Becoming a good sightreader

121207_0538Sightreading music is different from practicing or performing music. The goal in sightreading is to capture as much of the music as possible without stopping.

The best way to become a good sightreader is to sightread every day. Just doing it will make you better at it—and vice versa. But there are some tricks to it, and if you follow them you will progress faster. Here’s a story that may help you:

I have a cat named POD. Sometimes she jumps up on the piano, so I shout, SCAT, POD! If you can remember that, you’ll remember the sightreading checklist:

Signatures: time and key
Clefs: bass, treble
Accidentals: flats, sharps
Tempo: The title or tempo marking may describe the mood.

Patterns: big patterns, like overall structure; little patterns, like repeated measures
Odd things: a big leap, a double-sharp, a strange chord, an unexpected rest

When you read a book, you don’t spell out each word letter by letter: that would be a waste of time. In the same way, sightreading note by note is slow and tedious. Just as you group letters and words together when reading a book, group the notes and musical motives together when sightreading music.

Fortunately, music is not random, like this:

colored staff

Instead, music is patterned, like this:

bw staff

If you examine the piece before sightreading it, you’ll discover patterns that you already know how to play. For example, chords—either blocked or broken— and scales. The scales could be 5-finger patterns (pentachords), diatonic scales like C major or C minor, or chromatic scales.

Related Links

How to read a musical score

How to find the right fingering

How to become a good sightreader

How to sightread at home

More sightreading tips