does U.I.L. sight-reading work?
regarding this are found in the Constitution and Contest Rules, published
yearly by U.I.L. It is the director’s responsibility to stay
current, as certain rules have been known to change over the years!
U.I.L. web site also has good tips. There are also some good
habits that have grown up as the “urban legends” of
sight-reading. These are things everyone does, although they are
not rules. Hopefully, this set of guidelines can help you develop
some of the good habits that result in successful reading of a
piece of music, for any reason!
you go to contest…
sight-reading should take place in some form throughout the year.
Each time a new piece is introduced, read all or part of it as
if you were at the sight-reading contest. This is not enough,
however. A good band director must secure a few foundations that
aid the process of sight-reading at UIL and make the students
better musicians in the process.
scales thoroughly. UIL sight-reading is most likely to be in
the keys of Bb and Eb, but also may use F and Ab. Remember
that the piece you read may actually be in a minor key or a mode!
If you can find a piece with no key signature to read, you
advance the skills of your readers!
Scales must be memorized early in the year and reviewed
consistently in daily routines.
Teach students to identify “danger notes” in
of Bb: A-natural
Key of Eb: A-flat
Key of F: E-natural
Key of Ab: D-flat
slurs help brass players learn muscle memory and improves ear-training,
resulting in placement of pitches in correct partials.
are many fine books which drill rhythms and rests in short
exercises. Most of these books start easy and get more complex.
When you teach rhythm, use a system (I prefer Eastman) and have
the students count all exercises in syllables, while fingering
the notes on their instruments, before playing.
There are also books that address sight-reading in sequential fashion,
going from easy exercises to harder.
you use a book of chorales, reading those is a great way to
teach the band to play in a phrasal fashion, and to follow the
conductor, in case you have ritardando or accelerando in your
the contest nears, go through the routine exactly as it occurs
at U.I.L. It is advantageous to have a colleague act as “timer” and
have the students turn the music face down until you are ready
to start. Be sure to read pieces that change key and meter,
and pieces that have at least one fermata (other than on the
the month that preceded U.I.L., read one or two pieces where
the game was “no explanation at all!” Simply begin,
and see how much they get right on their own, and how well
they follow any changes in time, meter, style, and dynamic
level. This can be followed by a discussion—“what
did we miss?”
weeks before contest…
Be sure the students
know the following before getting on the bus:
judges expect students to be quiet and focused as they enter the
- Be sure percussion
know which student will play which of the major parts. In younger
bands, the snare will likely be the most important part and there
may not be a timpani part. There is almost always at least one
mallet part, though it is often a part that can be left out if
you do not have enough players to cover the parts.
In more complex levels of music, plan for:
(someone with independent security in tuning the drums)
Cymbals (both crash and suspended)
Accessories such as triangle, woodblock, tambourine and gong.
By the same
token, be sure your students know how to divide into parts:
Clarinets in 2 or 3 parts
Alto Saxophones in 2 parts
Trumpets in 2 or 3 parts
Horns in 2 parts
Trombones in 2 or 3 parts
Then you only have
to say “trumpets in 2 parts, clarinets in 2 parts” and
they know which part to get.
your students a very specific way to phrase questions to you
of time: “Uh, our part has this natural
sign, does that go for the tie across to the next
bar in measure 38?” Read that and time it.
Note how many seconds go by while you are waiting
on the student to say which measure is in question!
Efficient way: “Measure
38—does the natural sign go for the
tie across to the next bar?” The
director begins turning to measure 38 while
the rest of the question is being spoken.
If there are no measure numbers for each individual measure,
teach them this system: begin the question with “In
front of measure…” or “After
front of measure 38, nine measures, (this gives you
time to find 38 first, your starting place, then you
can count back nine bars) are all of the eighth notes
“After measure 55, six measures, how does our rhythm go?”
This saves time in regular band rehearsal, too!
when you want your warnings from the timekeeper. At least ask
for a one minute warning before the general explanation time
is finished, and one minute before the summary (final) explanation
is finished. Remind the timekeeper to speak loudly! This is
not a time for politeness—if they do not speak strongly,
you may not hear the warnings.
the sight-reading room…
- When the students
enter the room, have them orient their chairs just like your normal
set-up. Hopefully, there will be a set-up crew that sets the chairs
to your chart. If not, have students align to the center (leaving
empty chairs on the outside of rows) and be sure they see you from
the same angle they see you from each day in your band room.
turn the music over, the timing begins. Many good bands give the
students the first thirty seconds to look through the piece themselves,
while the director does the same thing.
should finger along as the director goes through the piece. Most
good bands have the students “pop” the keys/valves loud
enough for them to hear each other’s rhythm. Percussionists
should “air stick” their parts. Mallet players can
use their fingers to touch the notes in rhythm.
the “touch” method.
Have them touch all symbols and events. Though I recommend that
each player uses his/her own stand in band rehearsal, for younger
bands, it is good to have instruments playing the same part sharing
two to a stand in sight-reading contest, so you double your chances
a student will point at the correct item.
is a fermata in measure 80. Touch it.”
“There is a dynamic change from p to f in measure 10, Touch it. We will
play louder there.”
When you identify
the key, have them finger through the scale:
“We are in the key of Eb. Ready, go: (students finger up and down in rhythm).
You can hear the keys/valves moving in time. “Finger the fourth note
of that scale, concert Ab. That is your danger note in that key. Find the first
three places that note occurs in your part, and touch them.”
I cringe when I am judging and hear a director emphasize
accidentals, without realizing this: students are much more likely
to miss re-occurrences of that pitch in the same measure
or the change back to the key following the bar line than
they are the accidental itself. After all, when they see the
accidental, what’s the problem? It’s right there
in front of the note! They will get that, what they will miss
is the re-occurrence or the change back.
this is something you have to practice doing before the day
see several accidentals between measures 5 and 8.
Look for re-occurrences within the measure and find
the next place that note returns to the key after
the bar line. Touch that and show your neighbor the
When your time
is finished, ask brass to empty their water and reed players moisten
concert “F” and
hold it long enough so that reeds are vibrating again. The rules
say you may play a note, a scale or the first phrase of a chorale.
Any of these is fine, but be sure you have practiced your process
many times in band rehearsal before going to contest.
music and enjoy