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Sight-reading is a key component to building your musical skills.  Here you can find 10 tips on how to sight-read music better and faster.

1. Practice scales.

When you practice different scales every day you can learn this way the majority of the piece. Think about it this way. Most of the pieces are built on scales. All the technical difficulties you may encounter come from complex passages. If you learn them before you start sight-reading the piece you are halfway through to understand and perform the piece. Of course, practice takes a long time. Therefore, it is best to approach it strategically.

Analyze the pieces you are playing and practice the scales that appear in those compositions.They will be the basis for your practice routine. Only later, if you have time, add the missing scales. Play the most common scales and technical exercises like major, minor, diminished, chromatic scales, chords, intervals, and trills. Try to schedule your time to play them all during the week. You can even make themed days like Major Mondays, Minor Tuesdays, etc. 

2. Practice without looking at your instrument.

This advice might not be useful for every musician. However, if your instrument requires you to look at the keyboard, consider practicing this exercise. Looking at your instrument can distract you from the sheet music in front of you. Try to close your eyes when you play the piece by heart, warm-up, or practice scales. This skill you are learning will be very useful when sight-reading. Building accuracy is an additional bonus. 

 

3. Take a look at your sheet music before playing.

Notice as many things as possible. First, the key you are playing in, the time signature, and the tempo. Then check if the tempo or the key changes during the pieces. In the end, you can look for any difficult rhythm, notes with additional sharp or flat, or anything that might be troublesome. It is one of the simplest methods, yet so often overlooked by many musicians. Let it be your new habit from today.

4. Make a harmony analysis.

Identify the chords, notice when the key changes. It doesn’t have to be a complicated analysis. You don’t have time for it but if you can identify few basic chords in the piece or any harmonical changes throughout the piece it can be tremendous help for you.

Take a look at your sheet music before playing - FlowStick Ensemble sight-reading

5. Notice the similar patterns.

Most of the pieces have bars or even whole phrases and sections that repeat. Pay attention to that because you can build a mental picture of the piece just by paying attention to the repeats.  Thanks to this approach you can focus on those parts of the composition that are actually difficult.

6. Imagine the rhythm or the melody in your head.

As easy as it sounds, by performing the piece in your head you already have the first sight-reading session behind you. Depending on your time, you can imagine only the first bar or phrase appearing in the piece. Focus also on the difficult rhythm patterns. Remember to always imagine the first note. It will help you to have a good start to your piece and tune properly. 

Analizę the structure of the piece - FlowStick Ensemble, sight-reading

7. Don’t play it too fast. 

Always imagine the tempo before you start playing. When we get nervous or feel unsure the natural response is to rush the tempo. Before you practice always remind yourself what your goal tempo is. If you play it too fast you might learn the piece with mistakes.

 

8. Analyze the structure of the piece.

Try to divide the melody into phrases. This way you will feel that the music you play has meaning and you can understand it better. Even if you play the most complicated, contemporary piece I’m sure there is some structure present in the composition. For most of the pieces, it should be quite easy to identify the form. Some might require research. Nonetheless, it is on you to find the meaning behind the musical language.

9. Learn to look at the next note while you play.

Try to always look ahead. It might be difficult at the beginning but believe me, you will learn this technique with time. Just try it for yourself. Always focus on the next notes and don’t worry if you make a mistake. You can always improve but you can’t change past actions. 

10. Practice sight-reading regularly.

Make it a part of your practice routine. Create a reason to do it. For example, I used to practice one new study every day. This way I killed 2 birds with one stone. On one hand, I practiced my sight-reading, on the other, I improved my technique. You can find your way to incorporate it into your daily routine. Try to combine with something that you already do, like practicing studies or expanding your repertoire. 

In summary, sight-reading is a skill that can be practiced. First of all, try to make it part of your practice routine. Secondly, before you start playing, do a brief analysis of the piece, imagine how it sounds like, then play it. Thirdly, don’t forget to include practicing scales in your daily routine. Last but not least, be patient, you may not see the results right away, but like any skill, it takes time and regularity to develop.

This post is a part of the series “Masterclass with FlowStick”. We already talked about how to accept criticism with grace.  

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