How to get better at sight-reading music
It’s no secret that practicing music isn’t easy. It takes many hours of practice, determination, and failure before truly becoming a successful musician. Part of the preparation is sight-reading practice so that when the performance comes the musician is at the top of their game. Learning to sight-read music can be challenging but with these 11 tips, any musician will be one step closer at being a pro and ready for their next performance.
1. Know your scales and notes
The first step of being an expert musician is knowing the basics so that you can build your foundation. Therefore, start from the beginning by knowing all your scales and the names of notes and how they work together, is the best place to start. Once you have this down, you’re ready to move forward with reading sheet music, and once you’ve mastered that, you’ll be ready for sight-reading practice!
2. The Starting and Resting Positions are Key
It doesn’t happen in every piece but if you get it, take advantage of it. The starting and resting positions give you the chance to not only take a breath and collect yourself, but they also give you the opportunity to prepare yourself for the next set that is coming up. Whether it be to turn the pages so you’re ready to continue on the path of sight-reading music or placing your fingers in a new position on your instrument so you’ll be ready to start on time.
3. Practice Daily
Just like in any other hobby or profession, in order to become an expert at sight-reading music, it’s best to practice daily. Not only does practicing daily ensure that you are truly practicing your instrument in-between lessons, but it’s giving you the opportunity to constantly improve in your practice. When you’ve practiced a piece a thousand times you can play it with your eyes closed and without any sheet music because you already know it by heart. Because of the constant playing and repetition not only do you know the music already, but it’s a lot easier for you to work on your sight-reading practice.
4. Make markings on the sheet music
Making notes and making markings on the sheet music can really help you with your sight-reading practice. It’s the same concept as when you’re reading a book for school and you make notes about specific passages, and the benefit of this is so that you can expand on your idea later or remember what you were referring to specifically in that passage. Well in sheet music, making notes will help with knowing how softly you should be playing or when exactly to come in. The notes you make will help you better understand the music and the best way to play it and will make sight-reading music sheets easier as well.
5. Look over the piece before trying to play it...familiarize yourself
Before diving head-in to sight-reading music, it’s advised to familiarize yourself with the music first. Read through it a few times, try to play it a few times, make notes where it’s necessary, and listen to it online while following along with the sheet music. This may seem like a waste of time, but you’re instilling the music in your brain. It will help you play more accurately while sight-reading and will bring the piece together, creating a beautiful masterpiece.
6. Keep going even if you make a mistake
Mistakes happen to everyone and that’s okay. It all comes down to how you react when making mistakes. Whether you’re in the middle of a performance or practicing sight-reading music at home and you’ve made a mistake, it’s best to continue playing without stopping. As you continue playing, you boost your own confidence in two ways. The first way is that you push yourself harder to perfect every note so that no other mistakes happen, and whether it takes 30 seconds or moving on to the next page, you’ll feel relaxed and comfortable again, forgetting that you even made a mistake before. The second way is by brushing it off you are showing to your audience that you’re not phased by a mistake that you made, that you are a professional and will continue playing through the rest of the piece.
As I’ve mentioned, mistakes happen and as you continue playing you’re training yourself to let go of the mistake and not to be stuck on it. With that, the rest of the piece will sound like the masterpiece that it is.
7. Have a foundation of rhythms
A solid foundation of rhythms is the building block for a successful sight-reading practice session and your musical career. Just like in any other field, it’s important to have a foundation to build upon. This foundation gives you the freedom to explore different genres, which we will discuss later on. But it’s also giving you the ability to easily and comfortably understand the sheet music you’re working on at the time. Being able to read the music and understand the rhythms is, of course, a big part of practicing sight-reading music, as it makes it easier and clearer for you how the piece will sound altogether.
8. Run through the piece in your head and do ‘air fingers’
Just like preparing for a big speech, you run through the entire speech in advance because you want to be prepared and calm any nerves that are there. This tip is similar to tip #5 because before you play you want to have read through the piece, and hear it in your head so that you know when to come in, when to play softer or louder, and so on. Even more so, using ‘air fingers’ is a great practice tool as you get to prepare the placement of your fingers on your instrument with each note.
9. Try to practice sight reading with other genres of music
Practicing sight-reading music is challenging on its own, so to make it easier and more fun it’s great to practice with different genres. Every musician has their favorite genre that’s easier for them to play, but more importantly, it’s more enjoyable, and because of that they happen to excel in that genre! Whether your favorite genre is jazz, classical, pop, modern, or something else it’s best to always test the waters in different genres.
By playing different types of music you’re expanding your knowledge of rhythms as well. Even though the base rhythm might be the same, each genre has its’ own rhythm specifications which help make the notes and sound specific to that genre. For example, classical music has a different rhythm than jazz music. Expanding your horizons with different genres gives you the opportunity to always learn more and explore other types of music that you might enjoy, but it’s also opening your mind more and when it’s time to bring it back to your sight-reading practice, your experience will be easier, faster, and more enjoyable!
10. Bigger is better (bigger chunks of music will help)
Reading bigger chunks of the notes to help you get ahead is a tip that might be hard and not useful. But for the majority, it is. In other words, when you read note-for-note you can get stuck and lost. But when you read chunks of notes together, you are preparing yourself for what comes next and you can get ready to continue playing. Otherwise, you get hung up on notes and eventually a mistake happens, making it another challenge that you’ll have to overcome. Bigger chunks of notes are better for sight-reading practice as you get ahead of the game and are ready for the next verse.
11. Identifying annotations
Understanding all the changed in music is crucial to the success of your sight-reading practice. The ability to understand the tempo, beat, and key signatures will upgrade your piece from average to concert ready. These three types of attributes are what really bring the piece together, whether you’re sight-reading music or reading sheet music. It’s important to understand every single annotation for the success of the piece and your playing.
Sight-reading music isn’t an easy skill to acquire, but with practice, patience, and these tips you’ll certainly be on the right path! Learning to sight-read music isn’t only beneficial in music, but also in other fields of study for young kids. Having the right tools for your music practice is also key, and of course the right guidance for how you train. Invest in your practice sessions, and you’ll see the results during your performances.