Sight-Reading – HOW TO START

The ability to play most of the music that is put in front of you – correctly – the first time you see it, is one of the most useful skills a musician can have. Like any other skill, the ability to sight-read doesn’t just happen – it is developed by practicing it specifically.

Sight-Readying PRE-Check List

  1. Visually scan the selection for key, key changes, repeats, DC’s and DS’s
  2. Look for bad chord jumps or accidentals
  3. In your “MUSICAL EAR” – SING the tempo, rhythm, phrasing, then the notes
  4. Use the “Absorb, Block, Vertical” technique to visually scan the selection (see 5 Steps to Practicing)
  5. You can even “cheat”!  Don’t pull your bellows – and play the selection
  6. Identify the sections. Knowing these will be your “regrouping” points. If you lose your place or count – look for the next section – and jump back in.
  7. Use a metronome set “under” tempo and keep a good beat.

Try to have a wide variety of music on hand. A large fake book, old sheet music you have failed to learn, even a church hymnal will do. The idea is to have simple to intermediate level selections that you do not know – to practice sight-reading. AND you do not have to do the entire song – determine at least 16 to 32 bars to start. Over the months – you will be able to sight-read many more.

Set aside 10 to 15 minutes every time you practice to sight-read. The goal is to PRETEND someone offered you a $50 tip to play a song you do not know – but VOILA – the music is in your Fake book.

Sight-Reading RULES after you start:

  1. Play the selection straight through
  2. Do not stop to correct errors
  3. Do not slow down or speed up
  4. Honor all dynamics
  5. Watch for phrasing

After completing the sight-reading – you may want to do a little work on the song – particularly where you found you were stumbling. This will help you on the next selection you sight-read – if it has a similar part like you stumbled on.

If large portions are too difficult for you to sight-read, begin with something easier – even something that is rediculously TOO EASY (just set a faster tempo). Over a period of a few months, try to work up to reading more complex passages.

A perfect way to double-check yourself – is to tape or video the sight-reading. If it sounds like a well rehearsed solo – YOU HAVE ARRIVED!!! Now pick a harder song the next sight-reading session! If you are fumbling – you need to review steps 1 through 7 at the top – you need to slow it down, you need to be aware of where you hand is going to, etc.