Sight-read like a pro in 5 steps

Sight-reading is the necessary and oftentimes dreaded part of auditions. Why is it so important, you might be wondering, after you’ve spent endless hours preparing music that you know? It’s not meant to throw you under the bus after you’ve worked so hard. It’s meant to show how sharp your musical skills really are. If you have good fundamentals, you can do it well.

Here are five steps to follow in the moment to ensure you are proud of your sight-reading performance.

1. Look at key signature
It’s the first thing you see on the top left of the piece, so it’s a good place to start! Absorb it into your soul.

2. Look at time signature
Think this is not as important as the notes? Think again. Understanding what meter it’s in is key to your rhythmic execution.

Life lesson: the number one most important thing to do correctly when sight-reading is RHYTHM. 

Why? Because in the long run, notes are fixable through practice. They are important, and you still want to play them right, but playing with good rhythm means you can play with other people. That is primarily what judges want to hear from you in an audition.

3. Find the hardest part
Spending your entire prep time looking at the first two measures may set you up for success on them, but leave you flailing afterward. Skim the entire excerpt for the part with the most challenging section. See a group of sixteenth notes amidst a lot of quarter notes? Syncopation amidst straight rhythms? Dotted notes amidst straight eighth notes? Zoom in there. What you do next will be the key to nailing it.

4. Decide on your tempo for that part 
At what tempo can you play that hard part a) in the right rhythm (because that’s the most important thing!), and b) with as many of the right notes as possible? Got it? Good. That tempo will be your tempo for the whole excerpt. Not any faster! No matter what happens, keep that tempo for the entire thing, and play the correct rhythms within it.

Another tip: When in doubt, choose a slower tempo. Nerves make us play faster, so go S L O W to give yourself a cushion. 

5. Scan for other details
If at this point in the game you still have time to keep prepping, scan the rest of the excerpt, and expand your focus to notes, dynamics, and articulations.

Prioritizing the details of a new piece in this way will give you a solid foundation for your performance. Remember, you are playing music, not doing brain surgery. You should still be able to enjoy it!

Another way to get ready for sight-reading is to, well, practice doing it. On a regular basis, find music you’ve never seen before and go through these steps. You’ll build the confidence and skills to wow the judges.

​Any other tips for sight-reading like a pro? Leave them in the comments.

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