Whether for a school playing test, audition, playing chamber music with friends, or even performing, sight reading is a skill every violinist needs to develop.
Sight reading is really the grand summation of all your technical and musical skills, which are best developed by training them independently and then integrating them into your playing. These include: rhythm, ear training, shifting, a thorough understanding of all the positions, scales and arpeggios of all types, bow strokes, styles, and dynamics. A good teacher can guide you on this training and integration process to make it as efficient and effective as possible.
Here’s the more simplified version suitable for elementary or junior high. A more detailed version more appropriate for advanced, and high school through college and professional situations in the next post.
Basic Sight Reading Plan
1. Take your time and breathe. Listen to any instructions you might be given. You probably
have 30 seconds to get familiar with it.
2. Read the key signature. Know which notes are sharps or flats.
3. Read the meter. If it’s ¾- start thinking in ¾. If it’s 6/8, think 6/8.
4. Tempo- above the meter. Know what the terms mean.
5. Title- if it’s there. Is it more like a song, dance march? Happy, sad?
6. Composer- If it’s there and you know this composer’s music you’ll have an idea of the
7. Now look at the notes. Know where to start and stop. Only look at the part you will be
8. Rhythms: find the longest and shortest notes. Start counting the rhythms at the beginning
for a few measures.
9. Look at notes. You should be familiar with all the notes and patterns because of all the
scales, arpeggios, and other patterns you’ve been learning. You have probably played
most of these patterns before.
10. Notice dynamics, accents, staccato, legato, and other markings.
11. Before you begin playing, breathe comfortably and count the rhythms at the beginning.
12. Do your best, most musical playing. If you make a mistake, it’s much better to keep
going. Nobody plays perfectly. Let little things go and stay focused on playing the next
bit as beautifully as you can. It is most musical when you can play as though you’re
singing (inside) on your violin.