Many new musicians have significant problems when it comes to sight-reading. Others may find this an easy concept to grasp and they even find it enjoyable. Obviously, these two piano learning positions are poles apart. To make the learning process easier, we have compiled some simple tips to make sight-reading more accessible for every piano student.
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What is Sight-Reading?
Sight-reading can be referred to by its Latin name, which is prima vista. This is the act of reading and then performing a piece of music in notation that has not been encountered or learned before reading. The musician is required to play the notes, pitches, and rhythms in accordance with the written score. Mastering sight-reading is an essential skill if you want to take your playing to the next level.
5 Tips to Prepare for Sight-Reading
Let’s take a look at five handy tips to prepare for and improve your sight-reading skills:
1.Develop a Familiarity with Rhythms
Sight-reading can look very different if you approach it from the perspective of a vocalist or a musician. But, both of these groups do have something in common and that is the rhythm of the piece. So, if you can familiarize yourself with various rhythm types, such as 4/4, 6/8, 3/4, etc. it will make the process easier. If you search online it’s easy to find free rhythm exercises that will help you to develop your skills.
2.Memorize the Key Śignatures
As a musician, it will be extremely useful if you can memorize the key signatures. When you know how many flats or sharps are present it will make sight-reading easier. This is also useful for singers if their voice has a timbre well suited to a narrow range of key signatures. This process can take some time, but it helps with practice and performing and it will improve your sight-reading skills.
3.Learn Your Scales
Every good musician should understand scales to help them memorize the key signatures. When you practice your scales, you will improve your fingering skills and develop muscle memory. Your hand placement to adapt to each key signature will also improve and this will be useful before you learn to sight-read. The last thing that you want when you’re sight-reading is to look down constantly to check if your hands are moving as they should. This works in a slightly different way for many vocalists because they will learn Solfege instead. This is an exercise where each scale degree is associated with a syllable and this helps the singer to memorize intervals in the piece. Some vocalists don’t use this method and they prefer to practice their scales in the traditional manner.
4.Practice Your Sight-Reading Using Different Music Styles
When you become proficient at sight-reading, you may be handed any kind of music style. Moving from a slow jazz piece to a faster tango can be jarring if you’re not familiar with different music styles. As a musician, you have it easy, a vocalist may have to sight-read in a number of different languages too! So, take some time to get comfortable with different music styles, scores, rhythms, and more. This will ensure that you’re not phased when you’re presented with a score that you’ve never seen before.
5.Avoid Using a Safety Net
Many musicians start out with a safety net when they take their first steps into sight-reading. This is a natural aspect of the process, after all, we all want to quickly check that we’re getting it right. But, when you look down at your hands when sight-reading you’re not learning correctly. At some point, it’s essential to abandon the safety net and make the mistakes that you need to make to learn.
5 Tips to Improve Your Sight-Reading
Let’s take a look at five useful tips that will improve your sight-reading skills:
1.Carefully Examine the Piece
When you’re handed a piece of unfamiliar music, it’s important to take a moment and examine it carefully. Read the notes, look at the song structure and tap out the rhythm to get a good feel for the piece. This is the ideal time to look for those hard to play areas or fast page turns that could impair your playing.
2.Mark the Piece
In most cases, you’re allowed to make any markings that can help you to sight-read and play the music correctly. Don’t be tempted to avoid doing this, you can write directly on the sheet or make a mark on a tablet if you’re using such a device. Pay close attention to any parts of the piece that may give you some trouble when playing. If you do notice an area that concerns you, highlight it or circle it. When you start to sight-read and play you’re going to be juggling a lot of things at the same time. Anything that you can do ahead of time to make the sight-reading simpler will be very helpful later.
3.Look for Annotations
When you sight-read you will be dealing with more than simple notes and rhythm structures. There could be musical direction notations, tempo changes, and dynamic changes that can catch you out if you’re not prepared for them. The time signatures can also change within the piece and being able to deal with these annotations will prove your musicality.
4.Play the Whole Piece in Advance
Play out the whole piece of music in advance in your head and treat it as a performance. You may be allowed to hum the song as you sight-read and it’s important to include all the details that make the piece unique. As you progress through the piece, pay attention to repeating patterns, the main melody, the climax, definitive sections, and other characteristics. This process will help you to understand the piece better before you even play a single note.
5.Relax and Don’t Stop Playing
If you make a mistake, don’t stop sight-reading and playing and continue to the end of the piece. Focusing on mistakes can only derail the entire process and you can only improve when you make a mistake. The goal is to improve your musicianship and playing the perfect performance is not important.