[Edit from Leon: I’ve found an even better tool for sight reading. Check it out here.]
How to Practice Sight Reading
When you are first learning the music notes for piano or any other musical instrument you will want to practice reading lots of easy music to get your note reading reflexes sharp.
In the early stages of learning how to read music or how to sight read music the act of identify notes is the first hurdle to cross. Once you know the notes of the treble and bass clef I highly recommend you get a great book for sight reading. There are a couple of criteria that I would recommend you look for in a sight reading book, including:
- Get a book with many easy examples.
- Get a book that progresses in difficulty from very easy to more complicated material.
- Get a book with both treble and bass clef, even if you just need to learn only one clef. A well-rounded musician can read all musical clefs (even the alto and tenor clefs).
- Get a book with a teaching component, especially rhythm since it is the one of the most difficult hurdles you will need to cross in learning to sight read properly.
- Get a book with an easy to read layout and high quality construction. You want the music to be a large enough size to read at a comfortable distance of about 2-3 feet. Also spiral bound books lay flat and are less prone to closing or falling of music stands or the piano’s music desk.
With all of these criteria in mind my #1 recommended book for sight reading purposes is Robert W. Ottman’s book “Music for Sight Singing”.
Now you may be asking yourself “what is sight singing?” and how could this possibly relate to my piano music reading skills or my guitar playing?
Sight singing is simply the act of reading sheet music without any instrumental help. This skill teaches you how to look at a piece of music and sing it based only on your knowledge of music theory and your aural memory of musical intervals. This skill is a beyond our needs at this point, but down the road I highly recommend you learn how to sight sing to improve your musicianship overall.
For our purposes this book is incredible because of the sheer volume of short, easy to read exercises. The “Music for Sight Singing” book is a standard college textbook for ear training courses and musicianship skills classes. It is based on the principles of teaching how to read music through thousands of short excerpts from real musical literature. Also it is available on Amazon for only $3.00 used, which is a steal for a book that retails for $86.00 at most book stores.
Let’s take a look at some sample excerpts for our 15 minutes a day exercise.
15-minutes a day Sight Reading Exercise
Here are the four steps for our sight reading exercise. Don’t skip any of them. When you are practicing any skill for music, remember that quality is much more important and quantity. Slow and highly focused practice will get you faster results in your musical development that any other method.
1. Use a practice journal. Download a copy of the One Minute Music Lesson practice journal here. Use it to track your 15-minutes a day sight reading exercise.
2. Get your materials ready. Find a page of excerptsin the “Music for Sight Singing” book to read. Our examples below are from pages 156-157 of the 7th edition of the book. If you don’t have this book here are 10 sites to find free sheet music for sight reading.
3. Stay focused. Focus on one aspect of music reading, either pitch or rhythm until you are comfortable with both.
- If you need to practice reading the notes, write in the pitches for each note before you play. The more you write in the names of the notes, the faster you will get at reading them. This is a vital step in the learning process that too many teachers discourage their students from doing. Here is a sample of what this would look like:
- If you need to practice reading rhythm, write in the Eastman counting system above the music before you play the excerpt. Then verbally speak the names of the notes in the rhythm. Then move on to playing the excerpt on your instrument. Here is a sample of what this would look like:
4. Use a timer. Use an online timer or the timer on your cell phone and set it to 15-minutes. By setting a timer you are consciously creating a goal for developing your skills. This is the key to your progress over time. By using the timer you will practice this skill until the timer goes off without think about how long this task will take. Also you will not be focused on how much time is remaining to your sight reading practice thus keeping you goal oriented during the session.
How is your Sight Reading Progressing?
Let me know in the comments below or in our sight reading forum how you’re sight reading progress is going and what books and materials you are using.
That’s it for today, until next time …
Practice smart, not hard.
- Leon Harrell
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