In The Moment — Atmosphere Indicators

Title

When we approach a piece, the first place to look for atmosphere indicators is the title. The atmosphere of a piece is so important when we are sight reading. It is what will make or break a performance and what will keep us going, even if we are unsure of the exact notes in a passage.

The audience will rarely notice missing notes, but they will definitely remember the impression of a performance, being sure of the atmosphere will also help keep your own nerves at bay.

Remember that even while you are jumping through the new notes of a piece, you are still telling a story. Does the title give you an indication of the tempo, a particular articulation? Perhaps it indicates a certain person or place that you can associate with a style of playing.

Tempo/Expression Marking

Checking the tempo marking is incredibly important before beginning to play. Most of the time the title of the piece indicates the atmosphere that we will be portraying, but if it doesn’t then we can look to the expression or tempo marking for atmosphere indicators.

The tempo marking is also important to make sure that we do not start too fast or too slow to be able to keep up with reading. Take the three seconds to glance over and internalise this expression marking, it will save you a lot of trauma in the long term!

Key Signature

One of the more obvious things to look at before you begin playing, but the key signature is often overlooked when it comes to sight-reading.

Make sure you internalise the key signature before you start, perhaps noting to yourself a few possible key modulations and the accidentals that come with them.

Playing a note that doesn’t fit in a key is not the end of the world, but a few seconds of mental preparation will help you feel more secure and can help avoid any real note blunders.

In The Practice Room — Preparation

Harmony On Your Instrument

A lesson that would illicit groans from the whole classroom at music school! Learning theory is a big part of our musical education from the get go, but we often learn this information away from our instruments until we are studying for a degree in music.

If we are to understand the harmony in the pieces we are reading, we need to study the principles theoretically and practically. Try working at your Bach chorales at the guitar.

Set yourself in a key and practice moving through different chord progressions, changing the spacings each time. Learning voice leadings that are also technically handy will be massively important when it comes to sight reading music that follows the rules of functional harmony.

Scales, 3rds 6ths and Octaves

Nobody wants to hear that they should be practicing scales more, but unfortunately, if we are to improve our sight reading, we must. In all genres of music we are likely to come across certain scales and intervals and practising these elements every day will help us not only to play passages with ease, but also be able to chunk our reading into easier sections.

Becoming Accustomed

Ultimately, the thing that will make us better at sight reading, will be sight reading! If we are to improve we must dedicate time in our daily routine to the experience of sight reading, not just wait for it to be thrust upon us.

Plus it’s a great way to get to know the music in our repertoire and hunt for music you might want to play in the future. Happy reading! And remember, when in doubt — ‘Keep calm and carry on!’

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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