Strategies to Improve your Sight Reading

The importance of sigh reading skill is clear for everyone nowadays. There are many ways to improve your sight reading. Importantly, it is better to find some pieces suitable to the grade you are in. A hard piece can kill your self confidence and discourage you, meanwhile, an easy piece makes you be over confident about your abilities. Whether you are preparing yourself to do sight reading for an exam or just improving your musical skills on your own, the following tips will come in handy for you.

Before you start playing the piece, scan the page for key changes, time changes, dynamics, repeat signs and have them on the back of your mind. Then, scan the page for the hard looking sections/figures (rhythm, chord, extremely high or low notes, etc.) and try them before playing the piece from the beginning. Don’t be afraid of complicated looking figures, once you break it down, it will become much easier to understand and play.
Having the page scanned, you must have already made some decisions about the area of the fingerboard (if applicable) and some fingerings that you are going to use to play the piece. This on itself will make your job a lot easier. Start a piece a little slower than the tempo mark indicates and play the whole piece in the same pace. In other words, don’t play the easy parts faster than the hard parts but achieve a balance. Correspondingly, do not sacrifice the whole piece over a note when you are performing the piece. It means do not break the tempo or meter when you miss a note. Just go on as nothing happened and focus on the rest of the piece.
After a while of practicing sight reading, you must make an effort to read a bar ahead of where you are actually playing.

In general, there are some exercises that improve your sight reading skills indirectly:
1- Playing scales and arpeggios in different positions.
2- Playing chords in different positions.
3- Writing music of your own or any tune that you know.

As for the third one, you don’t need to be a song writer or composer to do that. Even writing the simplest melody can improve your sight reading skills. It would have a better effect if you can write it by ear (away from your instrument) but if not, that’s fine. I’d suggest you to write in standard notation system, but any other system (e.g. chord symbol, etc.) is also great.

Improving sight reading skills is a gradual process, so you need to take your time and be consistent and patient. Sight reading skills can’t be improved over a night.

By Arash A.

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