Sight-reading is the act of picking up a piece of music that has previously been unseen and playing it through with the aim of performing it.
The skill is featured and tested in all of the major UK examination boards at all levels of study, and a source of fear and panic for many aspiring musicians.
If for a moment, we can get past the apprehension of performing a piece of music without practising it -- and being marked for doing so -- there are many reasons why we all should aim to learn this vital skill.
Here are three reasons why you should (if you don't already); not in any particular order:
1. You can enjoy the music from the first time you play it.
A simple pleasure that we can all relate to is the enjoyment we feel after working towards a goal -- and completing it. In music, it would be that sense of achievement when the piece we are studying starts to take shape and reach what we consider to be a performable standard. With sight-reading as a skill in your toolkit, the music can be heard from the very beginning, or, in the case of difficult music, can be heard in significantly less time than if it is not.
2. You work less to learn a piece of music.
If the techniques required to read a piece of music at sight are understood and applicable, this means there is less effort required to bring music to performance. Muscle memory goes deeper than simply regurgitating something previously learned; it can be applied to automatically playing a note detached or smooth, or simply playing loud or soft when prompted. All these things cut down practice time because the music is played in a first sitting with the detail already in it; less time is spent decoding, and more time is spent performing.
3. You feel more confident when you perform.
When the music makes sense, we perform it better and feel more confident doing so. I always relate music to language; with complete control and understanding, it is easier to express ourselves. If the rules of grammar, spelling, sentence structure and formatting are all understood, reading with confidence is the end result; the same applies to music. Being able to read music, and perform it at sight, gives the performer a boost in confidence incomparable to any amount of practise. The only difficulty would be actually learning the skill.
Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball. A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.
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