“Expertise with sight-reading belongs at the top
of your list of priorities.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 99
Musicians who sight-read fluently enjoy huge artistic and professional advantages.
On the artistic side, they’re more versatile than weak readers because they can quickly assimilate diverse styles of music.
Professionally, they can perform with minimal rehearsal, so they’re the first to be contacted when opportunities arise.
In spite of those benefits, many music students neglect to practice sight-reading.
Why? It seems that, aside from laziness, some aren't sure how to develop their reading skills and, as a result, become discouraged by their lack of improvement.
I’m convinced that fluency with sight-reading can be attained by any musician with adequate visual acuity, but it takes smart, persistent work to build up reading skills.
Here are essential things to emphasize in your sight-reading practice.
Bear in mind that the term “sight-reading” refers to the artful performance of an unfamiliar score with no more than a minute or two to scan.
1. Start with Elementary Material
Only accessible music enables us to acquire habits of fluency. All too often, though, students unwisely choose to sight-read overly complex material.
If your reading skills need upgrading, opt for elementary music, and then step up the difficulty over an extended period.
Ideally, consult a teacher who can evaluate your skills and recommend suitable material.
Also strive to assemble vast amounts of sight-readable music so that you never lack for scores.
2. Practice Sight-Reading Daily
Sight-reading skills require ongoing reinforcement if they’re to become second nature.
I advise ambitious students to practice reading a minimum of 15 minutes daily (during my youth, I practiced reading 30 minutes a day for years). Even when your practice time is limited, try to carve out 5 minutes.
In addition to reading on your own, try to gather weekly with one or more colleagues to read ensemble music – doing so will bolster your skills and motivation.
3. Instill Fundamental Habits
Without exception, keep up the following habits when you read:
See pages 99-102 of Musician’s Way for inclusive ways to practice and improve sight-reading skills.
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