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How To Improve Your Sightreading

Aug 30, 2007
As most professional musicians will say; no matter how long you've been playing for there is always need for improvement. Most of us have discovered this already, and we can all do with some improvement in our sight-reading skills.

The goal with sight-reading is to be able to really get through a piece of music without needing to stop or start the song, and to be able to do so when you have just been given the song and never heard it ever before. Most musical circles - especially for theater and orchestra, but also around studio and professional circles - will expect you to read 'on demand.' You could lose or gain a gig depending on how well you are able to do this. Although those with good ears may be able to develop strategies to get around sight-reading, this is not always going to save us and isn't to our advantage either.

Benefits and Reasons to Practice Sight-Reading

Sight-reading improves your overall playing and musical skills significantly. For starters, your scale playing techniques drastically improve. Sight-reading also teaches you song and music dynamics, so you can understand both sound and feel. Sight-reading will improve your octave skills too, as well as your arpeggio techniques and your general theory. As you practice with a metronome, and get a feel for standard rhythms, you will greatly improve in your timing and phrasing.

Lastly, sight-reading will even help you to improve on your own songwriting, as you get used to phrasing and dynamics. All of these will help you pick up a piece of music quickly and on the fly, making you a better all-round musician and giving you some very sought-after skills. Bettering your sight reading really just comes with practice.

How to Practice your Sight-Reading

Practicing - like a lot of your musical skills - really only requires about 15 minutes a day. By doing this, you will already see your entire outlook on your instrument dramatically change within just a few days.

Firstly you need to always play along with a metronome, and play through a piece of music without stopping. This is important. Even if you make mistakes, keep going. This will train you to read without needing to stop and look at your instrument, or work out what the sheet music is telling you. You can clear up the mistakes next time around. Once you have the song done flawlessly, move to the next song.

You should start with easier music, and go through the entire music book. Once you've done that, get more music. Music training is also reflex and memory training - once you know a song, you don't need the music anymore, and you're not improving your sight-reading by going through it again - you're just rehashing what you know already.

Musical phrases are very much like words and once you know the words you don't need to learn new words. You need to always be practicing new material - by continuously getting more musical phrases into your memory, you will greatly improve your ability to read music on the fly when you see recognizable phrases.

When practicing sight-reading, don't look at your fretboard - keep your eyes on the music. This will get you used to reading instead of watching yourself play. This also helps you to get a 'feel' for your instrument, making playing it very natural for you, and training you to rely on your muscle memory and not your sight when playing.

You need to consistently work on your sight-reading, just as you do your technique, interpretation, rudimentals and scales. You should sometimes test yourself with an audience - they will be more critical of your ability, and will point out where you may be going wrong. If you have a good ear, try and find ways to depend on the sheet music. This will actually make you a better musician, with the ability to hear music through sight and sound, a wonderfully sought-after and advantageous skill.

Sight-reading has many benefits, and through consistent practice you will find that it gets easier and easier, giving you the necessary skill as you work towards becoming a well rounded musician, more professional and talented with your instrument and musical ability. Whether you play guitar, piano, rhythm or lead (or even the drums) it is highly recommended that you take sight-reading seriously and work it into your practicing schedule.
About the Author
Kevin Sinclair is the publisher and editor of MusicianHome.com, a site that provides information and articles for musicians at all stages of their development.
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