Is Mikrokosmos Good for Learning Sight-Reading?

One book that everyone recommends for sight-reading is Bartok’s Mikrokosmos but is it really that good? Let’s have a closer look!

 

Is Mikrokosmos good for learning sight-reading?

 

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

Book 1

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:

 

Mikrokosmos Book 1

 

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.

 

Book 2

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:

 

Mikrokosmos Book 2

 

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.

 

Book 3

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:

 

Mikrokosmos Book 3 finger independence

 

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:

 

Mikrokosmos Book 3 bimodal piece

 

 

Book 4

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:

 

 

rhythm in Mikrokosmos Book 4

 

 

More complex chords and clusters are introduced from No.107.

 

Book 5

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:

 

hand independence in Mikrokosmos Book 5

 

 

Book 6

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:

 

composite time signature in Mikrokosmos Book 6

 

 

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:

Bartok’s For Children, Sz.42

Bartok – 10 easy pieces, Sz.39

Bartok – First term at the piano, Sz. 53

Jeff Manookian – Gradus, Progressive Piano Repertoire in 12 Volumes

 

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.

 

READ MORE >> Hymns for Sight-Reading

 

 

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  • Graham says:

    Mikrokosmos I was recommended by my piano teacher when I was an absolute beginner, many years ago. In a fit of enthusiasm, I also bought Mikrokosmos II. I have to say I found both dull. Now that I have been sight-reading for about 10 months, I resurrected them and tried again. I found them easy to sight-read but still dull… somehow I expected something scintillating from Bartok.

    • Yes, the music in Mikrokosmos doesn’t appeal to everyone and that’s okay. There are many benefits to sight-reading the pieces in Mikrokosmos but at the end of the day, you want to enjoy what you play, right? So, find music that appeals to you. 🙂

  • Hazem says:

    I played book I and II and didn’t like the dissonant chromatic style. I prefer to play music with beautiful harmony. My personal favorites are Bach’s inventions, and preludes from WTC. They sound good even if played at very slow speed.

  • Barton says:

    I’ve been working my way through Mikrokosmos Book 1 as a way to learn to play the piano. I am currently on the last piece in that book. So while I use other materials for my sight reading in each practice session, when I start a new piece in Mikrokosmos, I definitely try to sight read it. It’s a little challenging since the pieces are progressive but still I try to sight read every chance I get.

    If I were using a method book or some other way to learn then Mikrokosmos would be definitely something I’d use for sight reading. I can understand that the pieces might be off-putting to some, and I’ll admit they were to me at first, but I now find them very challenging and interesting. I think part of what makes it so is that the even the first book has pieces in Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes. I have come to see that the dissonance and the modes make it a great way to study music theory it definitely holds my interest and I’m always excited to sit down and learn.

    I found a recording of Mikrokosmos by Georges Solchany and he puts an interpretive spin on each of the pieces. Listening to it has helped me understand that there can be more to the pieces even in the first book.

    • Hi Barton, Yes, the modes and the dissonances make the pieces unique and interesting to play. I think it’s a nice change from classical music which is often very predictable. And the rhythm and meter certainly keep you on your toes!
      Thanks for the recommendation. I will check out the recording.

  • Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny, or Manu, is a piano and violin teacher, composer and accompanist based in Sydney, Australia. She is passionate about sharing her love of music and her sight-reading and practice tips to help other pianists become more confident sight-readers.

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