own parts is such a powerful things. Working with drones: put a drone on and sing a pitch, bend down or up to manipulate the beats. Singing is great because in band we all make sound such different ways, reeds, buzzing, percussion -- but singing we all produce sound the same way, makes a base for working on pitch and melody, then applying it to the instrument. If you can sing it, you can play it.
To get students comfortable with singing, play it first, then sing what they just played. Give them a chance to hear it, then echo it. Then gradually, let's try to sing this without playing it. Now let's play it. Were you close? With or without solfege.
I've heard so many times, "I'm not in choir I'm in band, why are we singing in band?" It's huge, it's such an important part, even at the very highest level.
Singing as an instrumentalist is about being able to hear what the music should sound like without having to resort to an instrument to create that sound. Can you audiate this?
28:30 Intonation of notes within chords and pitch bending for tuning practice
30:00 How do you get from tuning with a drone to a point of knowing where I am in a chord in real music?
Match pitch first to a drone singing. Then build chords from scales, each person singing their part of the chord. Then alter them chromatically, to gradually lead them into feeling how quality can shift and how roles change with different harmonies. And, you can even talk about just intonation and put the different cents on the board for the different parts of a chord. And take whatever we do in singing then straight to our instruments.
31:45 In choir, we can see everyone's parts and what part of the chord we're on. How do you get instrumental students who are looking at only one line to know where they are in the chord?
Pick important chords in the music -- cadences, or starting chords -- and pause on it, have the students figure out where they are on the chord. If they're not getting it, everyone play the root, walk up the scale to your note.
34:50 Balancing teaching group's strengths vs individuals' strengths. You have to know your students, pick appropriate rep to work on that, maybe bringing in people to do sectionals with weaker sections. Some will take private lessons, some won't.
38:00 Solfege systems (briefly!)
43:30 Solfege, sight reading, etc... is all about giving them the skills to be able to make music independently well beyond their years in school music programs.
44:20 What are your thoughts on sight reading during a concert?
I love it. What a great way to impress your parents, administrators, audience -- it's like a magic trick, "we're going to perform this piece we've never seen before!" The weirdest thing is the four minutes of silence for the audience. But it's great, to let parents understand what we're doing. Makes it more than just an exercise.
47:30 What are great sequential resources to build up sight reading, and rhythm, especially?
Theme Song: These are the Notes from the Staff where we talk about our point of view, and we share the things we're going to do, and we hope you're learning something new cause the path to mastering theory begins with you.
Greg Ristow: Welcome to Notes from the Staff, a podcast from the creators of uTheory, where we dive into conversations about teaching music, music theory, ear training, music technology and more to students of all ages. I'm Greg Ristow, founder of uTheory and a professor of conducting at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
Leah Sheldon: And I'm Leah Sheldon, head of teacher engagement for uTheory. And with us today is a special guest, Dr. Andrew Machamer, who is assistant professor of music education at Baldwin Wallace University. He's here to talk with us about preparing band and orchestra students for contest sight-reading. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Machamer: Thank you so much, happy to be here.
Leah Sheldon: And, why don't you tell us just a little bit more about yourself?
Andrew Machamer: Sure. I'm from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And I went to my undergraduate degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which is a small state school outside of Pittsburgh and there I earned my bachelor's in music education. And then for graduate school, traveled to University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, and I earned my master's and doctorate in bassoon performance. During that time, I taught many different marching bands, pet bands, concert bands, private lessons, anything to just stay in the education world and kind of hone my skills. And then moving here to Berea with my wife, starting at Baldwin Wallace about five years ago, have really enjoyed being a part of the community here.
Greg Ristow: So, tell us a bit more about your role there at Baldwin Wallace. What do you teach?
Andrew Machamer: So, I am the band music education faculty member. And so, I instruct the woodwind class. I also teach Instrumental Music Methods, which is an upper level method course for our music education majors on how to be a band or orchestra director. So I co-teach that with my string colleague, it's a really fantastic class. And then, I also oversee student teaching placements and supervision.
Andrew Machamer: So, I get a really great opportunity to go out into the schools and meet directors, and watch our students interact with their students, and kind of see what is going on in the area, and how people are managing the pandemic and their programs and where the trajectory of things are going here in Ohio.
Greg Ristow: So we're going to talk specifically about preparing students for contest sight-reading, and being the one person in this conversation who hasn't taught in the public schools and isn't so connected to that. I wonder, Andrew, could you just start us off with what in the world is contest, and when is it and just give us some background?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Contest is an opportunity for directors to take their ensembles to a place to be adjudicated. I think just to get some outside perspective on how their ensembles are progressing to get some objective numbers from experts in the field that they can use to then inform their instruction as they move forward with their program. I think that's such an important thing to do. Otherwise, you're just getting kind of feedback from administrators who might not be as well versed in the musical arts.
Andrew Machamer: So to get really specific surgical feedback about blended balance, and intonation and things like that from people that know, I think can be really valuable. So, I think that's why we do it. I think it's also a great way to kind of have something to work towards with an ensemble, to get the students excited and engaged and hey, we're going to work towards this goal, we're going to go play in front of some really great people and we're going to get some feedback. So, I think those things all combined can make contest a really valuable thing for both the students and the instructor.
Leah Sheldon: So, I think a lot of teachers would probably like to know why do we do sight-reading at a contest?
Andrew Machamer: Because, it's fun. Why not, right? Because it's enjoyable, and everybody loves to be put on the spot and try something brand new in front of new people. Right. I mean, I really do think we do it at contest because I feel like it deepens the experience for the players. We're already there, we're in our uniforms, in our outfits and we're playing already, like why not do something that is going to kind of give us a baseline idea of where our musicianship is as an ensemble? And, let's play some music that we've never seen before and let's put our musicianship to the test.
Andrew Machamer: And so, I think at contest, it's a really great time to do that. And then again, to get that feedback from the experts. I mean, when else are you going to do sight-reading and have it be meaningful in that way? Like, you're not going to do site reading in a concert, although we'll come back to that, I have an idea, but I guess, when else are you going to do site reading and have it be as meaningful as it is when it's at contest?
Leah Sheldon: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit more about that. So I mean, why is it specific to contest? Should it be specific to contest? I think back to when I was in the classroom and it became so important at that time of year, but it could also be important the whole year round.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. Yeah. You can't wait until the last minute to start getting ready for sight-reading right before you do it. It has to be a holistic approach. I think what you do in rehearsal every day should then be applied to a sight-reading exercise. So if you're rehearsing and breaking down notes and rhythms, and you have a counting system that you have your students use, maybe put the rhythm on the board and break it down the ands, and the e's, and the ahs and have them participate in that. Kind of teach them to teach themselves almost, so that when they're confronted with a new rhythm in the sight-reading, they can then apply that. But that needs to happen year round, like every day in rehearsal, maybe you have a warmup routine where you put a difficult rhythm on the board and you break it down and then you play it as part of a scale.
Andrew Machamer: Or in rehearsal, you ask the question who has the melody here? Who should we be hearing? Who should we be listening to? Who's the most important part? Like, those are things that I think should just be part of your rehearsals every day. And then again, the sight-reading will then test your musicianship and the ability to make decisions as an ensemble, but you have to give them permission to do it and rehearsal and you need to let them try it multiple times before they have to do it for a contest. Which is just like a point on the path, sight-reading at contest is not the end, it's just like a point of reference to get some feedback to then move on to the next part of your growth as an ensemble. But I agree with you, it can't just be right beforehand. I think it has to be baked into everything that you do in your rehearsals.
Greg Ristow: So just coming back to my naivete, imagine that I'm a ninth grader and I've never been to contest, what's the day going to look like? And, how is that site reading going to be maybe different than site reading we do in the band room normally?
Andrew Machamer: Right. Yeah. So, what is going to be different? And, I think that's the big thing. When things are new and different, it shakes our confidence a bit. And especially in the wind world, when we don't feel confident, we don't take a good breath and we don't take a good breath, it's going to be hard to create a good sound. So, how can we make that newness or those things that are different commonplace? And, we can train them to do that. And so, they're going to be wearing their outfits, their tuxes or whatever concert attire. They're going to have new music in front of them for the first time. They're going to be in a new space, so it's going to sound different and look different. And, they're going to be playing in front of somebody new. Okay, so all of that, and we're not even talking about the music, all of that is new. So, how can we get them comfortable with that?
Greg Ristow: And there's going to be a time limit probably, right and sort of various rules around that?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. There's usually, I mean, in Ohio, it says three to four minutes, where there's a silence and everyone's working on their own music. And then three to four minutes, where the conductor gets to go over things. Nobody plays, which you can sing, you can clap, you can... So, that process needs to be practiced. So again, like that can't be a new experience on the day of site reading. So, we need to go through that process. What is the process of getting ready to play a piece for the first time? And so, you need to say you were going to open your music, let's look for key signatures changes. Difficult rhythms, expression markings. Do we know what this word means?
Andrew Machamer: I mean, all of those things need to be addressed in our practice sessions, so that when they sit down and they open their music for the first time, they can start to look at those things and they're comfortable doing and dissecting those things right off the bat.
Andrew Machamer: But I think with this newness, like having people come in and adjudicate or clinic before that, like getting comfortable playing in front of new people is going to be such a huge help. The thing that's really interesting out here is there is some cafetorianasium, like some schools don't even have auditoriums, so they go to a performing arts center for an adjudication event, and everything sounds different, and it looks different and it's very intimidating. So, anything that we can do to make them feel more comfortable is going to translate to a better performance. And so, realizing and identifying what those things are and giving them a chance to try it out beforehand is going to be key.
Leah Sheldon: So thinking about the logistics of sight-reading, Andrew, how do you make sure that the students know exactly how they're going to get that music passed out and divided up without eating into that preparation time?
Andrew Machamer: Right. I think that's part of the process as you're rehearsing it in rehearsals. And so, "Okay, can we identify this is the section leader who's going to hand out the parts to the other members of the section." And particularly percussion in the back of the room, who is going to be in charge of assigning the different percussion parts to the different musicians in the back? And getting those instruments set up, so that you're ready to go when the time comes, that can't be a day of decision. That needs to be something that's baked into the experience of practicing site reading in a rehearsal. So, I think having some student leadership set up and having those responsibilities clearly define before that moment, that's going to lead to some success there.
Leah Sheldon: And, letting them practice it.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely.
Greg Ristow: I remember thinking way back to like middle school, high school band myself, playing French horn. I remember just being so shocked by the sight-reading experience, because generally in our band program, we would work on the same pieces of music for a really, really, really long time. And it was pretty rare that we worked on reading skills, and I wonder if that is something that's changed in the 20 plus years since I've been in high school, or if that's something that is still the case in a lot of band programs. I know certainly in a lot of chorale programs that many teachers choose to focus more on certain pieces of rep, rather than sight-reading. Is it true in the band world as well?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. I mean, you have your selection that is from the list that you are going to be adjudicated. You want those pieces to be extremely polished, so you're sweating it. You want to make sure that those notes and rhythms, that everything is right there. And sometimes, sight-reading is more of an afterthought. And so, we just don't do it very often. And plus, it takes a lot of work to get sight-reading pieces together for the group to play. I mean, to make sure that all the folders have all the pieces and it just, it's time intensive.
Andrew Machamer: So, I think it is something that definitely gets kind of pushed to the back of the mind or swept under the carpet. But again, if we can just like practicing in-general, like practicing three hours before a concert is not going to do it, but if you take that three hours and spread it out, it's going to be much more fruitful. So to your point, I think, yes, it still happens. A lot of directors either don't have the time or the energy to do more sight-reading exercises. But if we want to be successful at it, we got to do it, we got to do it more often.
Greg Ristow: And I mean, I have to think, the point of doing sight-reading at contest surely is isn't just to do sight-reading at contest. But it says that as a community, we value those skills and we want to reinforce the importance of teaching those skills.
Andrew Machamer: Sure, absolutely.
Greg Ristow: And so, I wonder if you might talk a little bit to the value of sight-reading and why we just teach sight-reading in general.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. I think it creates independence in the players, that they feel confident that they can look at a piece of music and get a sense of what it sounds like through ideation, or be able to dissect the rhythms or to look at the terms on the piece of paper and just know that I'm going to be able to perform this music. There's nothing here that I haven't seen before, and I feel comfortable and I'm going to be able to play this. So, I think it's just the general musicianship of the player that we're nurturing when it comes to preparing them to sight-read, so that they feel confident and they're able to perform the music.
Leah Sheldon: Yeah. That's really great insight on the sight-reading as a whole, not just as a specific part of contest, you mentioned something a while back though that I want to kind of circle back to. So you said that, you mentioned a counting system, and this is pertinent because last week we actually were talking about solfege systems and the importance of having one for teaching new music. So, I think that kind of goes right along those lines. Do you have anything else to add on to that about what other tools or skills are really necessary that we need to intentionally give to the students, so that they are able to be good sight-readers?
Andrew Machamer: Right. Yeah. That's a great question. And I think outside of rhythm, I mean, notes and fingerings are going to have to be on that list too. Right? If we-
Leah Sheldon: Sure.
Andrew Machamer: ... aren't addressing that in rehearsal, if we aren't giving them the tools they need, the fingering charts to so they can find fingerings themselves. So when we think about the hierarchy of music making, like notes and rhythms, and then phrasing, blend and balance, intonation and all of that affects one another. So when we talk about specific skills, like how can you hear the beats of intonation, that you're out of tune? And, how do you fix it? How do you do it with your armature? What do you move on your instrument? Those are tangible skills that you can absolutely address in rehearsal that will then directly affect the sight-reading performance. But the counting, fingerings, intonation, identifying who has the melody. When you have a long tone, that's probably not the melody, so let's turn our listening ears on and try to find the moving part, things like that, that can be ingrained. But to your point, those tangible skills can absolutely be useful when it comes to the sight-reading portion.
Greg Ristow: Can you talk a little bit about counting systems?
Andrew Machamer: Sure. And, I think it's different... It's what your comfort level is, whether it's the Gordon method, and you're doing Du's/Du De's, or the Kodaly, the Takadimi, that's a little outside my comfort zone, but the one and two, and 1 e and a 2 e and a. Like those counting systems, although maybe not the most musical thing are really clear and you can put them on the board and you can have the students, count and clap and dissect. And this is beat one and beat two starts here, then what part of this beat is this note? I think those can be really helpful and having the students write it in their own music, so that they get comfortable with dissecting rhythms in their own parts can be really helpful too.
Greg Ristow: So maybe let's just think about long-term strategies, so let's say I want to be sure that by the time we get to contest, my students are ready to read whatever rhythm happens to appear in their part. So, what does that look like over the course of the school year in the classroom?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. I think depending on what that rhythm is, you kind of integrate it into your warmup routine, where you have that rhythm, they're exposed to that rhythm.
Greg Ristow: Or I guess specifically, because we won't know necessarily what the rhythms will be, right? Or are there-
Andrew Machamer: True. Yeah.
Greg Ristow: So, where do you start? How do you build up those skills long-term?
Andrew Machamer: Well, there is a list of what types of meters that you're going to see in the site reading portion of contest, depending on what class you are. So if you're going to be dealing with 6/8, or 3/4, the more the students are exposed to those meters, the more comfortable they're they're going to be, obviously that makes sense. So I guess, just knowing what you're in store for and making sure that you perform, or rehearse music that have those meters in, so that the students are more comfortable when the time comes. I think that's got to be key.
Andrew Machamer: People like, "Well, 6/8 is so difficult." It's like, is it really difficult or is it just different from what we normally play? And, we just need to expose them to that triple feel more, and then they'll be able to do it. So, that's why the Gordon method is so great, because when they're in your jump right in method book, it's like you do duple meter and triple meter at the same time. So you do 2/4 and 6/8, so we're dealing with two macro beats, and then the microbes change, but the macro beats are the same, and understanding that differentiation and the feel and the subdivision of the beat is so great. And, we need to make sure that the students instill that in their rehearsing and in their practicing as well.
Greg Ristow: Yeah. I think that's such a great point, especially with compound meter. How often do we find students who, somewhere along the line, got in their head that the number on the bottom of the time signature tells me how many beats there are. And so, I am going to count it one, two, three, four, five, six, one, two, three, four, five, six. And, it's such a different feel, than when you have those two, as you said, macro beats and the subdivided pulse within them.
Greg Ristow: Statistically, I'm going to fall back on my very nerdy music theory-ness, when we look at music written in 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, there's a much smaller number of rhythmic patterns that are used, than there are in music written in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, etc. Generally, a huge portion of it is just those basic patterns of the 3/8 notes da, da, da, da, da, da. Or the long shorts da, da, or the full beat length. And really, any other pattern is pretty unusual, so.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah, that makes sense.
Greg Ristow: I think, sorry, just to dive off, but we do, I think we get a bit freaked out about 6/8 when we start, because if we're counting it at the eighth note level, we won't notice those macro beat length patterns, there aren't all that many of them.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. You know what else throws musicians for a loop is ties, where we have a rhythm and we introduce a tie. And all of a sudden, there's an obscureness to the beats, or we lose the subdivision and their heads just kind of implode there for a minute. And when we're rehearsing, if we can take those ties out and let them experience what's happening underneath the tie, and then you put the tie back in. So kind of like simplifying the rhythm, giving them a chance to experience it. And then when you add that tie back in, they have a sense of what's happening. But I mean, rhythm is just, gosh, it's so important.
Andrew Machamer: I would argue that is probably the most important thing, particularly when you have a room full of high school students trying to do something altogether. If the pulse isn't there, if the rhythm isn't right, it's going to be very difficult to do anything else on top of that. I mean, even more so than correct notes, which is probably blasphemous to say, but the rhythm is just paramount and eight's got to be there, so.
Leah Sheldon: Well, a correct note at the wrong time is still a correct note, but the rhythm is-
Andrew Machamer: Incorrect note.
Leah Sheldon: Yeah.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah.
Leah Sheldon: So, agree with you.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. I love that. Yeah. And you tell that to a band and they're like, "Oh yeah, I guess that's right."
Greg Ristow: You were talking about also the fingering and getting notes right aspect of things. Beyond just handing out fingering charts, what sorts of things can you do to build fluency in that?
Andrew Machamer: Scales, period. I think scale work is so important on a wind instrument. I mean, they're building blocks of music, so if you want your students to be able to play a G-flat, you need to have keys that have that note in there, and you need to practice those scales and that's how they're going to get comfortable with it. So then, it's not just a fingering, but it's part of a scale, part of thing else. And so, I think all the majors and starting getting into the minors, like that's really going to help the fingerings a lot and it will also help you identify where the fingering deficiencies are. I remember we did a hymn song of Philip Bliss, which is D-flat major. And so, it was really apparent which instrumentalists knew those fingerings and which didn't when we would warm up with that scale.
Andrew Machamer: It's like, okay, we got to work on these fingerings in the trombones, slide positions, or we need to work on this alternative fingering in the clarinets to help them overcome these difficulties. But, I just think scales has got to be it, that's got to be the answer when it comes to fingerings and finger fluency.
Leah Sheldon: And beyond scales and putting rhythms on the board, where can directors turn to find resources? I'll kick it off by saying, I had the opportunity to work with both the middle school and high school band, and so I would often pull from the middle school library to practice high school sight-reading.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah, I think that's... I mean, any music selling website is going to have lists of pieces by grade. And if you are going in as a class A and you know you going to read primarily grade four music, I would go to that list and find some threes and twos that you can put in front of them to practice their site reading. There's also just so many state lists out there of pieces that other states use for their adjudication and Ohio is no exception. So look at those lists and say, "Okay, well, what are the adjudicated pieces that are on the list for the grades below mine?" And maybe, we can practice sight-reading, some of those. But I think any list of pieces are going to be helpful, as you're kind of deciding what would be a good site reading exercise for my ensemble to use.
Greg Ristow: When you were talking about that non-playing time before are playing in contest, you mentioned a couple of things, you mentioned counting, you mentioned singing and you mentioned sizzling. Can you talk about how all of those play into things? And I don't even know what sizzling is, so.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. I mean, it's... You basically like sizzle the rhythm. And why I like that is, it for the musicians to engage their abdomen muscles as they're playing or as they're sizzling. And, which is kind of the breathing apparatus we want to engage with as they're using their air to play their instruments. So not only that, but it kind of has them work a little bit harder to get the front of the note to sound, which in the band world is kind of where we need to line things up. So. The sizzling is a great exercise for them to kind of utilize their breathing apparatus that's going to help set them up for playing. But, I think that that silent rehearsal time, study time is, it can't be overlooked. Just, they need to know what to do. And they're not going to know what to do, unless you go over that with them and kind of give them the clues of things that they need to look for as they open up a brand new piece of music.
Andrew Machamer: Is it accidentals? I mean, the key changes obviously, but is there a tempo change? Do you see a ritardando somewhere? What about these crescendos and they crescendos? Where do they happen? How are we going to do that? All of those clues are going to help them perform the piece better, but they're not going to know to look for those unless you practice it in rehearsal. So let's open up our sight-reading folders, let's open up this brand new piece of music, who can raise their hand and tell me something that they see that we should work on, that we should look at, or that we should pay attention to as we perform this. And I think over time, they're going to be able to refine that list and they're going to get to all the things that you need them to get to.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. And, I love that. I love that there's this individualized silent time, where they are just on their own kind of dealing with the music individually, because again, we want them to take ownership of the music making process. And, I think that's a great way to do that.
Greg Ristow: You mentioned singing also, can you talk about that a bit?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Singing. Singing the line, singing the melody, as the director on the podium. Oftentimes, singing in band is the best way to model, because you can't pick up all the different instruments that are going on. So if I want something a particular way, I often sing it for the ensemble, but then to have them sing their own parts. I think that would be such a powerful way for them to engage with the music without having an instrument in their mouth.
Andrew Machamer: I mean, we sing a lot with drones for intonation purposes, exercises. We'll put a drone on, and we'll sing a pitch, and we'll match and we'll bend that pitch down or up to kind of manipulate the beats, so that they can then apply that to their instrument. And I just think for us as a band with all these different ways of making sound, reads, or mouth pieces, or no reads or percussion, let's all make sound the same way. And Let's have that be our base, where we can just all kind of be on the same page and connect with this pitch, or melody or what have you. And then, we can apply it [inaudible 00:26:18]. I mean, if you can sing it, you can play it. And it's just, that's our mantra and it just really does connect you to the music.
Andrew Machamer: But they're only going to be comfortable that if you sing in rehearsals, if you practice that. And a lot of times, if they can't do it, and say, "Okay, well, let's play it first." "And okay, now let's sing that same melody." Let's give them a chance to hear what it sounds like, and then let's sing it, and you get them to get into that routine for a bit and they build their confidence up. And then you say, "Okay, now let's just try to sing this without playing it, let's just try it. There's no wrong answer here, let's just see how it goes. And then, okay. Now let's play it were you close. So not necessarily solfege syllables, but I there's a lot of benefit to that too, but we just do it on a neutral syllable just to, can you find the line, do you know how your part goes? And then, apply it to your instrument. So, it's a great exercise to [inaudible 00:27:10].
Greg Ristow: I did my master's in doctorate at Eastman. And when I started my masters, it was right at the end of the Donald Hunsberger era. And, Mark Scatterday started right there, and then of course was still there when I was doing my doctorate. And, both of them said really similar things about singing, like every band must be able to sing and would use it so constantly as a tool in rehearsal, even at that very high level. I love some of those ideas you've just shared about how to move towards that, even with an ensemble that's maybe a little scared it about singing.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. Yeah. I've heard so many times, "I'm not in choir, I'm in band, why are we singing in band?" It's like, because we're making music, because we're becoming better musicians because this is going to help us play better. There's no disconnect, but it's such an important part. And a lot of bands don't do it, whether someone's uncomfortable or there's not enough time, but even at the highest level like you said, it can be a really powerful tool to help get everybody on the same page.
Greg Ristow: Yeah. And I guess, it probably the reason, I mean we've said singing's great, bands have to be able to sing, everyone has to be able to sing. Probably what we're really after there is the idea that we all have to be able to actually hear in our mind what the music should sound like without resorting to an instrument to create that sound. So talking about like internal hearing really.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Can you audiate this line? And also, when you have your instrument, you push the buttons down and you blow and the note comes out, but it is not... What's the function of that note? Like, if I'm playing a concert F and it's F major, then that intonation is at a certain frequency. But if that F is part of a B-flat chord, well now that F needs to be just slightly higher. Or if it's a D chord and I'm playing F natural, it needs to be a little bit higher than that. And so, we need to be able to listen, and adjust and hear where we fit in, just pushing the button only gets you so close. And so, that's why we do a lot of pitch bending, the groups that I do, we sing with the pitch bending. And, what does it feel like to be out tune?
Andrew Machamer: Like, let's do it wrong on purpose or let's experience what being flat or sharp on purpose actually feels like. And then, let's bring it back into in-tune, so that we're matching pitch, so that when we're on instruments, we can do the same thing. The analogy I use is, it's like a camera lens, which is turning out to be a terrible analogy because nobody has cameras anymore, that have lenses. But when you want it to be in focus, the first thing you do is you take it out of focus, and then you bring it back in, and then you know it's in focus. And so, it's kind of the same idea when we're teaching intonation and we're using singing in the ensemble is, let's kind of take it out and then experience it, and then we can bring it back in, so that we can compare the two.
Andrew Machamer: Again, differentiation, like if we know when it's wrong, then we'll be able to know when it's right a little easier, I think. So.
Greg Ristow: You mentioned working with a drone when you do that kind of work, how do you get from just tuning that unison to a point of knowing where I am in the chord and adjusting based on where I am in a chord?
Andrew Machamer: We sing it. And so, what I typically do is we'll, you're right, matching the pitch is the first thing, and then we'll sing up the scale with the drone on the route. We'll sing as an ensemble up the scale and back down. And then when we get comfortable with that, then we'll walk up the scale, and then the third will stay put, and then the rest of the group will walk up to the fifth, and then we'll have a chord. And then, we'll take that one chord and we'll walk it to down the scale to a five chord, and then we'll start messing with the third to make it minor. And we'll say, "Okay, the people on the fifth now, we're going to take it sharp on purpose." "And, what does that do to the chord?"
Andrew Machamer: So, there is a way to gradually get them to understand their chord responsibility. And of course, you can talk about just intonation and put the sense difference on the board and all that too, which is helpful, but to get them to experience it and to do it singing, now they're not worried about... We're taking a part of the equation away. We're not dealing with instruments, different sounds like let's just sing it, what does it feel like? And then, okay, now let's apply it straight to our instruments.
Andrew Machamer: So whatever we do in the singing portion, we immediately do right on our instruments, so that we have that direct connection between the two. But it's just the groups that I do that with and the groups that I don't do that with, it's just such a stark difference that it's worth the time. And you can do it quickly once you have it set up, you don't have to talk much about it, you can just do it. But, it's just a great way to warm up and just singing, getting them comfortable with that, so that when you have them sing a piece, now they're all ready. We sing and band, that's what we do and that's going to help us be better.
Greg Ristow: So, I come from the chorale world. And so, usually when we're singing, we can see everyone's parts. And so, if I'm wondering, am I on the route fifth or third, I can always look down and usually see what the chord is.
Andrew Machamer: Sure.
Greg Ristow: But that's not the case, obviously in the band world or orchestra world, where you have just your own line. So then, how do you transfer that over to working on real music?
Andrew Machamer: Right. So, I think you pick the chords that are the most important ones and you kind of lead them to that answer. Let's sing this chord, let's play this chord. Okay, if you think you have the route, let's have you play. And let them kind of lead them to that discovery on their own, but you can't do it for every chord, you would be there all day. So let's pick maybe the first chord or the last chord, or if there's a key change or a transition, or it's the end of a movement or what have you, but I think it's comes through repetition and that type of practice. But because you've done the singing and the warmup, they have a sense of that and now, okay, let's apply it to this particular chord. And if they're still not getting it, then you can do the same process of, okay, everyone play, be flat.
Andrew Machamer: Okay. Now, we're going to walk up the scale. And when you feel like you get to your chord member, your chord tone, you're going to stop and you're going to hold that out. So, there are ways to then incorporate that warmup, and that singing and that playing, all that you did with the drone with that. So, you're right. And, I'm so jealous of the chorale world, because you have that ability to see. And as the conductor, you have all the answers in front of you now, albeit it's transposed, and all spread out and you have the percussion to worry about too. But in the chorale world, you have all the answers right in front of you and what a luxury that is. And then I think about my string colleagues, where they're all playing an instrument that basically makes the sound the same way.
Andrew Machamer: Strings and bows, and they're all concert pitch. And, the homogenous sound that they're able to produce, because they're all in instruments that make sound a certain way. And then, the band world is just completely different and wild with all the different instruments. But yeah, so to answer your question, there is a way to get them there, but you got to kind of scaffold it slowly over time. And then, they'll be able to identify, but you have the answers. And so, you can kind of help lead them to the correct answer, as they're listening to their part.
Leah Sheldon: And, the key there is slowly over time. Again, this can't be started the week before contest. These are our skills that are being practiced all year long.
Andrew Machamer: Right. Which is why sight-reading is such a unique thing. It's like a snapshot out of where you are as an ensemble. And we need to understand that, that's all it is. It's a snapshot and it's a metric that we're going to use to help make the group better. It's not like, if we get a two or a three at sight-reading, that means that we're a terrible teacher or this is a terrible group. It's just a point of reference that we can then use to help our instruction moving forward. We need to work more on 6/8, and we need to do stuff in minor. Or we had a word in our piece that we didn't know what that meant, so we need to make sure that we play pieces that have that, so that we can address it in our rehearsals.
Greg Ristow: When I think about site reading in chorale contexts, I think a lot about the intersection of the group's strength and abilities, and individuals strengths and abilities. And as you're working with students over a longer period of time, how do you balance those two?
Andrew Machamer: That's a great question. I mean, from year-to-year, you're going to have certain sections that just have stronger players than others. And I guess, just knowing where your weaknesses are and making sure that those students get extra help along the way. Picking your rep is going to help that too. Like if I know I have a weak trombone section, we're not going to do Lassus Trombone, I mean, that's just probably not. Or if my clarinets are struggling, like MMolly on the Shore is probably not the answer for this year. But, you're going to know where your strengths, weaknesses are. And I think with sight-reading, that's probably where things get a little dicey is, you can kind of stack the deck in your favor by what pieces you choose to perform. But in sight-reading, you're not choosing that piece. So I guess in rehearsals, just being aware of that and making sure that you get some extra attention to those groups, maybe bringing in someone to work with them as a section, bringing in a local professional and having a pullout sectional every now and then.
Andrew Machamer: Or if you don't have bassoonist or oboist starting in that process earlier in the middle school, see, now we're talking really thinking far ahead, but again, I just think it's just knowing your group and knowing where you are and sight-reading can certainly help give you a sense of where that is. But, individuals versus the group, it's always tricky, because some are going to take private lessons and some aren't. Some are going to be in COYO, and NOYO and... All these great groups and others just...
Greg Ristow: For those us in Ohio, we know those, but...
Andrew Machamer: Oh, I'm sorry.
Greg Ristow: ... can you tell us what [inaudible 00:36:49]...
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Youth orchestras or youth ensembles, so Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, or Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra or Contemporary Youth Orchestra, extracurricular ensembles outside of the band room, or orchestra room or choir room, they're going to get those experiences. And so, you'll know your group and where the deficiencies are, and then you try to address them as best you can.
Greg Ristow: he other thing I think a lot about in... I'm sorry, and so much of what I know is based on the voice and choral world. Right?
Andrew Machamer: I love it.
Greg Ristow: I'm just curious to ask about these various parallels. One of the things that we do, of course, we do so much solfege work. And one of the things that a lot of us do to connect solfege work to rhythmic work is, we'll set up a pattern within a scale and we'll say, "Put a rhythm," I'll or project a rhythm using the document camera or whatever. And say, "Okay, Hey let's do the pattern, Do, Mi, Re, FA, etc., on this rhythm," and then perform them. Do you do things like that in band as well?
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, especially in the middle school level, you would probably just play like every note of the scale, do a measure rhythm, and then do the next note of the scale on the same rhythm. But, I love that as well. I love that idea. And what I really love to do is I'll put the rhythm up, again, without any ties in it and we'll count it and we'll play it. And then, I'll add that tie and say, "Okay, now what does it sound like?"
Andrew Machamer: All right, now let's count it and play it this way too. But, it's a great way to connect the warmup to the piece.
Leah Sheldon: The music.
Andrew Machamer: And that, I think a hundred percent, that's a great way to do it. Yeah, I don't do much solfege and I love solfege, but in the band, I don't know, we just always do it on a neutral syllable. There's no particular reason why. Maybe because of the transposing instruments, like Do would be different. I mean, Do would be Do, but it would be a different note on the different instruments, and so we don't typically do that. But yeah, I love that idea.
Greg Ristow: But you do play your scales, which I think in effect is-
Andrew Machamer: Oh, certainly.
Greg Ristow: ... it's like they know where they are on the scale. And-
Andrew Machamer: True.
Greg Ristow: ... I guess, singers, we don't have buttons to push down. And so, it's really nice to have a word to kind of replace the function of the buttons a bit.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. Greg, how do you feel about numbers versus syllables? Do you have a preference between one or the other?
Greg Ristow: You should listen to our last episode.
Andrew Machamer: Okay, all right.
Greg Ristow: So, I love them. No, no, no, Andrew, I love them all. I am just completely...
Leah Sheldon: He's not kidding.
Greg Ristow: I've spent time in every major solfege system.
Andrew Machamer: Wow.
Greg Ristow: And, each of them has helped me to hear different things in music. Anyway, in my own teaching, at Oberlin, we use scale degree and Fixed-Do.
Andrew Machamer: Okay.
Greg Ristow: We want students at all time to be tracking both where they are within the key, and also what note they're actually singing, playing, etc.
Andrew Machamer: Makes a lot of sense.
Greg Ristow: So that if I know I'm an E-flat major and I'm singing three, then I know I'm singing a G. Or if here a four, and I know that I'm an F-sharp major, that's a B right. So, we're trying to make those things very tightly connected. In my work at Interlochen, and we use Moveable-Do with Do-based minor. When I was teaching in Texas, Moveable-Do law based minor.
Greg Ristow: So, I've really been through them all. I think they're all wonderful. I think the main thing is kind of like with what you're saying, you can't, you can't pick it up the day before sight-singing for your All-State audition, you've got to be doing it all the way along and yeah.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. I love all the different systems too and how they, some might work better in one situation or another or... Then you get the 21st century atonal and now like solfege syllables are really difficult numbers [inaudible 00:40:42], all of that is I find it really interesting. And we have a class at BW, it's called solfege, but we use numbers. So, you try to figure that one out, but yeah.
Greg Ristow: Numbers are kind of solfege, that's true.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah, that is true.
Greg Ristow: I have a student at Oberlin, all my life, generally when I've done Atonal sight-singing, I've worked in Fixed-Do and had a first year student, actually not a music major, was a student in the college last year. And, I do actually weekly individual sight-reading meetings with my choir students. And so, they're only like five minutes long, so really super quick meetings. And this kid came in and that first day, I'm just like, open page one of the sight-singing book, just see where they are and nails it, turn about halfway through, nails it. I turn to the end, nails it. I pull out Modus Novus atonal sight-singing, actually I started with some Wolf songs, nailed it, finally pulled out Modus Novus atonal sight-singing and opened it.
Greg Ristow: And he looked, he said, "What key is this in?" I said, "Well, it's not really in a key." And he said, "Okay, I'm just going to call the first note Do." And, just proceeded to nail every atonal melody I could throw at him using moveable-Do and just picking a note as Do.
Andrew Machamer: Wow.
Greg Ristow: And I just said, I was like, "How did you learn through this? He said, "Well, we just did sight-singing every day from elementary school through to the end of high school." And, so.
Andrew Machamer: I'm so jealous, that's...
Greg Ristow: Right.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah.
Greg Ristow: That needs to be everyone. Yeah. No, I think, I would be amazed if everyone who graduated from that choir program could do that, but I think it is a testament to where you can get students, if you do these skills. And so, this kid comes in, studying in the college and singing with the top conservatory ensemble, because you can just read down out anything. It's really...
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. That's so impressive. And I think the flip side of that is, some kids come to college without any background in solfege whatsoever, and then they struggle in the first solfege class and it's like, "Well yeah, I mean, you've never done it before, so you got to cut yourself a little bit of a break and work a little harder upfront to get what you need to do." But yeah, I'm jealous of people that can just do it, because that was never me. I had to grind it out, it was tough for me. Solfege was always a difficult class.
Greg Ristow: Yeah. I don't think anyone is born a solfege whiz kid. I mean, I think it's that like, when do you start solfege, how long have you had doing it? It's, I mean, as you said, you don't build these muscles overnight, they have to be built over the long-term. I think the other thing that what you just said triggered me to think about is, when students leave our program, whether they go on to do music in college or life, if we've help them build these sight-reading skills, they're going to be equipped to play music they want to play for the rest of their life, without needing someone to teach them how it goes and what a wonderful gift that is.
Andrew Machamer: Absolutely. Yeah. My favorite teacher would always say like, "I'm trying to put myself out of a job, like I want to teach you so well that you don't need me any more." And, I just thought that was really great. I was like, "Yeah, I appreciate that and I can respect that." And you're right, we wanted them to have the skills, so that they can enjoy music long after they are done taking lessons or studying with us. I mean, we're trying to create lifelong music appreciation people out there, that's part of our job and it's exciting, for sure.
Leah Sheldon: So although all of this conversation has been about preparing well in advance, what are your thoughts, Andrew, I've seen directors do this, on site reading during a concert? This is typically done at maybe the concert the week of, or the week before contest is happening. What are your thoughts on that?
Andrew Machamer: I've seen it done really well and I loved it. And, what a great opportunity to impress your parents and your administrators in the audience. It's almost like a magic trick, like we're going to perform this piece of music that we've never seen before. And to kind of bring them along on the journey, like they're going to get... This is what we're going to do at contest, let them know this is part of the process and they're going to get a folder that they've never seen. They're going to open it, they're going to have four or five minutes to look at it on their own. And, here are the types of things that they should be looking at to help remind the students too. And you kind of list the things, and then the weirdest part is that silent four or five minutes when no one... It's really quite...
Leah Sheldon: And the parents are just looking around at each other side eyeing like, "What's happening?"
Andrew Machamer: The candy starts to rustle. It's a really heavy moment, but it also puts the students on the spot too. Like, how do they deal with the nerves of... Now they're not just playing in front of one person, but they're playing in front of their friends and family. And so then that, the first five minutes happened, and then the second five minutes where the instructor is on the podium and they're singing, and sizzling and counting. And he's pointing things out, and then they play it and everyone is just in awe of the students.
Andrew Machamer: And as directors, the people that are with the kids all the time, we know that they can do that, but the parents don't and to let them experience that, ah, it's such a great thing. Because we have to be advocates for our program, not just in recruiting students, but in kind of convincing the parents that this is a special thing that we're doing. I mean, what math class do you know puts kids and desks in front of a bunch of people and they have to do math problems they've never seen before, like it just doesn't translate, so.
Leah Sheldon: And then, being scored on it?
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Right. Yeah. And then, get scored. But, I just think it's a great way to prepare.
Greg Ristow: Mathletes, right?
Leah Sheldon: Well, sure.
Andrew Machamer: Mathletes. Were you a mathlete, Greg? I don't know anything about mathletes. Is that a thing?
Greg Ristow: It seems like I should have been, but I was not. But, only because our school did not have mathletes, so.
Andrew Machamer: Got you. So, I love it when that type of thing happens. It's just so much more than just an exercise. I mean, now you're involving the parents on the process and you're informing them on what you do every day in the band room. And it's a great experience for everybody, so I think it's A plus. And not to mention, the students get a chance to deal with nerves and how does it affect how they play. And yeah, it's a great thing to do. If you can, if you have time and if you can work it out, but I would definitely recommend doing that for sure.
Greg Ristow: So we've talked about using like the middle school band library as a resource or easier music. I wonder, I bet we probably all have some ideas for really good sequential resources, sort of methods to build up in particular rhythm and wonder just if we might all share some of our favorites.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah. Successful habits in the middle school band, in the high school band, there's a method book series out, it's called Successful Habits. And, that has a lot of great sequential scaffolded exercises that, not just rhythm, but corrals that students choose. There's four parts and okay, tubas, you're going to play the top part now and flutes, you're going to play the bottom part. And, to give them a chance to try the different parts of the ensemble. But, I really do like that series and I think it can be really useful in the band. So, that's the one I would plug for sure.
Leah Sheldon: And I would definitely plug Darcy Williams, Teaching Rhythm Logically. She's an educator in Texas and they're middle school department also has a podcast called After Sectionals. But a great resource that has, even to the point of having scripted out how to teach new rhythms, I should say it is rhythm specific, but it also includes these rhythm charts that are just wonderful exercises to print out and give to the students, or project on the board and perfect for sight-reading rhythm. It's very sequential, there's lots to practice from.
Andrew Machamer: Nice.
Greg Ristow: And of course, I'm going to shameless self plug uTheory, where students can actually practice rhythms, perform the rhythms, see immediate, real-time feedback on how they're doing on all of those rhythms. And you, as a teacher, can assign particular topics to them as well.
Andrew Machamer: Awesome.
Greg Ristow: Good. Well, what have we missed?
Andrew Machamer: The only thing we didn't talk about is recording the students, and then playing that recording back to them and dissecting. I think that can be a really powerful thing for them and allowing them to decide, what did you hear? What are two or three things that we need to work on. Why don't you write those things down? And then, let's discuss what we missed and what went well and what could have gone better. And now, with that new knowledge, let's play it again, not rehearsing, let's just play it one more time. And if you do that enough, then they start to apply those things on the first go around when they're sight-reading. So, the whole recording and having them hear what you're hearing on the podium can be a really powerful tool. So I would definitely make sure that we don't miss talking about that, because that could be a really powerful tool.
Greg Ristow: That's great. Excellent. Well, Andrew, if listeners want to follow you, get in touch with you, what's the best way?
Andrew Machamer: So they can find me on the Baldwin Wallace website, so bw.edu. My email is A-M-A-C-H-A-M-E@bw.edu. And I'd be happy to field any questions about Baldwin Wallace, preparing for sight-reading, music education in-general. I'm very easily reached and would be happy to converse.
Greg Ristow: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us. It's really been a pleasure.
Leah Sheldon: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew Machamer: Yeah, pleasures all mine. Thank you so much. Yeah, thanks for having me.
Greg Ristow: Great. So join us next time, as we talk about repairing singers for contest sight-reading and sight-reading in-general. And in the meantime, we'd love to hear from you, send us your questions, comments or show ideas at notesatyouththeory.com
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