John Kember/Catherine Ramsden – Flute Sight-Reading: A Fresh Approach
August 24, 2020 (No Comments) by Ganved14

Flute Sight-reading: Pts. 1 & 2: A Fresh Approach (The Sight-Reading Series) Paperback – Mar 2006

No one can doubt the importance of sight-reading in the training of a musician. As a result, there is no shortage of books on the subject — 200,000 listed at Google, over 10,000 at Amazon, at least 165 for flutists. Unlike other method books that we live and work with for many years, sight-reading books can be viewed as disposable, given that as soon as any passage has been played once it is no longer a sight-reading exercise. Under these circumstances, the addition of another work on the subject could perhaps be seen as superfluous except when it is a product of the quality of Flute Sight-Reading; A Fresh Approach by John Kember and Catherine Ramsden.

John Kember

London-born and based, John Kember studied at the Trinity College of Music, and is now noted as a composer, arranger, teacher, conductor  and pianist across the UK. He has also run two youth jazz orchestras that fed players into the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and is a regular contributor to Piano and Music Teacher magazines. His commitment to teaching has resulted in over 70 publications including this series of over 30 volumes dedicated to sight-reading for different instrumentalists, each one co-authored with an expert on the instrument in question. In this case the co-author is flautist and composer, Catherine Ramsden.

As explained in the introduction, Flute Sight-Reading, which is in two volumes, “. . . aims to establish good practice and provide an early introduction to the essential skill of sight-reading. Sight-reading in some form should become a regular part of a student’s routine each time they get out the flute, and this book aims to establish the habit early in a student’s learning process. 

Catherine Ramsden

“There are 8 sections, which in a logical sequence gradually introduce new notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics and Italian terms – much as you would find in a beginner’s flute method. The emphasis is on providing idiomatic tunes and structures rather than sterile sight-reading exercises. Each section contains several solo examples, beginning with only three notes, and concludes with duets and accompanied pieces, allowing the student to gain experience of sight-reading within the context of ensemble playing.”

With its original tunes and systematic unfolding of musical forms, this book does work beautifully as part of an integrated course of study. It is indeed structured to fit with the stages of the U.K. ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) graded exams. Volume 1 covers grades 1 through 4, Vol 2, grades 5 through 8. (This writer’s experience with it was in preparing a Grade 5 flute student who, somewhat unexpectedly, received a distinction (70+). That speaks for itself.)

John Kember

If there is one caveat for users outside the U.K., it is that this series is aimed at a European audience. The text is in English, French and German and, as stated, the pacing of instruction is guided by the U.K. exam system. More importantly, the user will need to be, or become, familiar with, the terminology of crotchets and quavers, rather than quarter notes and eighth notes. However, the book is so well planned and the program (or programme!) so well designed that these are minor criticisms, particularly as US teachers are used to adapting exam requirements from one state to another. (I lived in Maryland and had students in Virginia and the District of Columbia — often in the same day!) Overall, however, the quality of this volume shines through such minor objections and the volumes are readily available from U.S. and U.K. outlets. And knowing crotches and quavers is a plus!

This will be my sight-reading text going forward and I have no hesitation in recommending it unreservedly to other teachers.

Read an article by John Member in The Strad: How to Help Music Students with Sight-Reading

Review by Peter Westbrook

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