Sneak Up on Sight-Reading

Develop a Systematic Approach

Audition adjudicators know that sight reading is an essential skill for musicians. Sight reading is a simple combination of music reading and music making, all while looking at a piece of music for the first time. That’s why sight reading is sometimes called a prima vista which is Italian for “at first sight.” Your sight reading performance says a lot about your musicianship because it shows musical knowledge as well as your performance technique.

Why do a lot of students fear the sight reading part of an audition? Because most of them haven’t:

  • developed a personal systematic approach to sight reading
  • made sight reading part of their daily practice
  • looked for professional instruction in the art of sight reading

That won’t happen to you because you are going to learn how to get better at sight reading. You won’t need to get as nervous before your audition because you’ll have a plan.

You might have guessed I recommend making sight reading part of your daily practice. A foundation for getting proficient at sight reading include a good command of:

  • rhythm
  • pitch accuracy
  • key signatures
  • musical styling

As you get older and better at those skills, make sure to add in the guidelines below.

How to Practice

  • 6th Grade: Using your beginning instruction book, demonstrate rhythm by counting and/or using the Gordon/Eastman technique out loud. Sing the pitches in solfege using hand signals.
  • 7th Grade: Keep practicing rhythm and pitch techniques by sight reading the bass like of a hymn. Play/sing the bass line in the clef appropriate for your instrument or voice part. Sight-read the bass lines of 4 hymns each week. is a great reference for notated hymns!
  • 8th Grade: Keep practicing rhythm and pitch techniques by sight reading each part-line of a hymn. Play/sing the part-lines for 4 hymns each week this year.
  • 9th Grade: By this year, you probably have a personal systematic approach to rhythm and pitch accuracy. Use it every time you sight read. This year, use ensemble concert literature, borrow other instrument or voice parts, and practice performing it in the clef appropriate for your instrument or voice part.
  • 10th Grade: Write out your own sixteen measure sight-reading examples. Take the examples and give them five different musical stylings and tempo markings along with appropriate musical terms. Sight-read one of these examples per day.
  • 11th Grade: Every day, sight read music composed for a different instrument. A good exercise is playing/singing the top line of a piano or conductor’s score and play each line of the score in your appropriate clef.

That’s our guide on how to practice sight-reading. There’s nothing magic about it. It’s just one way to do it. You and your instructor may have a different way, but whatever approach you use, use it daily. Daily practice will increase your confidence and give you a systematic approach when it’s time for your sight reading audition.

Keep Practicing,

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO