One book that everyone recommends for sight-reading is Bartok’s Mikrokosmos but is it really that good? Let’s have a closer look!
What is Mikrokosmos?
Mikrokosmos is a collection of 153 progressive piano pieces written by Bela Bartok between 1926 and 1939. The pieces are arranged into six volumes and progress from beginner to advanced.
Bartok wrote the first volumes of Mikrokosmos for his son Peter while the last two volumes are intended as professional concert pieces. The composer mentions the usefulness of Mikrokosmos as sight-reading material in his preface.
Breakdown of each volume of Mikrokosmos
The pieces in Book 1 are all written in a five-finger position. The first 20 pieces consist of simple melodies in unison like the following:
From No.21 the melodies remain similar between the hands but are now presented in a canon and with different phrasing, which requires some hand independence. There are some dynamics and articulation. From No.32, new time signatures are introduced such as 2/2, 3/2 and 6/4. The note values include crotchets, minims, dotted minims and semibreves.
The pieces in Book 2 remain in a five-finger position. The note values also include quavers, dotted crotchets and triplets. The articulation is more diverse and is sometimes different in both hands which helps develop hand independence. Time signatures include 6/8 and 5/4.
Some pieces have an unusual key signature such as F-sharp and G-sharp without the C-sharp, as you would expect. There are more expressive markings, some pedal markings, the pieces are becoming more dissonant and there are more accidentals.
From No.56, some pieces consist of held notes such as this one which is useful for developing finger independence:
Towards the end of the book, some of the pieces include changes in time and key signatures. From No.65, double notes such as 3rds and 5ths are introduced.
The pieces in Book 3 contain more double notes such as 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths and 6ths. The pieces are now written beyond the five-finger position. Triads in root position, 1st and 2nd inversion are introduced from No.69.
From No.72, some of the pieces are almost like hand independence exercises:
The rhythm is becoming more challenging with pieces containing triplets and quavers, semiquavers and dotted quavers.
The time signatures include 3/8 and 7/8. The pieces contain more and more accidentals.
From No.86, some of the pieces are bimodal, meaning that they employ two modes simultaneously like in the following:
Time signatures include 3/8, 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 and 5/4. Pieces contain time and key signatures changes.
The rhythm is increasingly difficult like in the following piece:
More complex chords and clusters are introduced from No.107.
Pieces now contain clusters and all kinds of chords. Some pieces contain quintuplets and septuplets and there are more and more notes on ledger lines.
Some pieces are challenging in terms of hand independence such as this one:
Pieces in Book 6 are increasingly difficult to read and technically more demanding. Pieces include demisemiquavers, double sharps or double flats, 7ths and octaves, syncopation and 4-note chords.
Some of the pieces use composite time signatures such as the following piece:
Pros of using Mikrokosmos for sight-reading
- The pieces are graded.
- The musical concepts are introduced progressively in a logical manner.
- The time signatures and key signatures are varied.
- Some pieces are excellent for developing finger and hand independence.
- A wide range of harmonies is used, going beyond traditional classical music.
- Most of the pieces are great for developing rhythm.
Cons of using Mikrokosmos for sight-reading
- The majority of the pieces are dissonant and thus not to everyone’s taste.
- The pieces get hard pretty quickly.
- Because most of the pieces are dissonant, it is harder to spot mistakes unlike in classical music pieces where mistakes would be more obvious.
Books similar to Mikrokosmos
If you enjoy the pieces in Mikrokosmos and are looking for similar books in terms of style, I recommend the following:
Conclusion: Is Mikrokosmos good for learning sight-reading?
Yes, Mikrokosmos is a great resource to develop sight-reading as well as musicianship, technique, expressive playing and finger and hand independence. The first two volumes are especially good for beginners. The remaining four volumes present notational, rhythmic and technical difficulties that are best addressed with the guidance of a teacher.
Have you sight-read pieces from Mikrokosmos? What was your impression? Let me know in the comments.