One muscle we could all do with working out as musicians is that of sight reading. Reading music is truly like reading a foreign language. In order to become fluent, you must understand the structure and patterns of syntax. Total immersion begins with sight reading experiences. Sound scary? Follow these tips and you will be fluent in no time!
1. Put some time in each day to work on your sight reading skills. Practice makes perfect! Select songs you have never tried before, especially those you may not have heard before. This really challenges you to work on your reading skills, rather than relying on your ear to do the work for you. Sightreading generally doesn’t come naturally to most people, so remember that as you are fumbling through the first through pieces. The tedium, and occasional frustration will result in a big payoff!
2. Get yourself acquainted with the music. Before you dive in, make sure you check the key signature, time signature, and the note you are starting on, among other things. If you are playing piano you will want to check what hand you are using and which finger. Get yourself grounded before you begin playing.
3. Look for patterns and “surprises” in the music. Before playing, check out the shape of the music, where it goes up and down and the intervals in the score. Notice any rhythmic or pitch patterns in the music, and any measures that repeat. If you know a little about harmonic analysis, consider writing the chord numbers under the music so you can clearly see the harmonic framework of the piece. Also notice any places in the music that are different from the rest of the piece.
4. If you are a singer, try out some solfege exercises with your teacher, start small, perhaps using two syllables, and work your way up to using all the solfege. Most singers do not have perfect pitch, but rather relative pitch that they polish and develop throughout their musical careers. Relative pitch is the ability to recognize or sing pitch using another note for reference. One way to practice this is through sightreading exercises.
5. When you are playing a piece, try to read a half a measure or so ahead so that you aren’t caught off guard with the notes. As much as you can, keep your eyes on the music. Looking back and forth between your hands and the music itself can cause you to lose your place or stumble.
A little work every day on sightreading could allow you to play songs that may have otherwise taken weeks or even months. Keep working hard and you will be surprised at how quickly you progress!