How to Practice Sight-reading

Sight-reading music is different from practicing or performing music. The goal in sight-reading is to capture as much of the music as possible without stopping. In sight-reading you are allowed to leave out notes, or one hand, or even an entire measure, but you must keep the beat going.

The best way to become a good sight-reader is simply to do it every day. Here are some hints to help you.

Take it Easy. The biggest mistake people make in sight-reading is using music that is too difficult. Use only pieces that are at least one level below your normal level of repertoire.

Keep Going. We all hate wrong notes. But when you are sight-reading, if you make a mistake and then stop to correct it, you have made two mistakes, not one. Promise yourself that you won’t lose a single beat from beginning to end. Turn on the metronome. Pretend the metronome is your duet partner. Since it never stops, you can’t stop either!

Make Sense. Group the notes and musical ideas together. When you read a book, you don’t spell out each word letter by letter, so don’t sight-read note by note. To make this easier, examine the piece before sight-reading it to discover patterns that you recognize. What key is it in? What chords or scales look familiar? Are there any repetitions?

Look Around. Increase your field of vision: Fix your eye on the tempo mark of the piece. Play the first line of music, keeping the tempo mark in your peripheral vision. When you can do this easily, try two lines. Play an entire piece without taking your eyes off the music.

Count. Find every spot in the music where the rhythm looks tricky.  Clap or tap out the rhythm of each spot, counting aloud. Tap with both hands to show RH and LH parts. Or do this throughout the whole piece. When you play, count aloud.

Cover Up. You will need a partner for this.  Ask your partner to cover a measure as soon as you have played the first note of it. Repeat on every measure as you play through the piece. When your partner isn’t there,  see if you can still keep your eyes one measure ahead of the measure your hands are playing.sight-reading check list. Or, if you don’t have a partner, but you do have an iPad, try this excellent sight-reading app: Read Ahead. 

Keep Score. Give yourself 4 points for perfect continuity, 3 points for perfect rhythm, 2 points for perfect notes, 1 point for dynamics. A perfect score is 10. Anything between 8 and 10 is very good. If you get a score of 5 or below, that’s a poor score.

 

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