5 Steps to Sight Reading Sheet Music - Sight Reading Exercise 1 - Sheet Music Markings

Hi One Minute Music Lesson Fans, I am creating a series of sight reading exercises for you to help you with your sight reading skills and to provide harmonically interesting sight reading materials.

In this first exercise, which you can download here, you should complete the following list of instructions BEFORE you play it or listen to the recording. The link to the recording is available at the bottom of this post.

5 Steps to Sight Reading Sheet Music

1. Get your materials ready. Print the example out and get a pencil with an eraser and three different colors of highlighters, preferably a blue, a green and a pink.

When you sight read you need be prepared with these materials so you are actively reading the score while at the same time providing yourself with the necessary information to read the music at your own skill level.

When you sight read music you will inevitably make mistakes. Your goal is to catch each mistake the first time you make it and mark your music accordingly. When you misread a pitch, circle it with the pencil.

Marking your score as you read it the very first time will save you an enormous amount of time through out the process and prevent you from repeating mistakes.

2. Highlight all the accidentals. Accidentals are the sharp, natural and flat symbols printed on your score. The key signature for the piece may include some sharps or flats but we are focusing on the extra accidentals printed through out the music.

In this first exercise the music is in the key of C major, which has no sharps or flats in the key signature itself. However, it is rare that a piece of music would only have the pitches from the key signature throughout the entire piece.

To mark your accidentals use the blue highlighter and highlight any flat symbols, then use the green for any natural symbols and the pink for the sharp symbols. You can see in the previous sentence how highlighting attracts your eyes and creates attention quickly. This is why I use highlighters on the accidentals, they are usually the notes you will miss when you sight read. When I do this I may highlight the note itself or the accidental symbol, it all depends on the amount of space on the page there is to mark the music. Some music is printed smaller and it makes highlighting more difficult. In that case I will highlight the notes directly rather than the accidental symbols.

3. Mark the rhythms that seem difficult. Look over the piece and find any rhythms that you think will be difficult to play. If you find any, use the Eastman Counting System to label the counting above the music now. Watch lessons 17 and 18 on the free video lesson page to learn more about this marking system or get a copy of "How to Read Music Easily in 30 Days" which goes into great detail on how to use this counting system.

By marking the difficult rhythms we will save a lot of time and prevent mistakes in our rhythm reading. Again, this helps us to play the piece correctly and not repeat mistakes over and over again.

4. Scan over the whole piece before you play. Anytime you sight read always take the time to look over the whole piece before you play it. Identify a few features of the score such as key signature, time signature and expression markings that describe what type of sounds you should be making. An example of a common expression is dolce, which means sweetly. Expression markings are usually in italics.

Look for changes of key or modulations. This is usually indicated with a thin double bar between measures and a new key signature or the presence of more accidentals than in other parts of the music.

5. Read the music in your head first. Finally, before you play the piece look at the music and imagine performing it just in your head. Imagine the rhythms and sounds of the notes. You will probably not be albe to imagine the pitches correctly yet, but over time you can certainly build this skill up with ear training. For now just imagine the contour of the musical lines, or the basic high-ness or low-ness of the notes.

Read though the whole piece this way one time in a steady tempo using a metronome. Try to stay focused and move along in the music the same way you would as if you where playing it. This step is training you to read the score without involving any of the technical difficulties of playing your instrument. This is often called score reading, and it is a vital skill for any musician especially ensemble leaders like conductors.

Compare your work to the recording

After you have completed this exercise and gone through all the steps practice the piece until you feel as though you have played it correctly. Once you are finished go to the One Minute Music Lesson forums to listen to the recording to see how close you are to reading it correctly.

That's it for today. Let me know what you think of the exercise. Was it too difficult? Was it too easy? Did you like the music? If you have questions or comments leave them in the comment section below or over in the forum.

Until next time,

Practice smart, not hard.

-Leon Harrell