Breaking Down a Score for Sight-Reading
Music plays a big part in the holidays, and if you sing or play an instrument, it’s likely that you’re talent will be called upon—maybe even without advance warning! Whether your church choir needs a last-minute sub for the solo line or your cousin insists that you accompany her as she belts out “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” you should be ready to sight-read without fear. Here’s what to take note of in the moments before the music begins.
Staying together with your fellow music makers is the first priority. Check the time signature, which tells you how many beats are in each measure (bottom number) and what note value gets the beat (top number). Then, be sure you know how you’re starting off. Who will cue or count everyone in? How many prep beats will they give? Will they count in cut time, with a slower note value getting the beat? Finally, scan the music for any changes in the time signature or tempo and circle them.
Key Signature and Accidentals
The key signature tells you which flats or sharps are in the piece; the flat or sharp symbols appear on the lines or spaces corresponding to the affected notes. Remember that the key signature may change entirely in the middle of the piece—circle those changes right away so you won’t be caught playing off-key! You may also come across accidentals, which are deviations from the key signature marked with a flat, sharp, or natural symbol to the left of the affected note. Accidentals remain in effect for the rest of the measure unless otherwise marked.
To stay on course, you’ll need to be on the lookout for any repeats, signs (), and coda markings (). Repeats are straightforward—play the section within the repeat signs twice. The others get a little more complicated, but you’ll be able to translate any directions with these basics: D.C. (Da Capo) means return to the beginning, D.S. (Dal Segno) means return to the sign, al means “until,” a coda is passage that ends the piece, and fine tells you to end after having repeated a particular section. For example, if you see D.C. al Fine, return to the beginning and play until you come to the Fine marking.
Test your sight-reading skills with this holiday song!