In this second post on the topic of the many little rules of thumb that even experienced music teachers occasionally break I wanted to mention the painful act of sight reading. Remember that I teach beginning band these days, so this may (or may not) totally transfer over to the upper grades, but I still wanted to mention it. My topic for today has to do with how allowing a group to sight read a piece that they are not ready to play technically can have very bad consequences down the line, especially if you intend to one day play that piece in a concert.
We have all pulled out pieces of music and thrown them out on the stands to sight read as a part of a rehearsal. My experiences have been that it is fine to do so only if you are NOT going to use the music as a long term rehearsal piece for your next concert. How many times have you sight read a piece with your students only to spend the next two months trying to fix a problem that you could have fixed in one or two private lessons if you had not allowed them to sight read the piece as a full ensemble? The most prevalent of these issues happens with popular tunes when the rhythms of the sheet music do not match exactly with the rhythms of the song that everyone is used to hearing.
Take the case of the Star Wars main theme. That piece has several triplets in it, yet the beginning band arrangement I was doing substitutes quarter-eighth-eighth instead of the triplets. When I pulled it out to sight read as a "treat" one day I momentarily forgot that that rhythm was different and of course, 50% of the band played it the way they hear it in the movie, as a triplet. The damage had already been done. Even after spending weeks of rehearsals trying to get everyone to play it as written instead of how they hear it on TV at least five or six kids would continue to play it with the triplet rhythm. If I had just taken a week or two of lessons to drill that one little phrase into their heads there never would have been a problem in the full rehearsal, but since I jumped the gun and threw something onto their stands that they were not adequately prepared for it took far longer than it should have to get the piece up to performance quality.
Rule of Thumb #2: If you want to teach sight reading do it with pieces of music that you are not using on an upcoming concert unless you are certain that the group can handle it.