This collection presents its user with a series of notes on a bass staff in the context of increasingly complex rhythmic material.
The pitch material in this book is entirely diatonic with a space left at the beginning of each system in which one can write a key signature. Early chapters use only notes on the staff while subsequent chapters begin to add notes on ledger lines above and below the staff. Each chapter contains two exercises in each of the following time signatures: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8. This gives exercises in 2, 3, and 4 beats per bar in both simple and compound meters. From chapter to chapter the conceptual difficulty of the rhythmic material increases.
The exercises in this collection are intentionally aimless, wandering, and difficult to internalize. They resemble standard melodies on the surface but don’t emphasize any particular tonal centre or harmonic movement. They are designed this way for several reasons.
In keeping the melodic material as non-specific as possible the door is left open for the materials to be used in conjunction with any number of exercises, something that would be much more difficult with a composition that dictates the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic phrasing. It also allows the user to read the exercises in any key signature, making this a great tool to help students learn to think in different keys. The unpredictability of these exercises also forces the user to process every note and rhythm as its own event without relying on pattern recognition or melodic and harmonic tendencies to help in figuring out the notes and rhythms.
While I absolutely agree that the skill of predicting music’s direction from harmonic and melodic cues is an essential skill for any musician to develop, I think we will all agree that resources for this type of reading practice are already abundant. This collection, on the other hand, is designed to develop the user’s ability to process raw musical data. Once this skill is strengthened and internalized it is my belief that the act of reading more predictable and typically melodic music will be made much easier as the processing of notes and rhythms will be second nature, allowing the musician to focus on musicality. This book is a supplement to practising sight-reading using “real music,” not a replacement; I encourage you to use both.
If this material is being used to practice sight-reading, it is encouraged to cycle through the exercises quickly rather than dwelling on a particular exercise for a long period of time. The goal in practising sight-reading is not to learn the material but to develop the skill of reading new material.
Some suggestions for how to use this book include:
Read each exercise in all 15 key signatures from 7 flats to 7 sharps.
Practice key changes by writing in a different key signature for each system.
Increase the challenge of the previous exercise by using a metronome on weak beats. For example, instead of putting the metronome click on each quarter-note in 4/4, play the exercise with the metronome giving the second eighth note of each beat, or the last sixteenth note, or beats 2 and 4. Be creative with this one, the possibilities are limitless.
Develop independence between hands by playing a repeating pattern in one hand while reading an exercise in the other.
Write in articulations, dynamics, bowing, sticking, or fingering for your students to practice.
As with any of the Dots and Beams books, the uses for this particular collection are limited only by the imagination of the musician using it. I highly encourage anybody using this book to find as many uses for these exercises as possible.