TTTV018: Everything But The Pieces (Part 1) with Sam Coates: Sight Reading & Aural Tests - Creative Music Education

TTTV018: Everything But The Pieces (Part 1) with Sam Coates: Sight Reading & Aural Tests

By Tim Topham | Aural

Nov 01


In the third podcast of the exam series, I’m joined by Sam Coates to discuss everything but the pieces. Sam Coates is the author of the ‘BlitzBooks‘ series which blitz through sight reading & theory, and I’m so excited to have her share her tips and tricks for teaching sight reading and aural skills.

Sight reading & aural tests make up a small portion of the marks in most exam systems, but they can cause a lot of stress for some students. Many students want to spend all their time working on their pieces, and don’t see the value in sight reading. However, any accompanist or church pianist will tell you that sight reading is one of the most valuable skills you can possibly develop as a pianist.

Aural tests can similarly cause anxiety if they’re not prepared for fully. The singing portion can be especially troublesome for a shy or embarrassed student. Sam has some great suggestions for dealing with these self confidence issues by starting from music that the student is already familiar with, and working out from there.

Whether or not you have students preparing for exams, I think you’ll really enjoy today’s discussion on these crucial musical skills.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why you should be making sight-reading a priority
  • What makes someone a good sight-reader
  • How to convince your students that correct rhythm is more important than correct notes
  • How to use an integrated approach to aural skills
  • Why you should start ear-training from the repertoire

Items mentioned in this podcast:

Today’s sponsor: ABRSM


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Aural Trainer covers all of the elements of ABRSM’s aural tests for their Grades 1 to 8 exams, including sight–singing and echo tests. There are two versions of the app: Aural Trainer 1 to 5, and Aural Trainer 6 to 8 which is new! Free copies of each app are available to download so you can try a few exercises before you upgrade.

ABRSM offers a whole suite of digital resources to develop general musical skills and knowledge and help with exam preparation.

To find out more, head over to

Thank You for Tuning In!

There are a lot of podcasts you could be tuning into today, and I’m grateful that you’ve chosen mine.

Being a full-time teacher myself, I know how busy teachers are and how much time, effort and passion we put into our students. Sometimes, the last thing we want to do in our time off is listen to more piano teaching stuff! So, well done for using this time for self-improvement.

Whether you’re at the gym, on the bike or in the car, I know that you and your students will get lots out of what you learn in the long run. Just make sure you try out some of the ideas before they get lost in the business of your next lessons.

If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it by using the social media buttons on the left of the page.

Also, kindly consider taking the 60-seconds it takes to leave an honest review and rating for the podcast on iTunes. Reviews areextremely helpful when it comes to show’s ranking and you can bet that I read every single one of them personally.

Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live.

Do you include sight-reading and aural in every lesson?

Do you find that everything but the pieces gets left until just before the exam? How do you get your students to consistently practice these essential skills?


About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

  • Julie Ingermanson says:

    I loved her examples of how rhythm is more important than pitch. This summer I am offering a Rhythm Ninjas group class & I am definitely going to use similar examples in teaching my students the importance of rhythm. Thanks for another great podcast!

  • Great show Tim. Loved hearing Samantha’s down to earth way of presenting aural work around exams and preparation. In the courses that I teach at Forte School of Music, we have a very structured aural development program which encourages singing from a young age. Getting kids to sing from a young age means that they are more likely to do it when they’re older as well.

    I totally agree with Sam and yourself on reading and seeing shape. In the beginner courses that we teach at Forte, we have sight reading built into the program with lots of examples as well as flash cards. These start with three note patterns. Children from a young age can see shape – ie. does the music go up, down, by skip or step. They also have to read rhythm examples as well. As they get older the examples merge rhythm and notes. For older students I’ve also been using a lot of Daniel McFarlane’s music as a weekly song to play to make them sight read – funnily enough the more they practice sight reading, the better they get – who’d have thought!!!!

    Sometimes it is also good to note that written music is a vertical representation of pitch and that the piano is horizontal. This means that understanding music on the page goes up and down and on the piano it goes from right to left. A child requires reasonably advanced cognitive perception skills to be able to do this. Hence why traditional piano lessons generally started when a child could read, as many teachers teach reading first.

    I would add one thing about getting kids (especially boys) to sing – get them to hum and put a finger in their ear (push the skin over the entrance to the ear rather than inserting inside the actual ear) and they will be able to hear themselves sing in their head. They can then tune themselves to the note that their playing.

    One of the challenges of being a male teacher is, when we sing, the pitch is an octave lower. I’ve had children over the years that try to match pitch with me, which of course they can’t do, so they sound terrible. To avoid this with my younger students I get them to sing with their mum. I don’t have a suggestion for older students who are beginners because I only take students when they’re 5 or 6. By the time their voice breaks they’ve been learning with me for 6 or 7 years. I could go on forever about children and singing but I’ll stop now!

    • Tim Topham says:

      Thanks Paul – I’ll try that trick with my boys. Thanks also for your thoughts on sight reading – good to hear how you approaching things at Forte 🙂

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