We’ve all had to do it at one point or another. Sight reading. And every time it was either approached with one of two feelings: confidence or fear and anxiety. Even to this day, I can admit that I am slowly moving my way from fear over to confidence, but it is something that requires daily practice and a constant routine to get done. It is by no means easy, but any step forward is, at least for me, something of positive reinforcement and encouragement that I am making progress. I want you as well to experience confidence in front of a piece of sheet music, not fear.
Here are some of my personal strategies for taking on the challenge of sight reading and how to practice sight reading:
1. Memorize Key Signature and Time Signature and Clearly Outline Where Trouble For You Is Going To Lie
First off, key signature, tempo and time signature are the components that make the song you’re trying to learn. It is wise to know what these things are – and know them well – ahead of time so you don’t need to spend additional time re-learning these components later over and over. Instead, you can now devote your mental strength to coordinating your brain to your motor skills and what you’re playing on the fret board and your brain to process the notes on the page as they come to you.
2. Don’t Try To Take It All In One Hit. Segment It Up And Learn In Pieces
We all want instant result and instant gratification and when we encounter that initial “beginners wall”, when we realize the reality doesn’t match our idealized result of learning the skill and it sets in how hard a new skills is going to be to learn, we feel more inclined to give up.
Don’t let that wall stop you from learning! You wouldn’t eat a whole 24oz steak at once would you? You would cut it up and take it bite by bite. Why wouldn’t you apply the same logic to learning an new skill like sight reading?
Getting to the skill level of musicians who can look at a piece of music with complete confidence and play it with near perfection takes a great deal of time and comittment to learn. But they started just like you: they began with little steps and worked up from there.
Try taking your piece of music that you want to sight read and break it up into 1, 2, 3, 4 or 12 bars – whatever YOU feel like you can handle AT THIS TIME and, if it’s paper, take a pencil and outline those bars. Now, from here…
3. Don’t Stop At Mistakes And Continue To Play Through
This piece of information was the most liberating to me once I grasped just how important it is to bear this in mind.
When you make a mistake, play through it and understand that it was a mistake – but don’t let it halt you completely.
This goes back to a point I made in an earlier post about letting yourself fail when you learn something new. If the song is new to you and the concept of sight reading is new for you as well, that’s two areas you are inherently going to be prone to mistakes on. If you accept you’re going to make mistakes and move on, then you’ll be putting yourself in a better frame of mind come practice time and understand that you are human and that you have work to do.
Sight reading is like any musical skill. It takes time, commitment and patience to learn. Becoming angry and flustered at the process will only make things more difficult in the long run and discourage you from learning. I encourage you to consider the following:
1. Take out a pencil and divide your music up into segments that you believe you can handle at this time.
2. Set a goal for yourself. Write that goal out and give yourself a deadline by which to complete it by with regard to your music.
3. On a piece of paper, preferably a disposable calendar from Dollar Tree or something, write out the end date of the goal and plan out how you plan to work at this every day. Bear points one and three in mind as you work to achieve.
It will take some getting used to, but the results will leave you feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
Don’t give up!
For more information about sight reading, check out this cool article here!