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Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Sight Reading For Piano

Jan 29, 2008
Ready to play on the spot? Here are the top 10 ways to improve your sight reading:

1. Learn every bit of notation that you can get your hands on. The more notation that you learn, the easier it is to interpret the notes you see. Don't just stop at the basics. Go on to learn intermediate notation and advanced notation. Sure, the deeper that you delve into notation, the more advanced and complicated the music becomes -- but don't let that scare you. You're in the learning stage right now, so have at it. You'll thank yourself for all the hard studying you've done once you're placed into the spotlight.

2. Check out the key. When you're faced with a piece of sheet music, look at the key. This will quickly let you know which notes are sharp and which notes are flat.

3. Try to hum the song before playing it. If the crowd that you're playing for is patient, give the notation a good look-over and hum it as you read it. If you're lucky, there'll be a friendly musician standing by who'll walk you through the piece before you begin.

4. Hear or know the song before you read its notation. You'll be even luckier if you're already familiar with the song that you're expected to play! This is where the benefit of exposure begins to shine. The more music that you expose yourself to, the easier it is to "know" how a song is supposed to "go."

5. Get your hands ready. Time permitting, see if you can place your hands in several important chord positions before starting.

6. Keep your eyes on the music. "Never let them see you sweat," they say -- a feat that's certainly easier said than done! The key here is to, at the very least, look as though you know what you're doing even if you don't. While you're faking it, you can use a little improve to stall and quickly find a place in the music that's easy to interpret. This will be a place where you can restore your confidence, play like a pro, and give your audience a convincing nod and wink (as though you never missed a beat).

7. Speaking of keeping the beat, you'll also want to keep up the tempo no matter what happens. We guess the cat's out the bag now and your question of whether pianists ever make mistakes is now answered. They do -- but the most skillful ones won't let you know it. They keep the beat going even if they drop notes or lose their place in their sheet music. Like the Energizer Bunny, they move on full force as if they were born savants. As a sight reader - that's your job now.

8. Keep the left hand busy. The role of the left hand is to maintain a steady rhythm and key. The role of the right hand however is to embellish what the left hand is doing. If things get hectic and you're stuggling with a song's melody, stop playing the melody but keep that left-hand going! The lead singer or other instruments will fill in what your right hand is incapable of playing. As a rule, rhythm, key, and chords are more important than the melody.

9. Practice seeing sheet music. Before placing yourself into a sight-reading situation, envision what a song's notation would look like. Pick any song from the radio or television, and start picturing its notes. This will help train your mind to associate sounds with notes and notes with sounds, anywhere... anytime.

10. Try to write your own music. This too, will help train your mind to make appropriate note-sound associations.
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