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Sight Reading

Sight Reading Techniques -- How to Achieve Sight Reading Success

Sight reading must be practiced regularly. However, little progress is made by practicing the wrong way. The first step is to improve sight reading technique. I encourage you to focus on improving each individual sight reading technique rather than focusing on improving sight reading as a whole.
Numbers 1 and 2 work together:

1. Keep your eyes on the page.

2. Count out loud.

Playing with eyes on the page is the key to sight reading success. The best way to promote eyes on the page is through counting out loud. I\'M SORRY!!! No one likes to count out loud, but it always works. It really does. Counting and playing at the same time is a skill that should be practiced. If you find it difficult, start practicing. Choose some material that you can read, play at moderate tempo, and count out loud in your regular speaking voice. Avoid shouting or whispering. Also, avoid rocking your body or stomping your feet. Gross physical motion causes many additional problems, and it is not the same as counting out loud. For more tools to help you keep eyes on the page, use the Preview Page available with the book, Steps to Success.

3. Focus on the beat.

Counting out loud is also crucial to success with this technique. Try to focus on each beat as you are playing it. Counting will help. Avoid focusing on the notes and neglecting the beat. Play whatever notes you can manage, correct or incorrect, and continue to the next beat. Don\'t neglect to count. If you find this excessively difficult to accomplish, choose easier music for your current sight reading practice. For the perfect material to help you practice this technique get your copy of Steps to Success.

4. Keep going!

The ability to keep going is the result of counting out loud and focusing on the beat, so be sure that you have acquired those skills, already. Many of my students place the greatest value on playing the correct notes, regardless of any rhythmic or metric mistakes. I point out to them that stopping for a wrong note creates additional rhythmic and metric mistakes that can be avoid by continuing. Piano duets provide a good way to learn the value of continuity by reading and playing together as a team.

To keep going you have to keep the beat. Maintain a hierarchy where the beat is most important, the rhythm comes second and the notes come last. First, you\'ll want to keep going for long periods without stopping, despite some wrong notes and rhythms. Next try to adhere more closely to the beat and the rhythm. Try to keep playing even if you are aware of a wrong note. Notes can be corrected later. If you can keep the beat and play correct rhythms you will dramatically improve your note reading accuracy.

5. Read by intervals.

If you read note by note, you will always have a tendency to look up and down as you locate each note first in the music and then on the keyboard. Reading by interval allows you to see the interval in the music while feeling the interval on the keyboard. Method books that gradually introduce intervals (2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths) to students are among the best materials for improving this skill. If you are currently studying in a method book, be very alert to any information regarding intervals. If you aren\'t in a method book, get your hands on several and review intervals. If you need more pactice there are always more volumes of method books. If you need to learn to read steps (2nds), get my book, Steps to Success.

6. Find something you can read.

Practicing sight-reading requires that a great deal of reading material be kept on hand. These materials need to be divided into levels of difficulty. It is best to have a generous amount of music as well as a wide variety of music for each level.

Start at a level where you can read successfully (placing the highest priority on a steady beat without pauses and playing correct rhythms). Find plenty of material to read at that level; yet don\'t hesitate to move on to the next level if you are not being challenged. Keep the idea of a steady beat foremost in your mind. When you are able to keep a steady beat and read correct rhythms and notes with relative ease, it is time to increase the difficulty level. However, if you cannot keep a steady beat, you may need to lower the difficulty level.

Try using the following materials in the order provided to acquire solid sight reading techniques.

1. Steps to Success -- This book will help you learn to read by steps (2nds) while acquiring basic sight reading techniques. While you are using this book start practicing pentascales in all 12 keys. A pentascale is the five finger position that comprises the first five notes of any scale. For instance:

C Major -- C-D-E-F-G
D Major -- D-E-F#-G-A
A-Flat Major -- Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb

2. When you have completed Steps to Success or similar materials, go back and transpose every song into at least two additional keys. Be sure to emphasize the keys with plenty of black notes. This practice will help greatly later on in your sight reading work.

3. Learn to read intervals -- 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths. Stay with pieces that maintain a five finger position. Get as many different method books and their supplementary materials as you need. Get some piano playing friends and trade books. If you are a teacher, start a lending library. In addition, have each student acquire two appropriate reading books and simply circulate these books among your students as necessary. Pay careful attention to the intervals as you are learning them, and repeat helpful maxims to yourself such as "a line to a space is a second," or "a line to a line is a third - skip one finger and skip one note." Continue to transpose songs into two additional keys and emphasize the keys with plenty of black notes. This way, you will be enforcing intervalic reading, while getting practice in reading in multiple keys.

4. Practice reading songs with I -- IV -- V7 chords in the style of various method books. Learn to play I -- IV -- V7 chords in all twelve keys. Learn to play them without looking at your hands -- keep your eyes on the page. Keep your fingering consistent in every key. For example:

I chords: L.H. 5-3-1 R.H. 1-3-5
IV chords L.H. 5-2-1 R.H. 1-3-5
V7 chords L.H. 5-2-1 R.H. 1-4-5

5. Transpose the songs you are reading that use I -- IV -- V7 into two additional keys.

6. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail: saxon@sightreadingsuccess.com - I will gladly respond to your questions and comments. Ask yourself at every stage of your work, "am I counting out loud, are my eyes on the page?" Don\'t avoid the basics. Counting out loud and eyes on the page are a must. Good luck!

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