The term, ‘sight reading’ should really be changed to ‘music reading’. Reading is done by sight… how else? However, sight reading implies the first reading of a piece of music. Beginners must learn and read the notes, and which way they go… up or down. For the rest of us reading is reading a piece of music whether it’s the first or tenth time. Reading is important. Reading may be improved by simply reading. But there are more considerations.
For one thing, preliminaries are necessary even before beginning. Key signature, time signature, speed annotations such as ‘allegro’ or ‘largo’. Without getting an idea of the general make-up of a piece of music, failure in reading is guaranteed.
Then, for those who are constantly looking up and down from the music to the keyboard, reading will be greatly improved by keeping the eyes on the music. Judging distances will be improved by practicing this one principle.
Reading will never be improved without a beat. Practice reading with a metronome, or at least a foot beat. Errors, or not, music requires us to move on. Every single note is not important to play. Just as in reading a book, all of the ‘a’s’, ‘and’s’, ‘but’s’, ‘the’s’, etc. are not important for ‘speed reading’. And so it is for music. All of the sixteenth notes are less important than the notes that fall on the beat, or off the beat. It canand mustbe skimmed.
Fingering is another matter. Students have been taught scales, and that the thumb should be placed on the white keys, with the other fingers on the black keys. All well and good for scales, but not for reading. Thumbs on black keys may be required when reading. Also, using the 4thfinger over the 5thfinger is perfectly acceptable when reading. So, use hand-fulls of notes when reading, and adjust the fingering to whatever finger is available, while a shift of hand positions may be necessary.
I guess it boils down to this…
Reading is an intelligence game. One must think, think, think, and not just trying to play all the notes.
Ralph Carroll Hedges, B.Ed., B.Mus., M.M.