Sight Reading Tips To Become a Better Musician!

by Glenn Maxwell

Recently, you picked up an instrument and fulfilled your dream of becoming a musician. You know you have a long road ahead as you work to improve your skill level, but the challenge thrills you. Does your excitement dim a bit when you think about learning how to sight-read music?

Sight reading’s a skill that comes more easily to some musicians than others. No matter which camp you fall into, learning how to become a greater sight reader’s easier when you have a few tips. Learn how to gain an enjoyable and valuable musical skill to add to your repertoire.

Learn the Musical Alphabet Backward and in Skips

While you may already know the musical alphabet, you may not know it backward. Practice on your instrument, and consider investing in a simple instrument like a ukulele. The great thing about supplementing sight-reading lessons with something like ukuleles is you can squeeze in some practice away from home easily. If you play something like the baritone sax, it’s challenging to lug such a massive instrument around with you.

Once you’ve learned the musical alphabet backward, learn to recite it forward and backward perfectly while skipping notes. The reason to learn the alphabet this way is that if you see a G when you read the staff and notice a note a skip below, you know it’s an E without thinking about it. Over time, your brain fills in the gaps like second nature. 

Sound the Song Out Before Playing It

Before playing a song for the first time, go through it mentally from beginning to end. If you have the chance, hum the song aloud while reading. Try to identify the climax of the song, repeated patterns, the main melody, and sections that stand out to your ear more than others.

Learn Your Scales

Learning musical scales helps you memorize key signatures, which also helps with muscle memory for your fingers and hands for proper placement on your instrument. Over time, you may get into the zone and move your fingers and hands perfectly without conscious effort.

If you’re a vocalist, take a slightly different approach to learning scales. Vocalists usually use a sight-reading exercise called “solfège” that assigns specific syllables to specific scale degrees. As singers use the technique to memorize intervals, they can decipher pitches regardless of the key.

Memorize Guide Notes and Key Signatures

To make sight-reading easier, you must know when to expect flats and sharps as you play a piece. If you’re a singer, learn key signatures if you have a tone better suited for some signatures over others. Memorizing key signatures challenges vocalists and instrumentalists alike, but the skill comes in handy for practices and performances. 

After memorizing key signatures, it’s time to move on to guide notes. Specifically, learn to spot treble G, middle C, and bass F. With the musical alphabet and guide notes down, identifying all other notes on the staff becomes a breeze.

Sight-Read in Different Music Genres

Just like practicing with different instruments makes you a better musician, the same is true for practicing with different music genres. You may sight-read everything from lively jazz standards and slow ballads to a classical selection. No matter what’s put in front of you, familiarizing yourself with different styles of music ensures you’re always prepared.

Of course, this applies to singers, too. Vocalists often sing in different languages, so learning different rhythms, music, and scores gives you one less thing to worry about while sight-reading.

It takes time to become a great sight-reader, but the journey’s more than worth it. Use these tips to build your foundation to become a better musician. 

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