Sight Reading and Music

Have you ever seen a musician pick up a new piece of sheet music and immediately begin playing it on the piano or another instrument? If you are not a musician yourself, then it might seem like that individual had some kind of magical abilities. The reality is that they have simply learned how to sight-read music. For most people, becoming a sight reader does not happen overnight. It is a process that requires years of dedication and effort, though it does seem to come more naturally and easily to some people than it does to others.

If you or your child are just beginning to take music lessons, then you may want to know more about sight-reading and its many benefits. First, let's take a look at what sight reading is and how you can go about acquiring this skill.

Is Sight Reading a Magic Trick or a Skill That Can Be Learned?

A complex skill, sight-reading is not a magic trick. Some people make it look easy, but that's because they have spent years developing the ability. When a person is able to sight-read, it's like being able to decode a complex foreign language. Written languages like English are one-dimensional. Decoding them requires understanding symbols, letters, and words. However, music is more complex because it's two-dimensional.

The first dimension is a horizontal dimension that consists of tempo. The vertical dimension relates to pitch. When it comes to musical instruments that can play multiple pitches, like the piano, stacked notes may be played at the same time. Accordingly, when someone is sight-reading music, they may scan left to right as well as up and down.

Music and Language

Reading written language and music contrasts in another way. If you're reading a written language, you can pause or stop whenever you like. You can even take a deep breath before you continue without altering the meaning of whatever you're reading.

By contrast, music must be read and played in time. Also consider that when you're playing an instrument like the piano, you can use both hands, and it's likely that each hand is doing something different from the other. When you read music, you must:
- Translate the rhythmic language
- Translate the pitch language
- Stick to the beat
- Make certain that you are keeping time

This is what makes sight-reading so complex, and it's also why it takes years to develop this skill.

Why Learning to Sight Read Matters

Sight-reading is not only enjoyable but also a practical skill. More than one musician has worked their way through college as an accompanist for vocal lessons. If you were that musician and you could sight-read, a vocal coach could throw a new piece of music at you, and you would instantly be able to play it. You'd also be able to play it well and accurately. That would be essential because you wouldn't keep your job if you weren't able to do so on a consistent basis.

Are you hoping to be the accompanist at your church? If so, then being a good sight-reader will assist you. Your skills will enable a vocalist to come to you with a new piece of music that you can instantly translate. No drawn-out rehearsal period is required. The same is true if you want to accompany a school choir or other ensemble.

Imagine how fun it would be to open up any songbook, regardless of the style or genre, and be able to simply start playing from it. Any piece of music is readily accessible to you.

Building a Foundation with Sight Reading

It's common for kids to struggle with sight-reading, which is why it's critical to encourage them to persevere. They struggle because they don't have a solid foundation of musical knowledge.

It's like learning to read. Kids don't start reading whole sentences or paragraphs. Many of them are still learning letters and getting acquainted with rudimentary words. All of this learning is occurring despite the fact that children have been hearing and speaking English for years. As their parents read aloud to them, they point out words, enabling kids to understand what letters look like and that each has a sound. More than that, young kids know that words have meaning and that they should be read from left to right.

Accordingly, years are spent providing children with a language foundation before they are asked to read. The same is true with music. The journey begins with learning about things like music notation before any child can sight-read.

Before Sight Reading, Learn the Basics

The musical alphabet is as familiar as the ABCs to experienced musicians, but those who are new to music need practice. It's similar to memorizing the multiplication tables: Repetition is helpful. Many music teachers foster this by playing games that help students to know the musical alphabet backward and forwards, even with skips.

Similarly, it's helpful to be familiar with the musical staff. This relatively simple construct is absolutely packed with information. Teachers want their students to be able to identify bass clefs and treble clefs as well as line notes and space notes. It's also critical to know how the notes relate to the staff.

Familiar Rhythms and Melodies

Before anyone can learn to sight-read, it's essential that they build skills with writing down the rhythms and melodies to familiar tunes. If you were learning a new written language, the first skill you'd learn is writing your name. This is similar to that skill. Students begin writing down rhythms and melodies that are already familiar favorites. Accordingly, music notation can make sense from their first experience with it.

Matching sound with the written music is crucial so that students can hear a melody and be able to match it with what is written on the staff. For sight-reading, is one of the most important skills.

We already mentioned how critical it is for sight-reading musicians to be able to keep in time. This means that musicians first must be introduced to basics like the time signature, measures, and bar lines. These are a lot like road signs that tell you where to go and how fast to move.Recognizing guide notes is another component that's indispensable for sight-reading. Notes such as middle C, bass F, and treble G are the most common guide notes. Ideally, music students can identify these notes in an instant. When they can do this, they are well on their way to sight-reading.

The Benefits of Sight Reading

When musicians develop sight-reading, they get more joy out of playing music. In fact, people who can sight-read are more likely to keep playing an instrument over the long term.

Additionally, people who can sight-read can hear the music in their heads before playing a single note. Even without singing the pitches, sight readers can feel the rhythm of the piece and get an idea of the direction of the melody and harmony. Overall accuracy is improved because the sight reader can anticipate rhythm and pitch before playing.

Sight-reading musicians also benefit from an improved ability to interpret rhythmic patterns. Recall that rhythm is the foundation for the melody in any music. When the rhythm is right, a musician can miss notes occasionally and still give a pleasing performance. However, when the rhythm is off, the music will never sound right even if all of the correct notes are hit.

Musicians who can sight-read further benefit from being able to learn music more quickly. A new piece can become familiar faster, and chances are good that a musician who can sight-read also will play that piece far more accurately from the beginning. This can make learning and practice a great deal more exciting and enjoyable.

Don't forget that musicians who can sight-read may enjoy more opportunities in the music field. Being asked to accompany a choir or other vocal ensemble is always flattering. Plus, you might be able to earn extra money as an accompanist for vocal lessons.

The more that you practice your sight reading, the better you'll get at it.

Build a Foundation with Prodigies Music

Do you want your children to be fluid in the language of music? They may reap many benefits by building a strong musical foundation at an early age. Prodigies Music specializes in introducing kids to the basics of music in a fun and imaginative ways. Kids are learning, but it feels like they're just having fun.

Enroll today in Prodigies to start your children on a musical journey that will benefit them for a lifetime.