orchestral pieces for practicing sight reading
I’m a relatively advanced adult violinist, but my sight reading skills are relatively poor. I joined an orchestra and am struggling.
I’m embarking on a routine for the next six months in which I practice different orchestral pieces in different styles every day. I’m thinking I’ll pick one or two pieces every week and read various sections from different movements a few times.
Can people suggest orchestral pieces that I can try? Either first or second violin parts. Thanks
Brahms Tragic Overture or Academic Festival Overture
in addition, assuming you receive your parts a few weeks in advance to the first rehearsal, you can also just practice your parts in advance, so that you do not have to sightread. or, am I missing something?
There's more on IMSLP than you might think, so I wouldn't spend money on books.
One violinist I know spent much of the first year and a half of the pandemic sight-reading as much of the Romantic symphony repertoire as he could think of and find on IMSLP. He ended up reading the first and second violin parts of a total of 157 symphonies in that time, an average of about two a week.
Jean - in my community orchestra experience it varies widely. The better-organized orchestras usually distribute parts 2-3 weeks in advance, but I've also played in several community orchestras where musicians do not even learn what is on the program until the first rehearsal, let alone receive music before then.
I think it would probably be easier for you to buy the orchestral excerpt books -- there are several volumes published by International. IMSLP is of course free, so if the books are too pricy, that is a slightly more time-consuming method.
I started playing violin in orchestras 75 years ago, in my high school orchestra. The next year I also joined the community orchestra as a cellist. I developed my sight reading skills by reading other things. There was a book of 10 major violin concertos that really got me going reading harder things (no longer published or available). I also played chamber music for over 50 years - lots of sight reading there (string quartets and piano trios). I added viola playing 50 years ago.
Andrew wrote: " also played in several community orchestras where musicians do not even learn what is on the program until the first rehearsal, let alone receive music before then." Me too - and what a self-destructive method! Basically ensuring that the weakest members will be the least prepared, whether they want to be so or not. What's weirder is that if you inquire you will find out that the first desks all knew the rep long before - which is a one reason (other than ability of course) why they are so well prepared before the first rehearsal.
Thank you all very much. I’ll start on my journey of reading 158 symphonies today.
Do you mean you can't read and play a part that you're just looking at for the first time? This is normally what people mean by sight-reading. In that case, you want access to endless amounts of new material. Trouble with IMSLP is that it's like getting a sip of water from the bottom of Niagara Falls. My daughter was trained by ear on the cello from early childhood and in her mid-teens she noticed some weakness in sight-reading. The book of 500 sight-reading studies by Robert Battey helped, and joining a group that reads string quartets was beneficial, too.
Those baroque prestos with an odd number of bowings per measure are the killer. Go through the Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi as well as the Romantic.
Paul wrote “Do you mean you can't read and play a part that you're just looking at for the first time? …
Do you have a duet partner ?
I'm sure it's not to everyone's taste, but faced with the exact same dilemma as the OP, I found the
Sight reading seems to have been replaced in many orchestras by pre-selected excerpt books. Which are often the same. If you go to the Boston Philharmonic's website bostonphil.org, you can get a list. (Actually, the youth orchestra has a different batch.) Here is a very serious list from a professional orchestra: https://orchestraexcerpts.com/violin/
You can get orchestral parts from IMSLP.org. Brahms symphonies are deceptively hard, especially second violin parts. Then there are the obvious fiddle killers: Wagner operas, Strauss tone poems, etc.
I have found that when all else fails, taking such passages at slower tempos, repeating them while gradually speeding them up always works.
Andrew that is exactly how I read, I don't consciously think which note I am playing. I am not the greatest sight reader, generally I have to hear the music first, which I don't think is a problem.
The standard International/Gingold excerpt books are not in order of difficulty, they seem to be designed to force you to buy all 3 volumes. Another approach would be to buy the individual 1st violin parts from Kalmus or Lucks. The order of difficulty for orchestra music is approximately chronological, so start with Schubert-late Mozart-Beethoven-late Haydn symphonies. I have gradually built a personal library of 1st violin parts. I usually don't need to practice 2nd violin parts. If you learn the 1st parts you can usually play most of the 2nd.
Please do not underestimate the difficulty of Mozart first violin parts, and most especially Mozart second violin parts.
For several years I played in the London Repertoire Orchestra whose mission was to give young aspiring players from the music colleges (not me) as much sight-reading experience as possible. Each Wednesday we'd rehearse a short chamber program finishing with a playthrough, and each Friday it was the turn of the full symphony orchestra. I doubt that any of us had time to acquaint ourselves with the parts beforehand. We also played three more thoroughly rehearsed concerts each year, plus a weekend course culminating in concert performance of a large-scale work. How many of the players made it through to the profession I couldn't say, but it certainly gave me a major boost in the pro-am world.
My most unforgettable sight-reading experience was with an orchestra that I sat in with "to provide another sword arm" for the season closing concert. Only attending the last three or four rehearsals was a sight-reading experience in itself. But after the concert we decided to have one more rehearsal to go over some new material. We sight-read Stravinsky's
Shankha you don't need 158 symphonies. You just need the ones Mary Ellen recommended. Well, at least that's who I'd trust, if'n I had to choose.
I wasn't really suggesting that sight-reading the entire Romantic symphonic repertoire was the best way to go about it... just mentioning that someone did that as a COVID project, following Gordon's comment that there's more on IMSLP than you might think.
Thank you Andrew. Yes I understood, I’m not planning on 158 symphonies either. :-)
Marion Ellen's comment is correct. I am well aware that it is technically difficult to play Mozart symphony parts well; top tier level performance or audition winner level, and those excerpts, especially Mozart #39, Eb, are a common choice for an audition. I was thinking more of the literal technique required for a mid-range player (me) with less than excellent sight-reading skills, to survive the first rehearsal with dignity. If it is a Richard Strauss piece, I am in big trouble. Second violin parts can be busier and more awkward. I have noticed that those coming from a "fiddle" background (also me), can have superior velocity and bow control and can be good second violins at the lower tier of orchestras.
Just a note on excrepts. There is a nice collection of excerpts on Archive.org, the Lexcerpts collection, at:
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