Do you envy those that can play a piece at sight for the first time? Sight-reading is a challenging skill to develop and requires time and dedication to developing this musical skill. Well here are some tips to help you improve this skill so that you can be the one that is envied by your music peers.
Practice scales, arpeggios and exercises in specific keys. For instance you may want to practice all scales, arpeggios and technical exercises/studies in the key of G Major.
2. The Key Signature
Before playing, have a look at the key signature. What key is the passage in? Is it's tonality Major, Minor or something else? Mentally remind yourself of the finger pattern needed for this key. For example, in 1st position in G major, this is our fingerpatter:
The pattern will save time when playing unseen passages in the key of G Major, as it helps remind you of the semitones. You can do this with any key both major or minor.
3. Time Signature
Look at the time signature. Clap or tap the rhythm of the passage whilst counting the beats out loud. Alternatively you could use rhythm sounds such as 'ta' or 'ti' whilst tapping the beat. Go over any difficult or tricky rhythms. For tuplets, substitute the tuplet with a suitable word, for example, if you have triplets, you could say 'straw-ber-ry' or if you have quintuplets, you could say 'un-i-ver-si-ty'.
4. Say the note names and clap the rhythm
This is an especially important step for very young players who are still learning to read the notes. Saying the note names out loud can help build their ability to read notes. For older students, instead of saying the note names they could visualise and familiarise themselves with the fingerings whilst saying the rhythm using rhythm sounds.
5. Look for similarities.
Look for similar rhythmic passages or pitch motives. This can be an advantage when sight-reading because you are already familiar with the passage or motive.
You can also try singing the passage at sight. This will help you identify pitches and note intervals on the score before you sight-read. You should pay attention to the direction of the notes and whether they move up or down by a step, skip or leap.
7. Observe the tempo and dynamic markings
Look at the tempo and dynamic markings as this gives you an idea of the style, speed and phrasing of the passage.
8. Read Ahead
Always try to read a bar or two ahead. This will help you know what's coming and adjust the fingers/bow accordingly.
9. Keep Going
With sight-reading, its ok to make mistakes, so don't dwell on them. Rather than correcting your mistakes, keep going, so that the passage remains consistent and in time. When you've finished the passage, you can go over your mistakes and fix them up.