Are you considering using Sight-Reading Factory to practise sight-reading at the piano but not sure if it’s any good? Find out in this detailed and honest review.
As you know, to practise sight-reading, you need LOTS of material. And constantly looking for new music can be a bit of a hassle.
Sight-Reading Factory may well be the answer to this problem because one of its main features is that it offers unlimited sight-reading material!
But what is the music like? Is practising sight-reading with Sight-Reading Factory as good as practising with real music? Is Sight-Reading Factory worth using?
Let’s find out.
What is Sight-Reading Factory?
Sight-Reading Factory (SFR) is an online platform that generates unlimited sight-reading material for piano, guitar, voice, strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
The novelty here is that SFR provides unlimited material. I don’t know of any other platform that offers this. (If you do, let me know in the comments!)
It all started with Don Crafton, a band director from the East Coast in the US who was frustrated by having to constantly find and prepare new sight-reading material for his band. With the help of a programmer, he designed a program to create unlimited sight-reading material to solve this problem. SFR appeared in 2011.
How much does Sight-Reading Factory cost?
Sight-Reading Factory offers an annual subscription of US$35. With this subscription, you get access to unlimited sight-reading material for all instruments with the following features:
- Fully customisable
- Full ensemble sight-reading
- Audio playback with tempo control
- Tracking and reporting on your practice sessions
- Printable sheet music
- Optional countdown timer, note cursor, and disappearing bars
Teachers can buy low-cost subscriptions for their students and create assignments for them.
How to use Sight-Reading Factory
The first thing you’ll need to do is select your instrument.
You then select your level. For piano, there are 9 levels to choose from. When hovering your mouse over the level, it will show you what rhythmic values to expect, what the largest leap will be, whether there will be accidentals and dynamics, what types of chords you’ll get, whether you’re required to play hands together or separate and whether the material is within or outside a 5-finger position.
You will then need to select the time signature and the key signature. You can select a specific one, multiple ones or choose “Random time/key signature” if you don’t want to choose. The higher the level, the more options you’ll have.
Lastly, you’ll need to select between two modes: Free play, where you practise sight-reading at your own pace, or Challenge, where you practise with a metronome.
If you select Challenge mode, you will get to make further adjustments such as turning on or off the following features:
- Synth audio
- Disappearing bars
- Auto advance
You can also change the metronome speed by clicking on the arrows in the top right-hand corner.
Clicking on the Settings icon (the cogwheel) gives you a few more options: you can add annotations such as fingering, note names, scale degrees, and so on. However, you can only select one at a time. Note that the fingering is not available in levels 4 to 8 for piano.
Is Sight-Reading Factory worth it?
SRF is user-friendly, the sight-reading material is customisable and unlimited, the sheet music is printable and it is much cheaper than printed material. It also offers some useful features such as the disappearing bars to encourage you to read ahead. You can use SFR on any devices and iOS users can use the SFR app.
So, what’s not to like?
Well… First off, it’s not real music.
The music is generated by a computer and frankly, you can tell. It does start and end in the same key signature and sometimes uses proper cadences but that is the extent of the musicality you can expect.
Furthermore, the pieces are not composed with any particular instrument in mind. They only respect the range of the instrument. For example, the piano pieces don’t feel “pianistic” at all the way a Chopin nocturne feels. You won’t find any pedal markings, Alberti bass or arpeggiated accompaniments. You can tell that it hasn’t been written by a composer with the pianist in mind because some passages are very awkward to play. You seldom come across this issue with real music.
Another downside is that the pieces all look and sound the same. (I have bought the subscription and looked at many different pieces so I can vouch for this). I can’t discern any characteristics between pieces. You won’t find a piece in the style of a nocturne, a waltz or a minuet. All the pieces are in a kind of contrapuntal style but without repeated patterns or sequences as you would find in a Bach piece. Below is an example.
For other instruments that only have one line of music, the music is not so bad. For piano, however, it’s immediately noticeable that the music is computer-generated. The diverse range of accompaniment and harmonies that we’re used to seeing is just not there. The chord progressions are sometimes odd and don’t make sense. The music lacks substance. The pieces are not pieces you want to come back to and play for your own pleasure.
Presumably, you’re learning sight-reading because you want to be able to learn real pieces faster and be more familiar with different composers and styles. So why use computer-generated music which doesn’t reflect what you’ll find in real music?
At a glance, SFR seems to be a convenient option and it is. For most instruments, SFR is a fantastic resource but unfortunately, I can’t say the same for piano.
If you’re like me and the reason you sight-read is that you enjoy playing real music in different styles and like to discover new music, then SFR won’t be for you.
But if you just want to get better at reading notes and don’t mind what the music sounds like, then give SFR a try. (You can click the link here to get one month free.)
Either way, if you’re going to use SRF, I would only use it to supplement other real music. Say you want to get better at sight-reading pieces in 3/4 time, or pieces in A-flat major, or practise rhythm only, then SFR is a great tool for that.
Other than that, I would avoid using SRF because while the music may follow some compositional rules, it isn’t comparable to music written by human beings. Besides, the piano repertoire is big enough that we won’t ever run out of music to sight-read, I promise you that! For other instruments, you may run into that problem, but not for piano.
Have you used Sight-Reading Factory? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.