January 24, 2012 at 05:24 AM · I've been doing a couple auditions lately and one was a huge disappointment. I audition for a Jr. Clinic that we have. I had a level score with the co concertmaster in prepared and scale, but I had a 205 out of 300 in sight-reading. This put me in 6th chair 2nd violin :(. Each violin section had 17 chairs.

Sightreading has always been a problem with me, so my question is, how do I improve my sight-reading skill so I receive a more fair chair?

Replies (18)

January 24, 2012 at 07:39 AM · "This was mainly huge disappointment because all the people who can't play got in the 1st violins."

what does that make of you?

January 24, 2012 at 08:56 AM · Parth

You have had 3 good responses and you need to do a lot of sightreading to get to be good - and scales etc. all help.

Be sure that your left hand technique is correct otherwise this will hinder your ability. The same could said for the bow arm as well, but left hand is crucial.

Here in the UK (and probably the US as well) we are known for being good sightreaders, because we have had to learn on the job how to do it. We don't have too much rehearsal time. Even amateur quartets here will play through quite hard Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendellsohn and even Brahms quartets at sight. (OK, not perfectly).

It's quite common to perform say, a chamber work (quartet, trio etc) for a concert with only two or three rehearsals, sometimes even less.

January 24, 2012 at 11:00 AM · Firstly, don't be too disappointed by your seating. You got a place, for one, and it really is true that they won't have put all the strong players on the front desks or all in the firsts. Strength at the back of the section, where it is much harder to keep track of what's going on than at the front, is crucial.

Secondly, as others have said, practice! The orchestral setting will in itself do no end of good for your sight-reading, because you will be reading a lot of unfamiliar music, with zero opportunity to do anything other than keep ploughing on regardless. I've never had a pupil develop what I'd regard as good sight-reading skills (UK expectations here!) without having taken every opportunity to be involved with ensemble playing.

You can also practice by yourself. Go back and revisit all the books and material you've used in the past, and play all the pieces you didn't tackle at the time. Just about anything else can be good, too - the melody of songs, the soprano and alto parts of hymns, pretty much anything in the treble clef can be used. Think of it this way: does a child become a highly proficient reader by only reading the books the teacher gives them? Not often - the ones who voraciously devour any reading material they can get their hands on are the ones who really develop the skill.

January 24, 2012 at 02:08 PM · Please don't take this as sounding mean, but when you write, "All the people who can't play got in first violin", it stands out to me that you have your way of assessing relative skill between players; the auditioners have another standard in mind entirely. Theirs includes a solid capacity to read/sight-read well. We could argue all day about which is "right", but since they get to make the decisions, theirs is the standard you need to grow in to if that is a group you want to be in. In my experience, many string players who don't sight-read well fall down on correctly performing rhythms. To work on this, learn one of the common counting systems and practice counting out & clapping rhythm exercises and complex etudes w/a metronome running to keep you on the steady beat. Sue

January 24, 2012 at 02:26 PM · Parth,

Two key things. Fpr sight reading, I believe patterns are key. As in Sevcik, op. 1/1 for left hand, and op. 2 for bowing. (There must be more modern methods that teach this as well). Once you have them stored, you can recognize them and because more things happen automatically, your attention is free to make music.

As to the "fair seating" business: Don't believe everything you think, and don't put it on the Internet.

Hope this helps,


January 24, 2012 at 05:32 PM · Solfege training wouldn't hurt. Also, take your opportunity in the 2nds to learn the stuff that 2nds need to do precisely. Rhythms and fitting in with the other sections and such things. Lastly, let this be an important lesson for your ego. Don't you worry about the other players, unless you plan on blowing up their violins during break.

January 24, 2012 at 06:52 PM · Parth,

So you have discovered a truth about the business of playing music: a mediocre violinist with the practical skill of excellent sightreading will often get the gig before a "better" violinist who stumbles at reading new material. This has happened to me on numerous occasions when I've been hired after someone I considered to be a better player was let go due to difficulty in reading.

How to solve this deficiency? The other comments are correct in putting the emphasis on recognizing patterns, but what does this mean?

There are a couple different types of patterns you need to recognize as you read: Rhythmic patterns and Melodic patterns. In other words, patterns based on time and patterns based on musical interval. Another type of pattern is also important, that is the physical finger pattern that your hand must "know" and fall into as soon as you see any particular key signature.

Playing Sevcik and Scale studies will indeed give you the vocabulary to start becoming an excellent sight reader.

However, to actually finish becoming an expert you must be able to see, and hear in your mind, the music in chunks in the same manner as you can see and hear a written word without sounding out the individual letters. The key to this is to read and play a lot of music.

I suggest, as others have, that you devote a certain amount of your practice session to reading through a violin method solely for the purposes of sight reading. Use a method that has lots of short songs, such as Samuel Applebaum, rather than one with longer pieces like Suzuki. Start at the very beginning and play everything only once, one after the other. Most method books introduce new rhythms, keys, intervals, arpeggios etc. and add the new ideas to the old in a manner that is perfect for internalizing and making automatic your reading skills.

As you get to the point where your sight reading skill is close to your actual ability on the violin, invest in a book of folk song transcriptions and try to play through a couple of those every day, then simple etudes, then more complicated etudes, then orchestral excerpt etc.

Make sense?

Good luck.

January 24, 2012 at 08:07 PM · The best way to learn to sight read is to show up unprepared to orchestra. Hah! I'm mostly kidding, but not entirely.

January 24, 2012 at 08:32 PM · That's the British way! I only half-joke, knowing numerous cases of entire youth orchestras sight-reading through whole symphonies (I'm talking Rachmaninov and Mahler!)

January 24, 2012 at 08:44 PM · It's about rhythm...the ability to interpret and place things in the right place very quickly. The advice to work on rhythmic training is right on the money.

All the right notes in the world aren't worth squat if they're played in the wrong place!

January 24, 2012 at 08:49 PM · You probably won't believe this unless you are a professional orchestral player, but I've sightread in orchestras and small groups on live TV shows, radio programmes and even recording sessions where the red light is on most of the time and no rehearsal, as the rest of the orchestra know the work ... It's certainly hairy ... and not to be reccommended.

January 24, 2012 at 11:27 PM · With my students who need help on this area I bring duets and we read one or two per lesson. Bartok duets are great for this. Also reading through ├ętude books below your level that you haven't studied - wolfahrt, kayser, etc...

January 25, 2012 at 04:57 PM · @enion I agree duets are very good for this. Pleyel is good too. They're easy to read ... but not all that easy to play really well. When you sightread 'for real' (as Charles described) you do have to get it right.

I don't see sightreading skill and other violin playing skill as being completely orthogonal. When you're sightreading, are you playing in tune and with good tone, etc.? Maybe you can play stuff in tune that you've practiced to death, maybe not so much stuff that you're seeing for the first time. As others have suggested it's a different -- but I'm arguing not totally different -- skill set.

January 25, 2012 at 05:21 PM · For me sight reading breaks down into a few things.

Rhythm + a combination of other things. Patterns, intervals, finger spacing, reference points/notes, and being able to hear the notes before you play them.

Rhythm is key. You must have an internal metronome going in your head. This sense of beat needs be kept independant of your feedback from what you hear. The beats should keep going and drive you thru the bars. If you make a mistake dont fix it. Catch the next beat and keep going from there.

Another thing with rhythm is the ability to recognise rhythms and knowing where beats are in the bar. A lot of times rests, off-beats, ties, syncopations, etc can throw you off. If this is one of your weakness in sight reading then practice seeing the rhythm. Turn on a metronome and hum it. If you cant do it, then start really slow. Read the same music a couple times more, each time speeding up the metronome significantly. When you struggle just enough to keep up, you will (hopefully) develope a way to recognise and see rhythmic patterns.

Next is the actual notes. To me notes appear on the score as patterns, intervals, finger spacing, hand position, or a combination of any of those.

Note pattern (running/arpegiating/alternating etc) is probably the most obvious. What others posted about practicing scales and studies really help in this area.

Intervals and finger/note spacing kinda goes hand in hand. For me, if I can recognise the note, then the interval will determine what fingers I use for the next notes. Finger/note spacing is just recognising the fact that ie if you have notes on line and line (3rds, 5ths etc) then you'd most likely be using 1st and 3rd fingers to play. (Or 2 & 4 if in position)

When you start to see larger intervals or gaps in the notes you either need to know what the note should sound like, or know where to move your hand. This is the part about hand position and finding reference points. For example if you see G6, you can see it as a 3rd about the harmonic E on the E string. Once you get more experience you'll develope more reference points where you can find your notes. When you play enough, then you should be able to hear what a note sounds like before you even play it.

Other things such as articulation, dynamics are obvious as they're in print. Phrasing will come naturally after you start seeing patterns.

Again rhythm is key. Regardless how many notes you can or cannot play, you MUST keep the beat going and play at the right time. If you play the wrong notes, not everyone will hear. But if you play at the wrong time, everyone can hear that.

I guess practice is the only way to get you better. But try to find out your weak areas in sight reading and work on that. Hope this helps.


January 25, 2012 at 07:18 PM · My sight reading is improving as I:

1. Consciously assess the finger pattern required,

2. Attempt to place finders as far in advance as possible

3. Try to cover two strings with first finger

4. Calculate as quickly as possible the number of half steps in every shift

5. Avoid at all costs shifting on an open string ( with no fingers down)

It will improve further when I get quicker at reading bowings and better calculate bow distribution

January 26, 2012 at 01:48 AM · Thanks everyone for your responses, they will really help!

My main problem is counting, I just cannot count! I hate it because my teacher gets mad that I can't count and when I audition I can't get a good chair because the rhythm is off. By telling you this maybe it will narrow this down a bit.

January 26, 2012 at 02:39 AM · I really doubt anyone here will be able to help you with poor timing. The thing is your timing and rhythm needs to be relearned with a qualified teacher. You can practice really slow with a metronome if you want , but in reality if your teacher is unable to get you through this than find someone else that will. If a teacher gets upset (mad, frustrated) it's not you who is doing something wrong, it's them. They are unable to figure out how to correct it.

January 30, 2012 at 05:21 PM · Okay Parth,

Do you use a counting system to decode complicated rhythms? Most people have a standard way of counting rhythms that they learn early on. I imagine that your teacher has shown you a system since he or she is criticizing you for NOT doing it correctly.

A quick run down of one would be as follows:

With a metronome clicking quarter notes, all clicks are whole numbers up to the number of quarters per measure. In 4/4 time, say aloud, "One, Two, Three, Four, One, Two, Three, Four" exactly along with the click. This is a measure of quarter notes.

For a measure of eighth notes you add the word "and" exactly between each click. So, "One and Two and Three and Four." The whole numbers should still be spoken aloud exactly with the clicks.

For a measure of sixteenth notes add the syllables "ee" and "uh" before and after the word "and." So, "One ee and uh Two ee and uh Three ee and uh Four ee and uh." Again, the whole numbers should still be spoken exactly in time with the metronome click.

This may seem elementary to you, but can you count like this with a metronome? If so, can you apply this counting system to a piece you play? Can you "speak" the rhythm of, say, the first Bach Minuet in Suzuki along with the metronome: "One Two Three, One Two and Three, One Two Three, One (Two) Three, One Two and Three and, One Two and Three and, One Two Three, One (Two) rest?" Parenthesis indicate notes longer than a quarter note.

How about something a little more complicated like the Bach Double Concerto: "One ee and uh Two and Three and Four and, One and Two (Three) and uh Four and, One and Two and Three and Four and etc."

If you can't speak the rhythm correctly, chances are you can't play it correctly.

That said, my guess is that your problem may lie more in a more common problem with players of your experience: RESTS. I've noticed that beginning players, particularly those that advance quickly, tend to see only the written notes when they sight read and to regard the rests as a sort of amorphous break between phrases.

Rests are divided into the same lengths as notes and are counted exactly the same way. They are an integral part of every phrase you play.

So, my suggestion to become a better sight reader of rhythms is to learn and internalize a counting system and practice speaking lots of different rhythms, along with a metronome and WITHOUT your violin, not forgetting to count the rests, until you can do this by sight.

I'll finish this super long post by also mentioning another "counting" system people use. That is, instead of using numbers they use words to express any basic rhythm. Four sixteenth notes become "generator," triplets become "chocolate" etc. The book "Fiddle Rhythms" by Sally O'Reilly is a great, inexpensive, rhythm trainer that uses this method along with lots of examples of melodies by the great composers.

Good Luck

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