How to Improve Sight Reading Skills
Before we dive into learning about sight-reading, let’s cover some basics. Sight-reading music is a skill for musicians of all experiences. It is never too early to start learning sight-reading skills. Sight-reading music is an ability to read and perform music at first sight without any preparation. Whenever you get a new piece of music, you are automatically sight-reading it, consciously or not!
Being able to sight-read well is an essential skill for any musician. As a violinist, it can help you learn to play pieces quickly without spending too much practice time on them. Sight-reading also enables you to tackle harder pieces with less effort.
So, how do you get better at sight-reading? There are many detailed guides on sight-reading, but the core to improving your sight-reading skills is deliberate practice.
Music is made up of two basic components: notes and rhythms. To get better at sight-reading, improving how you play notes and rhythms is the first step. You need to practice breaking down music to its essentials.
After breaking the music down, all that’s left is to keep practicing with new music. By taking some time to practice sight-reading often, you will improve over time.
One of the first things I mentioned in the article is to practice breaking down your music to its bare essentials. When you first receive a piece to sight-read, take a close look at the notes on the page and how they relate to each other.
Remember to look at the key signature of the piece. If there are sharps or flats that you are less familiar with, take a little bit of time to scan the piece for those notes. As you play through the piece, you’ll be aware of the notes and make fewer mistakes.
Keep an eye out for accidentals too. If you play a flat instead of a sharp, you could risk ruining a measure of the piece. If you have time, try to either circle the accidentals or make a mental note of them.
Outside of adding these techniques to your sight-reading pieces, practice scales regularly. Although it can get boring, practicing scales can help you. If you see a key signature that matches a scale that you’ve been working on, then you will have a much easier time playing the piece.
Our next essential component of music to practice is rhythm. Although notes make up the melody of a piece, rhythms make up the backbone of one.
Before you start playing the piece, take a quick look at the tempo marking. Is it moderato, adagio, or allegro? Take all of these tempo markings to heart and tap out the beat with your foot.
Once you establish a tempo, keep it steady. Practicing at home with a metronome is one of the best ways to help you gain a better sense of time. If you practice common beats per minute like 60, 90, or 120 bpm, you will be able to apply it to your sight-reading.
When you’re looking for accidentals in the piece, look for complex rhythms as well. Keep on the lookout for any syncopation or tricky eighth-note runs. You can even shadow-bow the rhythms before you start to play.
Lastly, look out for tempo or time signature changes. If the piece switches from common time to cut-time, make a mental note of when the change happens. By doing this, you will be prepared to speed up if needed.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
As you continue to grow your sight-reading skills, you might run into some roadblocks. If you make a mistake, that’s okay. Just keep playing and go over it once you finish sight-reading the piece.
As I mentioned before, the biggest components of music are notes and rhythms. If you have trouble with some tricky bowings, don’t sweat over it too much. Even with just improving your notes and rhythms alone, the piece will sound great.
Don’t worry about spending too much time looking over the piece. When you practice sight-reading at home, work on solidifying your skills. The more you practice sight-reading, the faster you will become at skimming a new piece.
Once you get to an audition stage, don’t get too anxious. Take some deep breaths before you start to play. Shake your fingers out and stretch to relax and keep calm in front of the judges.
It may seem like you aren’t getting very far when you first start sight-reading but don’t panic. You will see small changes snowball into bigger changes if you practice often enough. Just keep cool and keep going!
Outside of practicing the basics, ultimately practicing sight-reading will help you improve. By taking a few minutes out of your practice session to sight-read, you will improve each time.
Where Do You Find Sight-reading Practice Sheets?
There are two main places you can look to find sight-reading music sheets: in stores and online.
If you pick up a new practice book in a music store, you can add it to your group of sight-reading pieces to practice. Try sight-reading a new piece every day. Some pieces in the book may be harder than others, but all together they will bring variety to your sight-reading practice.
If you don’t have time to pick up a new sheet music book from the store, look into finding sight-reading pieces online. There are plenty of free resources out there. The biggest problem with it, though, is that you’ll have to sight-read using your computer screen or print out the sheets.
Here are a couple of free online resources:
- Music Tutor Free
- Sight-reading packets
Here are a couple of paid online resources:
- Sight Reading Factory
- Sight Reading Mastery
Ultimately, where you get your sight-reading pieces is up to you. Just remember that practice makes better. It’ll seem slow-moving at first, but you will improve over time.
Improving your sight-reading skills is all about solidifying your understanding of the basics, getting rid of nervousness, and practicing often. Sight-reading is a skill that will only improve the more you practice it. If you follow these tips, you will be a better sight-reader in no time.