Advanced Sight Reading
These instructions include what to do for a ‘blind’ (behind the screen) orchestral audition.
Keep your violin in tune. Tune before you enter the audition room. Enter the room with good posture and breathing comfortably. Listen carefully to any instructions. Do not speak. For blind auditions you will almost certainly play standing and you should practice standing. For school playing tests you may be seated. Find out long before to prepare. Mentally prepare for the room in which you will play if you know it. You may be on stage in a concert hall, in class room, office, etc.
In an audition you usually have 30 seconds, maybe a full minute, to look the music over. You want to make the most of this time. Here’s the procedure to practice and follow every time:
Slow down. There is enough time to look at the music and have a good idea what you’ll be playing. Keep breathing comfortably.
Do all of this silently. Do not pluck strings, sing out loud, tap your foot, etc. In professional auditions you could be dismissed before you play a note. Same with regional and all-state. See number 7 below.
Just as Jascha Heifetz said about practicing, it’s all about getting everything clear in your mind.
Read from left to right. With practice the first seven steps should only take 3-5 seconds.
1. Slow down and breath comfortably.
2. Start with the key signature. Don’t be overly concerned with the key; it doesn’t really
matter, but you really want to know what sharps or flats you are expected to remember.
3. Meter. It is right next to the key signature. Some of you call this the time signature. We’ll
deal with this in another post. You must know the meter and all its ramifications and
implications. 2/2 is not the same as 4/4. ¾ and 6/8 have the same number of 8th notes
but are completely different.
4. Tempo. Right above the key signature and meter. In your studies of music you should look
up the meanings of all those terms and know how to apply them. A metronome tempo
may be played for you during instructions.
5. Character. Often included in with the tempo marking. Allegro con fuoco is very different
from Allegro amabile.
6. Title, if included. Do not skip this. It matters. If the title says The Happy Dance of
Irrepressible Joy, you should try convey that. Alternatively, a Funeral March will require
a very different approach.
7. Composer, if it’s there. Brahms should not be played like Bach. Beethoven is different from
Bartok. If the composer isn’t there or is unknown to you use your best guess. A
beautiful singing sound is almost always the right choice.
8. Now look at the notes. Clearly identify starting and stopping places, if marked. Don’t play
past a marked stopping place. That indicates a poor ability to follow instructions which
is very unwelcome in an orchestra. Many fine players have been fired or not hired
because of this.
9. Look at the rhythms. You must get a sense of what tempo to start thinking of. If there are
lots of 16th or 32nd notes, the quarter notes may not be as fast an allegro as an allegro
only a few or no 16th.
10. Count rhythms at the beginning. If you’ve been practicing counting rhythms for months
and years this will be easy.
11. Look at the notes while keeping the rhythms in mind. Find bowings, shifts, fingering
patterns, accidentals, dynamics, tempo changes, articulations, repeats, etc. If there are
fingerings in the music, use them, unless you are absolutely sure you are able to come
up with your own while sight reading. This is probably not the time for that. Again, this is
where the months and years of preparation learning all those scales, arpeggios,
studies, etc. pays off. No one has ever thought during sight reading “I wish I didn’t learn
those scales and rhythms so thoroughly. It’s like I already know how to play this.
12. Reevaluate your tempo idea. Should it be a little slower, faster? If it seems good, keep it.
13. Start to feel yourself playing and, if at all possible, hearing it as well.
14. Well begun is half done. Before you begin playing, count the rhythms at the beginning
15. You may be instructed when to begin and a tempo may be again played on a
metronome. You should have listened to instructions from the beginning.
16. Once you begin, keep moving forward. Avoid do-overs. Let little mistakes go. It is far
more important to keep going. When asked what he would do if he played a note less
than ideally Fritz Kreisler said “I just try to play the next note more beautifully.”
17. Finish playing beautifully. You will likely hear the judges say thank you, you are done.
Leave without speaking.
Now that you know all this, incorporate it into your practicing. Knowledge only becomes skill with regular application. All of this should sound like a lot to accomplish in 30 seconds. It is. That’s why it requires practicing.
Practice being relaxed, focused, and comfortable. Ask your teacher for music to practice sight reading. Some of it should be very easy, some at your level, maybe some a bit more advanced.