5 Quick Ways to Improve Your Sight-Reading

Updated: Sep 5

How important is sight-reading? Is it even relevant anymore outside of the traditional music examinations?

Sight reading is probably the most underrated still for any musician. If you are a confident sight reader it not only gives you the ability to pick up any music score and be able to play any song you find but, it also serves to make you a far more employable musician. Musicians that can read fluently are in high demand on the cruise ship circuit, in West-end and Broadway shows, composing for orchestras or even as session musicians. If you’re looking to start a career playing your instrument, this skill is imperative.

Practicing sight-reading can be tough, it can be difficult and demoralizing to sit down for hours and decode pieces of music. If you play an instrument that is not chromatically laid out (like a guitar or saxophone for example) it can be painstakingly slow to decode each note and rhythm and then find the notes on your instrument. Sight reading is better practiced in small chunks and little and often. Here are 5 quick ways that you can improve your sight reading.

1. Basic Melody Transposing – Transposing a simple melody from one key to another can be invaluable not only to helping your sight reading but also helping you learn the scale degrees. If you take a basic melody pattern in C major for example C,C,D,E,E,E,D we can look at that in terms of scale degrees like, 1,1,2,3,3,3,2 and easily transpose it to another key.

2. Apps and Games – There are thousands of good apps and games available on almost all platforms designed to help you learn to sight read but, make sure you are focusing on the right elements of your reading that need improvement. I use many of these games with my students and have found they are very heavily weighted towards note recognition and a lot of them completely ignore the rhythmic element of sight reading. My advice to you when using these APPs would be to make sure you are either using one that combines the melodic and rhythmic elements or, even better create your own rhythmic elements. For example; Use a basic music reading APP to help you recognise the notes in the C major scale on the staff and use them to re-create rhythms or songs you are familiar with.

3. Scale Patterns – Scale patterns are essential! Lots of musicians that are proficient in sight reading will tell you that they don’t so much read the notes as read the patterns of notes. Using familiar patterns can help your fluency of reading and help you read faster. To practice this read and play the major scale in any chosen key and then change the scale to the minor in all keys. This will help you to recognise the pictorial patterns those scales consist of and will help with fluency and improvisation in the future.

4. Melodic Dictation – A obvious one but a fantastic way to improve both your reading and your ears. Listen to a piece of music or melody and try and write on the stave what you think the notes are, for this exercise rhythm is not important just the to get the notes and intervals. This will be very difficult at first so make sure you start with a basic melody and make sure you have the correct music with you also to check any mistakes. This will not only improve your reading but also make you a better musician a whole.

5. Rhythmic Dictation – As with the last one rhythmic dictation is just that. This time we don’t need to worry about getting the melody correct. Listen to a piece of music or even a drum track and try and write the rhythm used down on your stave, start with simple rhythms (4ths,8ths and 16ths) before you get more complicated and begin to include rests and 32nds. You can always benefit from these dictation exercises no matter what level you are as a musician and they will undoubtedly make you a much better player and reader.

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