What is sight-reading? Why is sight-reading so difficult? Sight-reading is a necessary skill for any musician to have, but it can cause anxiety for many of us and even the most seasoned musicians can freeze up when asked to play something they’ve never seen before.
While it’s hard to play a new piece perfectly, these tips will help you to face the task of sight-reading with much more control and ease. After all, approaching sight-reading methodically and confidently is the key to success!
What is sight-reading?
Sight-reading means playing a piece of music that a musician has not seen or played previously. The objective is to play through the entire piece, without stopping. Sight-reading is common in auditions, as well as on playing tests or evaluations in school band or orchestra. Maybe it is even a common part of your practice, lessons, or rehearsals.
These tips will teach you what to do, both as part of your everyday practice and once the sight-reading is in front of you, to make sight-reading a simpler and more enjoyable practice. It can be hard to sight-read music, but with these tips, you will soon be doing it with ease!
How do you practice sight-reading?
The first tip to becoming an expert sight-reader is to sight-read more! Constantly putting yourself in the position of having to read a new piece will help strengthen the physical and mental capabilities you need to play your best when sight-reading.
Try incorporating sight-reading into your regular practice regimen. Start each practice session by placing a new piece of music in front of you and challenging yourself to play through it as best you can, without stopping. You’ll notice the more often you do this, the easier it becomes.
How can I improve my sight-reading?
Now that you are sight-reading on a regular basis in your practice sessions, how do you perform your best when asked to sight-read as part of an audition or evaluation?
Look over the music
Typically, before sight-reading, you are given a few minutes to look over the music . Use these minutes! And use them wisely. Look at the time and key signatures, check for accidentals, and bow or finger through the piece at least once. This way, you’re not going in cold!
Identify the hard parts
No matter how easy or hard the music looks, there will always be some elements of the music that will be hardest for you. Take the few minutes at the beginning to identify those hard parts, know where they are, and finger through them an extra time. At least identifying the most difficult passages and taking some extra time to look at them prevents you from stopping dead in your tracks when you get to them.
Pick a tempo
Take the time before you play to choose a tempo. Make sure that the tempo you pick not only aligns with the written tempo or style of the piece, but also allows you to play the piece comfortably. Ask yourself whether your chosen tempo is going to allow you to play the sixteenth notes in the tenth measure with the same precision as the whole notes at the beginning.
Speaking of stopping dead in your tracks, don’t! Once you start playing the piece, don’t stop. Even if you make a mistake, try your best to keep going. Remember that the point is not to play everything perfectly, but to work through the piece as best you can given your limited preparation.
Sight reading can be a challenge for any musician, but with these tips you will be more prepared for the next time you sight-read. By practicing sight-reading on your own and applying these tips to auditions and evaluations, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a sight-reading expert!
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