Hi! How do you recommend practicing sight reading? I've got a piano exam coming up in a few months and apparently the sight reading portion is really tough at my level. Thank you!
Sight read for 15 minutes a day. Doesn’t matter what you play, just read something you’ve never read before.
Before you start, tell yourself out loud:
- What key the piece is in.
- What meter it’s in.
- What clefs are used. (Don’t assume right hand is treble clef and left hand is bass!)
- What the highest and lowest notes are.
Notice the tempo marking. Even if you can’t sight read at allegro or vivace, you’ll learn about the style and mood of the piece from the tempo marking.
Now pick a tempo and stick to it. If you can’t, turn the metronome on.
Always keep playing! Here’s how to do that:
- Never, ever repeat a note. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Oh well. No need to make the NEXT note wrong too by re-playing the last one instead of continuing.
- Never stop. Never take your fingers off the piano. If you can’t read what’s in front of you, make something up that’s in the same key and has a similar rhythm to what you see.
- If your right hand gets lost, keep playing the left hand.
Sight reading can be a discouraging thing to practice at first. By its very nature we will never feel good at it: playing something for the first time can’t possibly feel as secure and musical as playing something we know.
BUT: it’s a skill like anything else. Some people are not magically “good at sight reading” while others are naturally bad at it… sight reading is a learnable skill. Remember that once upon a time you couldn’t read English either, but now you can blow through a four hundred word text post in a few seconds. Reading music works the same way.
A few last tips:
- Pick music this easy and play it flawlessly the first time with gorgeous phrasing.
- Pick music this hard and just play one or two measures.
- Pick music whose tune you know so you can use your ear.
- Pick music whose tune is unfamiliar so you’re forced to read the notes.
- Sight read duets with friends.
- If you recognize the I and V chords of all keys, you can understand the structure of an excerpt and read it more easily.
- Aim to play actual music as you sight read. The kind with dynamics and emotions and occasional mistakes. This will impress the judges more than a cold technical reading of correct notes.
Good luck on your piano exam!! If it’s a few months away and you’re already thinking ahead about practicing, you’re going to be great. I’d love to hear how it goes!