3 Mistakes You Are Making When You Sight Read Sheet Music

Hi One Minute Music Lesson fans,

Continuing with my series of posts on improving your sight reading ability, today I wanted to tell you about 3 of the most common mistakes students make when learning how to sight read and how you can correct them.

These 3 mistakes are easy to fix and will improve your sight reading dramatically.

Also, stay tuned all the way to the end of the post because I’m issuing you a 3-day challenge.

Mistake #1 – You Do Not Prepare Before You Sight Read.

Preparing yourself and your music before you play a single note is the most common mistake in student musicians. Sight reading requires a lot of mental processes to occur simultaneously. When you couple this with the fact that many beginning, and even intermediate musicians, get very tense when they sight read creating a recipe for sight reading disaster.

To eliminate is problem of incorrect preparation you need to get into the proper state of mind and give yourself every advantage possible from the very start of your sight reading practice time.

To get in the “zone” to sight read you must understand that sight reading is not the same as playing music, which I would classify as performance. Nor is it the same as practicing a piece that you will eventually perform. Sight reading is simply the act of sharpening your music reading reflexes to be able to play the music at the first reading. This is an ongoing skill you will develop and you want to stay focused on strategically progressing bit-by-bit.

When you are ready to sit down and practice sight reading you should dedicate about 15 minutes to playing through your prepared score. By preparing your sheet music ahead of time you are eliminating the obstacles that are preventing you from getting better at sight reading. If you don’t already know how to prepare your music read my article on the 5 Steps To Sight Reading Music.

Mistake #2 – You Are Reading Note-by-Note.

In the beginning stages of sight reading you will most likely be reading note-by-note. This will prevent you from being able to read ahead, which is critical to improving your sight reading ability. Once you have memorized your note locations on the treble and bass clefs, or alto if you play the viola, you want to begin to read by interval.

Let’s look at a short example of how to read sheet music by interval:

As you read through the example you want to read from note-to-note by the interval, not the note name.

So for example this piece is in D Major. The first note is A. The next note is up 4 notes of the scale, then down 8, then up 3, and then up 2 and so forth.

I have marked the whole score with the generic interval distances. As you read through the piece this way by interval, you are reading the musical contour. Contour reading allows you to see the music in much larger chunks that reading note-by-note.

Reading by interval requires some knowledge of basic music theory. This sight reading technique requires two pieces of information: You need to understand what scale or key the music is in and understand generic intervals.

Additionally, once you understand these two concepts thoroughly you will see that most music will appear on the staff within the key, meaning there is no need to use any accidentals within the music. When this concept sinks in you will be able to read by interval very easily. Further more, once this sight reading technique is combined with the knowledge of chromatic scale degrees you can suddenly see the hidden structure in the sheet music that has been there the entire time. This is a concept I teach throughly in my book “How to Read Music Easily in 30 Days“.

Mistake #3 – You Are Focused on Perfection, Not Progress.

Improving your sight reading ability will take time. There is no magic pill or trick that will teach you the necessary concepts of basic music theory that are required to sight read sheet music fluently.

With this in mind you must set realistic expectations for each practice session you dedicate to sight reading and reward yourself for following through with your practice plans.

Most importantly remember that if you want to get better you will need to break the task into small manageable bits to make progress. If you are new to sight reading start by reading my article “How to Practice Sight Reading in 15 Minutes A Day in Just 4 Steps.

Take the 3 Day Sight Reading Challenge

It has been proven that one of the most effective ways reach any goal is to make a commitment publicly. I want to challenge you to visit the Sight Reading forum right now and commit to sight reading for three days in a row.

To make your commitment simply fill out the reply form on the forum page and tell me your name, your instrument, why you want to get better at sight reading and what you will reward yourself with after you complete your 3 day challenge.

This simple public statement will be the first step you will take to sharpening your musical focus on progress, and curing the crippling disease of perfectionism. Click here to make your commitment now.

I will continue blogging about how to improve your sight reading in the coming weeks. I hope to see you in the forums and help you in any way I can to improve your musicianship skills.

Thanks following the One Minute Music Lesson,

Until Next Time … Practice Smart, Not Hard.

Leon Harrell (about)

OneMinuteMusicLesson.com is dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of music to beginning musicians who want to grow their talents as quickly as possible with effective lessons and time management tips for practicing. Leon Harrell’s goal is to teach you musicianship by using highly targeted, “concept” lessons that build progressively to teach you music theory, ear training and composition so you can become the total musician you want to be.

Where to go next:

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Need More Help? Email Leon any questions you have about reading music, music theory or anything else music-related and get the answers you’ve been searching for.

This entry was posted in Generic Intervals, Intervals, Practicing Techniques, Sight-reading. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Graham

    This is awesome at one point we are caught in these mistakes we are in a hurry to to be perfect than to make progress thanx i’m working on these.

    • leonharrell

      Hi Graham,

      Chasing perfection through the typical shortcuts usually leads to failure or disappointment in the short term.

      Slow steady progress through focused practicing does pay off musically for years and years.

      Good luck with your progress,

      - Leon Harrell