Joe's Blog

Habits that induce good sight reading skills

July 22, 2018

Those who have difficulty sight reading may shy away from the following techniques, but please give them a try.  They are designed to leave you with no choice but to improve your sight reading skills by derailing your usual work-arounds.

1. There is a procedure that is favored by students with a good ear, good chops, and bad sight reading skills: when they get stuck somewhere in the score, their fingers go on an exploring mission, trying this note or that note, until finding one that sounds right.

A better procedure is to immediately remove the hands from the piano.  Then, switch control from the fingers to the eyes and brain, and patiently try to locate the place in the score at which the mistake has occurred.   This is not a physical skill or one that is usually aided by a good ear.  Rather it is a reading comprehension and ear skill.  Next, keeping control with the eyes and brain, closely examine the score to discover the identity of the correct notes.  This may take some time.  Only then play the notes.

Even after a piece is thoroughly learned, sight-reading remains a real-time component of playing the piece.  Things are going along swimmingly and then an uncertainty arises as to what comes next.  The hands feel lost.  That is the moment to switch into sight-reading mode, continuing in this mode until the hands remember where they are and continue on their own.

2. Learn to start playing the piece from any point in the score. A person with sight reading difficulties will tend to have to go back to a ‘known’ place in the score, even sometimes having to begin again at the beginning. The ability to start the piece from any beat in any measure in the score requires and encourages maximum sight reading skill.  Continue playing in sight reading mode, until you pick up the flow of the piece again.

3. Some students become dependent on playing a passage with both hands, so that if you ask them to play just the right hand or the left hand at a given spot, they cannot do so. The only way to satisfy the request is to sight read the notes for that hand.

4. Wrest control from body, and become more like a conductor. In lieu of a baton, count out loud and require that the musicians (the ten fingers) follow the voice of the leader.

I would like to publish any other techniques that people have found that are useful to improving sight-reading. Please comment below.

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