Your Ultimate Guide to Learning How to Sight Read Music

Sight reading music can be challenging, especially when you’re just starting out. While some people pick it up really easily, for some, it takes a little more time to learn. However, if you’re the latter, these handy tips and tricks will help steer you in the right direction.

The first thing you need to understand about sight-reading is that it’s not a magical skill that develops on its own. If you want to be a good sight-reader, you first need to be really good at reading music in general. So, let’s look at some ways you can improve your music reading abilities.

Improve Your Concentration

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s very easy to get distracted and the less you focus when reading your music, the more difficult it will be to pick up the notes and the rhythms.

If you’re not focusing on the task at hand, you will most likely end up missing notes and accidentals, which will also mess up your rhythms and make you feel disconnected from where you’re up to in the music, and ultimately, lose your place.

It’s not uncommon for musicians to be scanning the crowd or having random thoughts pop into their heads as they’re performing, which can be a recipe for disaster. Try to clear your head of any distracting thoughts, pretend the audience isn’t there, and as the tune is being counted off, focus on the time, the notes and the rhythms in the opening measures.

Look at the Music in Chunks

If you were to watch a bunch of musicians perform, you can instantly spot the strong readers and the weaker ones. The weaker ones have the tendency to get flustered while trying to count and subdivide every rhythm as it comes. They also tend to count every beat with their foot. The problem with this method is that you’re always just scraping by, and if a tricky note comes up or if you lose focus for just a second, you can get completely thrown off.

The best way around this is to look at larger chunks of music at once, so you’re constantly reading ahead and not focusing purely on each tiny little part of the music. Look at the music on the page as if you’re reading it in cut time and divide each measure into two parts, so you can see where the downbeats fall. This will free up your mind and time so you can focus on the larger picture.

Learn to Recognise Rhythms and Patterns

If you can become familiar with the main rhythms and combinations of rhythms, you’ll be able to recognise them at a glance and become much more efficient at sight-reading music. If you can read large chunks of music at once, and easily spot these rhythms in advance, you will spend less time deciphering individual notes as you hit them and will move through the piece with a lot more ease.

Be Aware of Any Tricky Rhythms

Always be on the lookout for any tricky rhythms, as in the heat of the moment they can easily throw you off. In your spare time, or when you’re practising, figure them out while playing at a slow tempo and then commit them to memory. If you can do this, they won’t throw you off when you have to read the music quickly in the middle of a performance.

If you’re able to tune out any distractions and focus on implementing all of the above points while you’re reading music, you’ll be much better equipped to become a more competent sight-reader.

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