Do you struggle with reading ahead when you sight-read music? Not sure how to overcome this? Did you know that the Read Ahead app can help you do this very thing? Read on to learn more about this app and how it can help you improve your sight-reading.
You have no doubt heard piano teachers or your fellow pianists (or myself) say that you must look ahead when sight-reading. In fact, you will have come across this advice in my article 5 Tips to Improve Your Sight-Reading. But how do you read ahead when you have so many notes to process? How do you get better at that?
This is where the Read Ahead app comes in. As its name suggests, this app teaches you how to read ahead when sight-reading by giving you daily activities related to the sight-reading pieces.
What are these activities? How do you use this app? How does it work?
Let’s find out.
Read Ahead is an app designed by piano pedagogues, Ken Johansen and Travis Hardaway, for sight-reading at the piano. At present, the app is only available on iOs devices (iPad and Mac) but the Android version will be available soon. The app can be downloaded for free from the Read Ahead website. It can be used with any pianos, i.e. it does not require a midi keyboard.
N.B.: If you would like to be the first to try out the Android version, contact Ken and Travis at [email protected]
How it works
There are currently five levels of difficulty: preparatory and levels 1 to 4. Each level contains over 100 pieces and over 50 warm-up activities. Each level is divided into three sections (except for Level 4 which only has two sections so far; the third section is currently being developed). Each section includes 12 days of sight-reading practice. In other words, there is 36-days-worth of practice for each level. Each practice session contains three pieces as well as warm-up exercises and quizzes and takes 5-15 mins to complete.
Levels 5 and 6 will also be available. There are also plans for integrating a teacher portal where teachers could assign sight-reading assignments and challenges to their students and track their progress.
What is unique about the Read Ahead app is that it’s more than just a score-reading app with progressive sight-reading pieces. Read Ahead teaches you different facets of sight-reading separately with activities involving memory, touch and sight, all of which can help you read ahead with more ease.
As shown in the image above, there are four types of activities:
- “Read Ahead”;
- “Touch”; and
- “Sight-Reading” activities.
The “Memory” activities involve seeing a bar of music flash for a few seconds then playing it back from memory. Several bars of music will be shown in this way per session. You can choose the tempo and difficulty.
The “Read Ahead” activities involve sight-reading a piece of music while the bars disappear one by one the moment you play them. It’s like the Memory activities except that you have to keep playing. You can choose the tempo, choose between having half or a whole bar disappear, and you have the option of recording your session to play it back afterwards.
The “Touch” activities are warm-up exercises where you are encouraged to look for patterns in the music and learn to feel your way around the keyboard with specific exercises related to the piece you’re about to sight-read.
And the “Sight-Reading” activities are where you sight-read the traditional way, that is, with just the score. No bars disappearing or metronome ticking.
In a nutshell, the activities teach you to look for patterns which enables you to quickly process and remember chunks of music, and to feel your way around the keys, enabling you to read ahead and keep going.
Read Ahead comes with several handy features. One such feature is the goal-setting feature which you can access by clicking on Set Practice Goal within the app. Just pick a name for your goal and choose the number of days you aim to practise per week. The practice goal resets weekly so you’ll also need to select the day and time you wish the goal to reset each week.
Another feature is the inclusion of short quizzes about the sight-reading pieces to help you know what to look for in the score. For example, you’ll see a preview of the score you’re about to sight-read then on the next page, it will ask you a question like “What is the time signature?” “Which hand starts?” “Which finger plays the first note?”, etc. to check whether you paid attention or not. You can always go back to the score on the previous page to check your answer.
Type of music
Read Ahead uses “real” classical music pieces, despite the growing trend of apps using computer-generated music. This means you’ll get to play music by real composers and encounter various musical forms like minuets, gavottes, marches, scherzos, chorales, etc. which will further deepen your understanding of music. Before each new piece, you’ll see a short introductory paragraph about the composer like the following:
The app can be downloaded for free. The first two days of each section in each level are unlocked so you can try them out and determine your level. You can buy any level for $14.99 each or any section for $5.99 each.
Alternatively, you can purchase the book versions for $14.99 each and use the Read Ahead Hybrid app for free. Click the following links to preview and buy the books: Read Ahead Book 1, Read Ahead Book 2 and Read Ahead Book 3. The books can be used by themselves, but you’ll benefit more by doing the activities in the app.
Below are some questions you might have about Read Ahead.
Do you need a midi keyboard to use Read Ahead?
No, you can use the Read Ahead app with any piano because the app is currently audio only. Midi is a feature that will become available in the future.
Can you download and print the pieces?
Does the app keep track of my progress?
Yes, it does. The app will cross out the activities and days you’ve completed and resume where you left off. You can also click on My Progress within the app to see your progress.
Does the app give you feedback on your performance?
No, it doesn’t give feedback on your performance but it does give you a score for some of the exercises. You can also choose to record your performance to assess yourself.
Does the app have instructions?
Yes, there are instructions before all activities.
Still have questions?
If you still have questions, contact the creators at [email protected]
So, is Read Ahead worth using?
Yes, definitely. I’m using the app myself and have found the activities helpful and enjoyable. Read Ahead is the best sight-reading app I’ve seen on the market until now. It’s the only app that teaches you skills specific to sight-reading at the piano: memory, keyboard orientation, pattern recognition, reading ahead, leaving notes out, etc.
If you’re interested in trying out the app, you can download it for free and try the unlocked sections (the first two days) of each level.
If you’ve already tried the Read Ahead app, what do you think? And if you haven’t yet, are you keen to try it? Let me know in the comments below.
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