Sneak Up On Sight-Reading

Develop a Systematic Approach

Audition adjudicators know that sight-reading is an essential skill for musicians. Sight-reading is a simple combination of music reading and music-making, all while looking at a piece of music for the first time. That’s why sight-reading is sometimes called a prima vista which is Italian for "at first sight." Your sight-reading performance says a lot about your musicianship because it shows musical knowledge as well as your performance technique.

Why do a lot of students fear the sight-reading part of an audition? Because most of them haven’t:

  • developed a personal systematic approach to sight-reading
  • made sight-reading part of their daily practice
  • looked for professional instruction in the art of sight-reading

That won’t happen to you because you are going to learn how to get better at sight-reading. You won’t need to get as nervous before your audition because you’ll have a plan.

You might have guessed I recommend making sight-reading part of your daily practice. A foundation for getting proficient at sight-reading includes a good command of:

  • rhythm
  • pitch accuracy
  • key signatures
  • musical styling

As you get older and better at those skills, make sure to add in the guidelines below.

How to Practice

  • 6th Grade: Using your beginning instruction book, demonstrate rhythm by counting and/or using the Gordon/Eastman technique out loud. Sing the pitches in solfege using hand signals.
  • 7th Grade: Keep practicing rhythm and pitch techniques by sight-reading the bass of a piece, like a hymn. Play/sing the bass line in the clef appropriate for your instrument or voice part. Sight-read the bass lines of 4 hymns each week. is a great reference for notated hymns!
  • 8th Grade: Keep practicing rhythm and pitch techniques by sight-reading each part-line of a hymn. Play/sing the part-lines for 4 hymns each week this year.
  • 9th Grade: By this year, you probably have a personal systematic approach to rhythm and pitch accuracy. Use it every time you sight-read. This year, use ensemble concert literature, borrow other instrument or voice parts, and practice performing it in the clef appropriate for your instrument or voice part.
  • 10th Grade: Write out your own sixteen measure sight-reading examples. Take the examples and give them five different musical stylings and tempo markings along with appropriate musical terms. Sight-read one of these examples per day.
  • 11th Grade: Every day, sight read music composed for a different instrument. A good exercise is playing/singing the top line of a piano or conductor’s score and play each line of the score in your appropriate clef.

That’s our guide on how to practice sight-reading. There’s nothing magic about it. It’s just one way to do it. You and your instructor may have a different way, but whatever approach you use, use it daily. Daily practice will increase your confidence and give you a systematic approach when it’s time for your sight-reading audition.

Keep Practicing,

Dr. Randall Bayne, CEO of