Love at First Sight
Sight reading is the ability to take a page of music you’ve never seen before and play it in time and with the correct notes and expression. For a pro it’s obviously a valuable skill, but it can also open up new musical worlds of enjoyment for instrumentalists of all abilities. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or everyone would do it. Lucky for you, Making Music is here to help with our handy guide to master sight-reading and all in 7 simple steps!
- Practice. Since it is a skill like any other, day to day repetition will improve your ability. Even a few minutes spent sight reading at the end of each practice session will reap rewards. Begin with less difficult work and each day increase the challenge.
- The best aid to discipline is the metronome. It substitutes for other musicians and serves as a constant reminder of the forward movement of the music. It also reins in the tendency to rush, and pushes you rhythmically. If a passage is too difficult, slow down the beat and repeat it, gradually increasing the tempo setting. Train yourself to pay attention to the metronome—you wouldn’t ignore other players in an ensemble, would you?
- Scan the page. Rather than diving head first into a new composition, take the time to look at the printed page. First, read the title and composer’s notations at the top of the music. This will give you some indication of the style, speed, and intent of the music. Try to imagine what scherzo allegro (humorous and fast) will sound like, or andante ma non troppo (not too slowly). Next, scan for the fastest-moving notes, and imagine how they will fit into the tempo indication. Spot which passages seem awkward, and look for repeated patterns.
- Look at the key signature before you play a note. Otherwise, you might launch into a sunny major key when a minor, sad effect is required.
- Playing the wrong number of beats in the bar can wreak havoc with your concept of the work. Look carefully at the time signatures. If you spot a change of meter within the movement, figure out how that will feel. For example, will there be more or fewer beats in a bar? Will the pulse change at that point?
- As you begin to sight read, don’t stop. Keep going, no matter how tangled up you might become. Keep your eye moving across the page at the tempo of the music. Don’t look back at the mistake you just made, and don’t leap far forward. But do keep your eye just ahead of the notes you are playing; as you increase your experience, you will find it easier to read ahead. Try to grasp an entire measure in one glance without changing your focal point.
- You will make mistakes sight reading. Let them go by. No matter what your level of expertise, don’t panic. Try to anticipate what the next musical gesture will be, and try to enjoy the experience. The proper attitude for sight reading is alert interest. Look upon sight reading as an adventure!