Sight-reading

PianoIt has been forever since I’ve taught voice lessons, until recently. I am enjoying them so much more than I used to, and I am not sure why. Maybe it’s because I am working outside the home as well and therefore enjoying music lessons because I get to teach them from my own house. Or maybe it’s because I just plain enjoy people and their company more than ever.

But it could also be due to the fact that sight-reading is much easier for me now that I have been our church’s pianist for two years. One of my good friends, who also happens to be my employer and former piano teacher, always told me that the best way to improve sight-reading is to play under pressure. She was totally right! Teaching voice is so much simpler when you don’t have to worry much about the accompaniment.

So, for anyone interested, here’s what I know about sight-reading:

Play new music every single day – music you’ve never seen before, or that you only see rarely. A good way to do this is to play through a hymnal, covering maybe one or two songs per day. To get some experience reading other types of music, try reading from octavos. They come in all styles and range from very simple to very difficult. I was lucky that my piano teacher had a huge collection of octavos to choose from, and about once a week, I would bring twenty or thirty new ones home and just play through them and take them back. So if you know any other musicians, you can borrow music from them for this purpose.

It’s important to play pieces that are just above the level that you already sight-read well.

Also, be sure to turn on a drum track or a metronome to create some pressure to stay in time. Also, drum tracks are just fun to play with. 🙂

Always look ahead in the music so you can see what’s coming up.

If you have to drop notes, retain at least the bass note and the melody.

And if you get really confused, just play the chord structure until you can jump back in to the accompaniment.

So that’s what I know. Not, much, but perhaps it will help someone out. If you all have any other tips, leave them in the comments!

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3 responses to “Sight-reading

  1. It’ll be hard not to comment on practically everything now since I subscribed but I’ll try not to bore you with too many of my thoughts. 😀 I never went beyond high school in studying music except for one semester of jazz band in community college before I shipped out for basic training. I’m far from being the caliber of musician that you are but I have followed a certain way of sight reading that has suited me well (I think).
    I rifle through the piece very quickly, following this pattern that my band teacher taught us when we had to do sight reading competitions:
    1. Check key signature
    2. Does the key signature ever change (if so when and where)?
    3. Time signature (which note gets the beat) also what is the tempo? is it adagio? vivace on moto etc… does that change? Any ritardandos?
    4. Are there any accidentals? Where? Do they change back to the original notes in the measure
    5. Immediately focus on difficult phrases and quickly finger through the notes while singing the rhythm. Where are the accents (staccato etc…)
    6. Where or what are the dynamics (p, pp, f, MF, ff etc…crescendo, decrescendo) etc…
    7. Play through it; make mistakes; have fun; learn it; lol

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I completely forgot that it’s good to look over the piece before beginning to play at all. There’s rarely time to do that in church between hymns, so that’s not something I have made a habit of. I have “wished” that I would have studied up a bit, especially during jazz band rehearsals, but I rarely think about it in advance, lol. I guess I need to do more sight-reading at home, so I can put your suggestions into practice!

  2. I understand about church music and not having time to rifle through it. People tend to assume that if you can play an instrument you can play literally any kind of music at any time–like if a guy like me can improvise on sax it assumed I can take any Charlie Parker piece and just play it. Doesn’t work that way. 😀 Your music skills are admirable; keep up the great work for the Lord.

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