The ability to sight-read music is one of the most important skills a musician can develop. It is also one of the most challenging areas to master. But as with so many other areas of musical study, spending some time and effort will result in tremendous improvement. We’ve outlined some of the best techniques to keep in mind as you work to become a better sight reader.
- Concentrate. No one said simultaneously reading and playing notes on an instrument was easy. But it’s a lot less difficult if you really focus and concentrate on the task at hand. Even accomplished musicians can miss notes if they are not totally focused. The more you get in the habit of complete concentration the easier it will become.
- Read ahead. Greater concentration will allow you to look at larger pieces of music at a stretch, and anticipate what is coming. That gives your brain a little extra time to process the information and allows you to play more seamlessly. With time, you’ll find you are able to read larger chunks at a time.
- Look for patterns. As you review a piece of music for the first time, or scan ahead as you are playing, look for familiar rhythms, chord shapes, scale fragments and arpeggios. Start thinking of them as blocks of music, not a group of disconnected notes. This allows you to see where the easy passages are and where things get tricky, giving you time to prepare.
- Improve your sense of touch. Your eyes can’t be in two places at once. If you find you must constantly look at your hands while playing, spend some time on drills which allow you to gain confidence in your hand position. There are also many excellent books and apps that can improve your playing by touch. Or, go old school and practice playing scales in the dark! Once you don’t have to look at your hands, you’ll be better able to focus on reading your sheet music.
- Keep going. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes as your sight reading skills continue to improve. Don’t let one missed note derail your whole piece. If you maintain focus on the tempo and rhythm of piece your mistake will not only be less noticeable, but you’ll be able to get back on track more quickly.
- There’s nothing like practice. You can continually hone your skills by reading lots of new sheet music, not just pieces you already know. Be patient with yourself. Becoming a great sight reader takes time, but it is doable. Give yourself some attainable short-term goals, and as you meet those, set others.