Nervous about the sight reading portion of an upcoming audition? Find out how to work sight reading practice into your routine in this guest post by Saddle Brook, NJ teacher Christian D...
“Be prepared to sight read.”
That dreaded requirement on all auditions that makes us all nervous. But the fact is, you shouldn’t be! Sight reading is a learned skill, just like everything else in music. Think of it as sight reading a passage from a book in front of an audience. With so many books available on the market today, it makes preparing even easier.
How Do I Prepare? I Have Never Seen the Music Before
First of all, stay calm! If you know you are going to have to sight read for an audition, go online or to your local music store and find a book of etudes or sight reading exercises at your playing level. It doesn’t even have to be for your instrument. Then, just like you practice your scales, you can practice sight reading. It is important to practice it regularly, just like everything else. For myself, I play one page a day, then put a hash mark on the top of the page to mark that I’ve done it. Then the next day, I play the next page. Often the books are long enough that by the time I get to the end of the book I have forgotten the first example, so I start the process over.
That being said, having a direct method of how to practice the sight reading examples is important, too. Practicing them like normal etudes defeats the purpose of sight reading. I treat each day like it’s an audition. I look at the key signature and time signature, identify the hardest sections, then set a reasonable tempo for myself if there is not a tempo indicated. If the tempo indicated is too fast, I choose a slower tempo, but still try to push myself to make it as realistic as possible.
If you do this every day, you will notice a dramatic increase in your ability to sight read. You will realize it is more an issue of relaxing and focusing rather than technical ability. This will also give you additional confidence when you actually have to sight read in an audition.
Selecting Your Sight Reading Material
Choosing sight reading material to practice with is also important. Even though any kind of sight reading practice is beneficial, you want to choose material appropriate for your situation to best prepare. Classical players should choose classically oriented etudes and pieces. Jazz players should choose jazz-oriented etudes and pieces. You don’t have to practice out of sight reading books, either. You can pick up any piece you haven’t studied extensively and treat it as sight reading practice. That means orchestral excerpts, solo repertoire, big band charts (scores are cheap), tunes, and anything else you can get your hands on is fair game.
I myself have multiple orchestral and solo repertoire books to practice from, as well as some big band charts. These are the most applicable for me, since sight reading is a required part of being a musician in the New York City area. I also use “Develop Sight Reading” by Gaston Dufresne, edited by Roger Voisin for classical sight-reading and an older version of “Modern Jazz Licks for Sight Reading” by Eddie Harris for jazz sight reading (both advanced level sight reading).
So, relax, find some sight reading material, practice different material every day, and I guarantee your next sight reading audition will go much better!
Christian D. teaches saxophone, trombone, tuba, music theory, and more in Saddle Brook, NJ. He just completed his BM in Music Education and Saxophone Performance at SUNY Fredonia, and is now pursuing his Masters in Jazz performance at New Jersey City University. Learn more about Christian here!
Photo by Chris Walts