Every year I meet enthusiastic singers who have fantastic voices, passion, and musical background but come to me quite nervous about their sight reading skills. Sight reading takes practise, so if you’re not actively practising these skills, they will go dormant on you. However, my tips for sight reading will enable you to be a sight reader to some extent immediately, even in your dormant state. All that is needed is a little musical experience and some confidence.
Your three main goals when Sight reading include (**In order of importance)
1. Don’t get lost. Always tap (finger, toe) the main beat (quarters, eights, depending on tempo and time signature) to feel the inner pulse of a piece before you start. This will lessen the chance of you getting lost, but it takes practise. The conductor will set the tempo before you begin so that you will know the main beat and be able to feel the inner pulse. If not, please ask the conductor to clarify the beat and inner pulse.
2. Get the rhythm correct. Someone may wonder why “getting the right pitches” is not listed before rhythm. I can teach the rhythm of a piece to a singer for years and they can continue to still struggle with late/ too early entries and/or losing their place in the score. Doubly worse is re-teaching the correct rhythm when it was learnt wrong the first time, and even worse than that is teaching a piece they know from childhood that has a different rhythm (albeit slightly different!) than what is on the page. (This is one reason I often avoid pieces that have a popular melody known from elsewhere ie. Scarborough fair, even though I love this piece).
3. Correct notes. Getting the correct pitches the first time is impressive, but not if the rhythm is terrible. If you’re not perfect at the pitches the first time, don’t worry. Most people have a fast ear and learn the notes by rote (“by ear”) within one or two times of hearing the piece.
Ways to improve your sight reading skills
1. Improve your sight knowledge of intervals. Learning musical intervals is just like learning and recognising your sight words in English (and, in, for, go etc). It is the same in music; instantly recognise the interval on the page and then know what it will sound like. The most common singing intervals are +/-2, +/-3, p4, X4, P5, +/-6, +/-7,P8,+/-9, +/-10th. I have a hand out with an exercise on it that helps to learn to sing these intervals. There are also many online interval training help programs OR you could come for sight reading coaching with me. I love to torture people! HA!
2. Purchase some specialised books to help improve your interval reading skills. Books include the Kodaly 333 exercise books, Nancy Telfer’s series on sight reading (multiple books), and more advanced tonal and atonal sight reading books by Lars Edlund including Modus Vetus and Modus Novus.
Why Sight reading?
Everyone wants to come to choir, sing and make music right away. No one likes plunking out the notes for weeks and weeks on end. The better sight readers we are, the faster will we attain this goal. Often it is the easier mistakes, such as not singing a minor 2nd correctly, because we haven’t identified it at sight, that slows up the process of learning a piece. So here’s to improving our musicianship skills.
It is my vision that in the years to come I will be expanding Cantala to include a musicianship component just focused on sight reading, rhythms, and understanding the score in its entirety. Until then, speak with me about pursuing group or private classes.