Whether you’re a member of a music group or preparing for an audition, you’re going to have to know how to sight read sheet music. As you continue to practice and go through the rigors of learning new music, you will naturally become better at sight reading. When my students want to focus on improving this particular skill set, below are the two elements that we work on exclusively:
- Understanding rhythms
- Reading through music in all key signatures and registers of the piano or cello
In my personal opinion, the best foundation for improving your sight reading skills is to have a firm understanding of rhythms and note patterns in different time signatures. I usually have my students clap and count rhythms out loud so that their brains are actively engaged in understanding where each note falls in relation to the main beats of the measure.
For both my piano and cello students, I get rhythms for the clap-and-count exercises from the “Essentials for Strings” book. What I really appreciate about this book is that each section of rhythms starts off with a diagram illustrating how to count each note type in the specified meter. After clapping and counting out loud, I then have the student pick either one key on the piano or one open string on the cello and play the rhythms utilizing a metronome to keep a steady beat.
Practice Reading Through Music
I think it’s important to practice reading music in all of the key signatures and registers of the instrument. First, I like to concentrate on finding music excerpts that represent each major key. By playing in all of the keys, you will start to internalize the finger patterns and hand configuration changes associated with the different key signatures. When it becomes 2nd nature to process any indicated sharps or flats, you’ll be more confident about where your fingers go when reading through new music.
It’s also necessary to practice reading and playing notes across as many positions or ranges that you can. When you understand all of the notes that are available to you in various positions and ranges, you’ll always have an idea of how to approach any piece of music that is put in front of you. Since cellists have to know how to read notes in 3 clefs, I also make sure that my cello students get adequate practice switching between bass, tenor and treble clefs.