Sight-Reading Surprises

How to Prepare for What You’ve Never Seen

You may be wondering what kind of music you’ll be asked to play for the sight-reading portion of your audition. It’s really hard to guess because composing software lets anyone create a unique composition in a matter of minutes! If you are confronted with a brand-new composition a graduate student created just before your audition slot, never fear. I have some tips that will help you excel. I have examples from two schools that you might run into anywhere that you audition.

Example 1

A university in the Midwest uses an innovative method. They review your repertoire list, etude studies, scales and arpeggios. After the review, a graduate student uses your data to create two contrasting pieces derived from your list. For example, a clarinet auditioner may list:

  • An 8th grade performance of "Chanson Moderne" by Hovey and Leonard
  • A 10th grade performance of "Concerto in G Minor" by Handel arranged by Waln
  • An 11th grade performance of "Dance Preludes" by Lutoslawski

Based on that list, the graduate student will arrange a 64-measure composition which will include excerpts from these selections tied together by variations of traditional scale patterns. You can expect the scales to be presented in a non-traditional way which will lead to:

  • mixed meter patterns
  • contrasting time signatures
  • simple meter and compound meter

Why do they do this? It helps the panel determine if you’re a solid sight reader or if you have memorized the solos. They are also looking to see if you can turn scale exercises into true musical expression.

Example 2

A university on the west coast creates three sight-reading compositions that, at first glance, all look the same. You may see no difference in the notes, meter, or key. But:

  • the title of each composition is different
  • the dynamic markings are different
  • the musical terms are different

For instance, the first composition may be entitled "Danzón for a Texas Mix-Master," the second composition, "Lullaby for Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr.," and the third, "Scherzo con Brio." A glance at the metronome marking, contrast in musical terms, and title of the composition all present the style you should play in.

Why do they do this? The audition adjudication panel looks for a keen music history knowledge, performance technique, and musical interpretation. What can you do to prepare? Remember the goal is to give a complete musical performance with your sight-reading.

  1. Keep reviewing your past performance repertoire and reading past the notes, meter, and key.
  2. Take examples from your repertoire and write out your own two compositions from that material and your scales.
  3. Write out three compositions with the same meter, key, and note patterns and learn to perform your own works.

Simply bringing all of your musical and performance techniques together will result in an outstanding sight-reading performance.

Keep Practicing,

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO