Four years ago, I became a big believer in Sight Reading Factory after being introduced to it through Ryan Guth’s Choir Ninja podcast. Once I tried their online “demo” and experienced the product’s ease and simplicity, I was immediately hooked and purchased a teacher subscription. Since then, I have seen exponential group in my students’ sight-reading skills, not to mention the amount of rehearsal and preparation time I have saved.
For all readers out there who have never tried this product, go directly to their website and click “TRY IT FOR FREE“, which will allow you to experience many important aspects of this resource immediately without even providing an email address or any personal information.
While I have been recommending Sight Reading Factory to colleagues for more than 3 years, I had no knowledge of the backstory of the product or their creator, Don Crafton. I decided it was finally time to interview the hidden man behind the curtain!
The questions I asked for this interview were balanced between my own personal curiosity and the curiosity of Choral Clarity readers who posed questions in the Choral Clarity Facebook Group.
I hope current Sight Reading Factory users gain additional perspective from this interview while many more choral colleagues around the world will choose to give this simple, yet highly-effective resource a try as a result!
My interview with Don Crafton, founder of Sight Reading Factory
What is your background in music education?
DC: I have a bachelor’s degree in music education and performance from Catholic University of America in Washington DC and I have a master’s degree in orchestral performance from the Manhattan School of Music. I taught band for grades 4-12 for 13 years in public and private schools in Maryland, New York and Virginia.
What made you see a need for the product?
DC: In 2007 when I was teaching high school, many of my students had very basic note reading problems and I found myself having to teach by rote by singing their parts to them. Once they knew the music, they would hardly look at the music and would almost play it memorized. It took us a really long time to learn new music and rehearsals were frustrating for everyone involved. I decided the way to remedy the situation was to do a lot of sight reading and force them constantly read new music. I quickly found out how time consuming it was to sight read with an ensemble with having to search for music that they’ve never played before, pass out the music, read it one time and then collect it and file it away. It was very unpractical to do on a regular basis which is what my students needed. I realized what would have been ideal would’ve been a way to generate random sight reading exercises and project those exercises onto a screen for the entire ensemble to read together. I scoured the web and couldn’t find anything out there that did this. I figured that if I needed something like this others might as well. So, I started thinking of a way to make a music composition engine to accomplish this idea.
How long did it take to bring to market and when did SRF first come out?
DC: In early 2011 I finally got the courage to make the investment and start development of the program. Through a high school friend, I met Adam Rabung, a very accomplished programmer in Richmond, VA, and he agreed to partner with me and develop Sight Reading Factory. In December of 2011, we launched the first version of SRF.
How many members are on your staff?
DC: For most of the history of the company, we had just 3 staff members working on SRF: myself, Adam (programmer and co-owner) and a designer. We now have 5 staff members: myself, Adam, front-end programmer, designer and support specialist.
What is your vision for best use of this product in a choral rehearsal?
DC: If a choral teacher has the ability to project music onto a large screen for all students to read from, I think starting every rehearsal (after warm-ups of course) with some sight reading (whether it be rhythm-only, single voice, or multiple-part ensemble) is a great way to get the students engaged and paying attention at the beginning of rehearsal. Because you can quickly generate sight reading examples, I think teachers now have the ability to easily and efficiently make sight reading a part of every rehearsal without having to devote too much rehearsal time to it.
I also highly recommend student accounts. We’ve heard great success stories from choral programs where students each have their own SRF account and the teacher is able to give their students a sight reading assignment. A student taking an assignment would have a predetermined amount of time to study an exercise, then sight read the exercise while our site records them, self-assess, and submit it to the teacher who can then listen to it and give a grade and feedback. It’s a great to quickly improve student growth in sight singing.
What has been the biggest technical hurdle you’ve had to overcome when building the site?
DC: I think the biggest technical hurdle we’ve dealt with is the constant changes to browsers and devices that are outside of our control. When other companies update their software or hardware if can affect how the existing code of our product functions. So, as a software company we have to, in some cases, quickly update our code so that things still work in the new and old browsers or hardware.
What do you believe makes your program the best on the market?
DC: I think our software is easy and efficient to use. It doesn’t take long to pick your settings and generate some music. Even though the interface is relatively simple, the user has a lot of power and flexibility in deciding how they want to practice. I also think that the fact that our service can be used by a wide range of musicians (beginners -> hobbyists -> professionals, K-12 choral, band and orchestra teachers, music students) makes our service very competitive. I think most of all, even though our service does use random computer generated music, we do a good job of generating musical exercises that are enjoyable to practice.
I see you are frequently improving the program. What functionality upgrades have you done most recently?
DC: The past year we’ve been working on updating the mixer and music pages. We’re very excited about these changes because those pages are now much more responsive on mobile devices. In addition to the responsiveness, we’ve been able to integrate many more features
Are there any new upgrades/improvements in the works?
DC: We recently implemented a newly redesigned music page. We’re very excited about this change because the music page is much more mobile friendly now and responsive. With the new design, we were also able to integrate more features into the site. The new music page is currently in a Beta phase but it will be fully phased in before the end of the year. As far as some things coming down the road, we are going to be adding a way to pick which form of the minor scale you’d like to use for sight reading. We also have plans to implement the customization feature for multiple-part choir (currently it’s only available for solo voices or unison choir).
Do you have a plan to introduce an app for teachers – to enable grading?
DC: We don’t have any immediate plans to add a way to grade assignments into the iOS app. However, with our recent new music page improvements, grading assignments on smartphones and tablets has gotten better through the website. We are also just starting a redesign of the dashboard and the classes/student management pages. So soon, the full grading experience on the website will have a very polished, app-like feel on smartphones and tablets.
How about an android app?
DC: We don’t currently have any plans for an Android app. With the new design changes to the music page and the upcoming design changes to the Dashboard, the website will definitely have an app-like feel to it. If you or your students are using Android devices, I would encourage you to try out the new music page and see how you like it!
Do you have a plan to have the computer self-grade?
DC: We are considering this feature but don’t have any immediate plans for it. We do have plans for some auto-graded games/exercises that we are excited about!
Have you thought about producing rhythm only exercises with the app by tapping?
DC: We haven’t heard this request before but that does sound like an interesting idea! One thing we hope to implement is a way for users to pick the exact rhythm groupings they’d like to appear in the exercises.
Is there a way that subscribers can make suggestions for SRF?
DC: Yes! There are many ways our subscribers can contact us and make suggestions. There is a contact form on our website (https://www.sightreadingfactory.com/contact) where you can submit feedback. We have a forum at our support site (https://sightreadingfactory.freshdesk.com/support/discussions) where subscribers can leave suggestions. They can email us directly at support (at) sightreadingfactory (dot) com. And finally they can leave us messages on our Twitter (@Sight_Reading) or Facebook page. We love hearing from our users and we definitely listen and try to implement requests whenever possible.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our Choral Clarity Readers?
DC: I think sight reading regularly is invaluable and, if you don’t already do so with your choir, I highly encourage you to try and make it a regular part of every choral rehearsal. I believe the time that is invested in sight reading will pay off with more efficient rehearsals when the students can read better and become more complete musicians.