How to Get Great at Sight Reading Music

Sight reading new music can feel like a daunting task. But let’s face it, all music is new to us at one point. This is why getting great at sight reading can make the experience of learning new music by reading a more enjoyable one and less of a “homework” style activity.

So in an effort to make your next sight reading experience more enjoyable, there are several great tips and strategies in this post that will get you started on the right path.

  1. Familiarize yourself with a variety of rhythms. Start simple and increasingly change the difficulty of the rhythms you are reading.
  2. Memorize key signatures at-a-glance. IMPORTANT!
  3. Know your scales forward and backward. Literally forwards and backward.
  4. Practice playing without looking at your hands.
  5. Practice sight singing by singing the notes you are wanting to read.
  6. Take a minute to examine the piece you’re sight reading. Tap out the rhythm, read through the notes and follow the structure. Look for trouble spots that may trip you up when you’re reading.
  7. Mentally commit changes in key or time signature within the piece.
  8. Make markings on the paper (or on your tablet/iPad), if allowed.
  9. Sound the whole piece out in your head, recognizing patterns.
  10. Breathe, relax and keep going, even if you make a mistake.
  11. Use a pencil to make the note names of each note above in order to be able to focus more on the rhythmic changes.


When I began teaching music theory and piano lessons it dawned on me how poorly some students understand music and how it really works from the inside out. Many could play their instrument but they blindly stumbled through learning new pieces and had trouble with counting even simple rhythms when faced with musical excerpts that were not in the most basic of meters. -Leon Harrell, author of “How to Read Music”

Focus on rhythm

Rhythm is the most essential part of sight reading. If you play rhythm correctly but not pitch, at least you can stay in the right place. The opposite is not true.

If you don’t have a firm grasp of rhythm, this is where you should start. You can practice rhythm sight reading with any sheet music. Just ignore the pitches and only read the rhythms. Later you can go back through and practice reading the rhythms and pitches together.

Don’t stop when you make a mistake

So obvious, and yet surprisingly counter-instinctual. When we make a mistake, especially during an important performance, the temptation is strong to go back and fix it. But everyone knows this is impossible – time in music only moves forward. It’s done, shrug it off and move on. (If there’s a repeat, you’ll get a second chance! :))

Not only is it futile, but it’s actually counter-productive to stop and try to fix performance mistakes. You draw attention to an error your audience otherwise may not have noticed, and you make a second error by stopping time!

Learn how to plow through your mistakes rather than stopping to lament. Your judges will review you more favorably, you’ll better keep up with the ensemble if you’re not playing solo, and your audience will enjoy the music better uninterrupted.

Let the most difficult passage set your tempo

This tip I picked up years ago from a wise band director. It’s a smart way to set the tempo when you’re sight reading. (You’ve never heard the piece before, so you can’t use your memory of what it sounds like for reference.)

Of course you’re going to observe the composer’s tempo guidelines, but you’ll have room for interpretation as the performer. The most important thing when you’re choosing a tempo for sight reading is that it not prohibit you from getting through the piece successfully. And the most common tempo mistake made by inexperienced sight readers is to choose one that’s too fast.

The way to ensure that you don’t choose a tempo that’s too fast is to base it around the most difficult passage. While you’re looking over the music just before playing, find the part that looks most challenging. Finger through it on your instrument at the tempo you have in mind and be confident you can get through without making a slew of mistakes. If you don’t think you can, slow down the tempo a bit at a time until you have one that works.

Learn to look ahead

People are often surprised to learn that advanced sight readers aren’t looking at the notes they’re playing. Rather they already looked at them, and are always looking at least a few beats ahead of where they’re playing.

Think about it. You’re sight reading, so you’ve never seen this music before, save the brief moment you had to look it over before you started playing. If you’re just taking in the notes one at a time as you’re playing them, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Imagine driving a car and only watching the spot of pavement that’s visible just over the hood.

You need to learn how to be reading one measure while playing the measure that came before it. The coordination is a bit tricky, but it’s well worth the time investment to learn this skill.

Don’t forget, at the end of the day it will be you that will need to put in the work with your sight reading practice. At first, it may seem challenging. But my promise to you is that if you stick with it and take these tips and strategies to heart while practicing that your skill will improve and sight reading will become simple and seamless for you.

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Ref: Music Notes, Sight Reading Master.

Arts integration fills gaps in core-subject learning

976809_10151636660431212_131722587_oArts education within our society seems to be seen in the light of a separate component and/or supplementation to core subject learning. A shift in perspective should take place in the integration of arts education within the teaching of the core academic subjects. Research has shown that this integration enables to secure gaps in learning amongst students that struggle in varying areas of academics. What seems to occur is that the creativity from the arts integration stimulates the different parts of the brain that allow the student to see connections between the various subjects. This broader view of academia, facilitated by the arts integration, places the student in a unique position to create future connections within the life they live. They now see the world from new points of view by the connections they make. This might be the single most important component of arts-core subject integration.


Effective classroom arts integration can reduce or eliminate educational achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students, according to a Mississippi State University research report.

In other words, when teachers reinforce academic concepts with the arts, students learn more and score higher on standardized tests.

MSU’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development generated the report, which evaluated the impacts of the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative. The program supports teachers’ efforts to use the arts–composing, painting, drawing or sculpting; playing, singing or listening to music; and dancing and dramatic performance–to foster retention and learning.

Judith Philips, Stennis research associate, headed the development of “Arts Integration and the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative: A Stennis Institute Study for Decision-Makers.” The report initially was presented at the Mississippi Arts Commission’s 2013 Whole Schools Initiative Summer Institute.

Philips said the research verifies that effective arts integration reinforces classroom learning.

“Schools that effectively implement arts integration have either significantly reduced or completely eliminated the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students,” she said. “This research indicates that arts integration can achieve that objective in Mississippi public schools.”

Currently, almost 5,500 Mississippi students in eight public and four private elementary schools are participating in WSI. The study compared results on language arts and mathematics Mississippi Curriculum Tests, fourth-grade writing assessments and fifth-grade science tests to scores of students not enrolled in arts integrated classrooms.

“The percentage of students scoring ‘proficient or above’ on standardized tests was significantly higher at schools participating in the Whole Schools Initiative that had effectively implemented the WSI arts integration model, when compared to student performance statewide and when compared to student performance for the school district within which the WSI school was located,” Phillips told arts commission participants during her presentation.

Karen Brown, MSU instructor in curriculum, instruction and workforce development, teaches an arts integration course in MSU’s College of Education. She said she’s not surprised at the Stennis report’s findings because students, especially young children, gravitate to learning that way.

“Not only is it repetition, but it’s time spent whenever a child is learning something in a different way, that means they’re learning it again,” Brown said. “They’re repeating it, and so the immersion in their learning is a different form–through the arts–but it’s also more time spent on the content, so they start thinking critically and creatively.”

Brown said all MSU elementary education majors are required to take the arts integration course. She also takes a student group to WSI’s annual summer institute.

“Arts integration, from the perspective of a classroom teacher, is teaching both the content area and the arts together, and that takes some special training and special knowledge, but when you do that, it immerses the child in the content,” Brown said. Phillips said arts integration requires quality professional development and mentorships for teachers. Providing that training for teachers requires additional resources that many state school systems may not be able to provide, she acknowledged.

“Given our state’s budget constraints, the Stennis Institute recognizes that additional resources to support these efforts will need to come from either federal grants or from philanthropic organizations,” Phillips said. “To that end, we collaborated with the arts commission and wrote a grant for the commission to the U.S. Department of Education for an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Program grant.”

If awarded, the DOE grant should pay for a national workshop leader and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts teaching artist to visit Mississippi on a quarterly basis. Phillips said the visiting expert would provide professional development, conduct student learning initiatives and train state teaching artists in implementing Moving through Math, a curriculum using movement, music, spatial reasoning, and interpersonal skills to teach mathematics, verbal and visual skills.

Brown said parents interested in having their children involved in arts integration should inquire with their respective school system administrators or inform other parents and teachers at parent-teacher organization meetings. Then, local advocates could request the school system apply for a WSI grant.

“I’d like to see increased involvement, funding and awareness from stakeholders, legislators, teachers, parents–everyone,” Brown said. “We have data that arts integration is working and making a difference in Mississippi classrooms.”

To read the Stennis Institute report’s executive summary or entire content, visit

The above story is based on materials provided by Mississippi State UniversityNote: Materials may be edited for content and length. /

Future Focus: Test Scores or Arts?

In a recent publication by the Detroit Free Press we see music gain appleheartfruitspotlight amongst political battles being fought over changes in education budgets across all 50 states. Music education is being swept under the carpet of the congressional isles that can’t seem to get along on the many issues that are facing our country. As our country leaders continue to fight, we see drastic changes in the way we deliver arts education to the next generation. Separate entities are taking initiative to enable programs that support the creative arts education beyond what is fiscally allotted by the government.

Keith Wunderlich, the author of the DFP article showcased how the community took important action towards furthering this mission:

Then something extraordinary happened. People in the community stepped forward and began working with New Haven Community Schools to bring the music back. They dug up old sheet music. They donated old clarinets, flutes, guitars, drum sets and more that had been gathering dust in attics, spare bedrooms and garages. In addition to musical instruments, the community gave our students their time and financial support.

We heard the same chorus again and again: These community residents, many of them products of New Haven Community Schools, kept saying how music had been such an important part of their education, how music had helped them become who they are today.

Our community came together with educators and students to help provide a solution to a challenge all public schools in Michigan face, and that was how to save a program the community wanted but could no longer afford.

Music and education in the arts is different than any other academic field and, should be approached as such. Creativity, as a whole, is difficult to score, analyze, and standardize. For this reason, we find that when communities and individuals take action in supporting education systems and institutions in the development of arts programs there is advancement amongst students in all areas of education. Music has been shown to connect both sides of the brain, allowing for the student to understand various other subject matter in a more comprehensive manner.

Wunderlich goes on to state that many of our current successful leaders have benefited from arts in their lives, stating:

Music education has been linked to so many singularly successful people that its impact cannot be ignored. Google co-founder Larry Page (high school saxophone), former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (clarinet), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (guitar), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (piano) and so many other highly successful individuals credit their music education for giving them the courage to create, to collaborate for success, to see solutions where none may be immediately obvious.

Conclusively, our focus on test scores are important so that the future our our world is smart and well educated. Arts education is experiential; the student learns best when experiencing the application of what he has learned. This could be argued as being the best way of learning anything. Therefore, everyone can contribute to the future generations’ success by supporting experiential situations for children to enjoy different areas of art.

We all know deep down that the core subjects aren’t the end-all-be-all to a well rounded educational foundation. If we truly want well-rounded educational foundations for the next generation we must invest our time and resources into the development of independently supported mechanisms that allow access to arts experiences. Because, deep down is where art lives and, deep down we want everyone to enjoy it — most importantly our children.  

Detroit Free Press: Source

Specific Subject Preference Development in Childhood / Independence of Pre- Adolescent Preference Conditioning


When you were a child did you dream of becoming a fireman, an astronaut, or doctor? Did your parents encourage you towards or away from specific jobs that you felt interested in? These questions have puzzled psychologist and behavioral scientists of decades. The idea is that we are influenced by parental, social and peer conditioning in our childhood years that prod our sensibilities toward or away from specific preferences in career choice. In this essay I will centrally explore how we are parentally conditioned and how we can entertain the idea of independence from said conditioning as we continue in growth and development past adolescence.

1. Specific Subject Preference Development in Childhood:
Few parents seem to recognize the impact they have on their children. From an early age children absorb everything around them little to know psychologic filter. The stimuli that occurs in their immediate surroundings is downloaded to their internal mental hard drive, wiring neurological transmitters together that will work in forming that child into an a person with a psychological identity. This identity is therein development over time to create what we see to be ourselves. The mental image of ourselves is a combination of the conditioning we experienced as we learned and witness events from birth to pre- teen. Psychologists have proven that our mental state is very fragile and delicate, requiring constant up-keep and fortification of identity centers. We are constantly internally referencing who we are based on who’ve we’ve continued ourselves to be. Any conditioning pre-adolescent is not of our doing more, of parental, environmental and social. For example, you will see pre-teens voice their loyalty to a specific college football team when having never attended the school in person, based on the religious- like loyalty to that collage their parents attended. This is due to the constant exposer to the college loyalty over a long period of time. Just like a runner conditions his muscles for long hours on the track, so to our psychology becomes conditioned to think a specific way about almost everything in our immediate experience. As children we rely greatly on parental advise and guidance for how to live. We presume that those that have came before use have greater insight into the workings of the world and how to navigate socially. We are born into this reliance on parental guidance based on the foundation of multiple millennia grounded i122311172037n parental based survival reliance. As early Homo Sapiens, nearly 200,000 years ago, we looked for non-vebal cues from parents to note when danger came in proximity. As we aged into strong hunters next to our fathers we developed our senses independently as the environment we grew up in changed due to climate, inhabitants, and geological alterations occurred over time. This introduces a very interesting shift in our psychology as we develop into adolescence that still occurs currently. Parents have a direct impact on specific preferences from birth to age (on average) 13.

“Parents have an early influence, but by middle school most students are starting to

develop independent tastes.” Art Markman, Professor of Psychology – University of Texas at Austin

Parents are sometimes unaware as to the gravity of impact they have on their children and still believe that they have little to do with the career choices of their children (Taylor, Harris, & Taylor, 2004). In a study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Taylor, Harris, & Taylor, 2004), almost half of freshman parents stated that they believed they should remain neutral in regard to their child’s career development. However, additional studies show that parents have a greater influence in career selection than teachers (Kniveton, 2004) and can even influence what major their children choose to pursue in college (Simpson, 2003). For example; a teen may be interested in majoring in science but instead is influenced by their parents to study law, due to past positive experience within the family. What has shifted now is the associate to what we believe will keep us alive, or not killed. As 200,000 year old Homo Sapiens, we perceived large animals as threats and watched for cues from our parents in times of stress. As 21st century up-right walking humans we now look for similar cues but in a modern context. Having money in today’s environment is considered being unstressed, taken care of, and/or “surviving”. Therefore, it is save to presume that many modern career choices are selected our fear of pain from lack of resources. It is clear that parents believe they have less influence over their children’s career decisions than the research supports. This perception seems to differ from the perception of children, who often report their parents to be of the highest influence (Ferry, 2006; Kniveton, 2004). Due to this perception gap, it is important to examine the result of parental influence in regard to their children’s career choices. While parents assume that their direct career advice may be influential, they may be unaware that they can also exert a strong career influence simply by serving as examples of workers (Kniveton, 2004). In fact, children as young as five years old begin to identify with the occupation oftheir mother or father (Havighurst, 1964). Parents start influencing career decisions as soon as their children can pronounce their job title. There is no coincidence in the fact that many children go into professions that mimic or mirror those of their parents. In fact, similar parental jobs may be perceived as more stable or “safe” the the child that witness success of the parent in that field; success mainly defined as financial stability. When interviewed, you’ll noticed that a person will ask whether a field is financially stable over a period of time when asking about career opportunities.

Parents may also be unaware of the impact their accepted standards and values have on their child’s career selection. According to Biddle, Bank, and Marlin (as cited in Simpson, 2003), “rather than responding directly to external pressures … students internalize parental norms and preferences and act, therefore, in accordance with those norms” (Transmission of Values section, ~ 1). Because parental norms and values are likely to affect career choice, it is important that parents understand the subtle ways that they communicate their norms and values on a regular basis. Furthermore, due to the value weight a child places on parental standards, the influence of the parent becomes very potent. Tracey (2001) identified a research gap in children’s career development and argued that the critical research question is about “the mechanisms by which children’s thinking about interests shifts from childhood structures to those of
adulthood” (p. 90). There is a body of research that has focuses and attempts to validate theories that describe the career development of children. Specifically, research

has examined the process of learning that various theories hypothesize underlies children’s career development. Wahl and Blackhurst (2000) have reviewed this research and concluded that the findings are mixed. Earlier theories such as that of Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Axelrad, and Herma (1951) have been challenged by research that has found children’s occupational aspirations are more stable over time than the theories proposes (Trice, Hughes, Odom, Woods, & McClellan, 1995; Wahl & Blackhurst, 2000). Therefore, we can presume that the longevity of consistent parental conditioning is a main contributor to the long-term development of childhood career interests.

2. Independence of Pre-Adolescent Preference Conditioning:
Conditioning on any psychological level is difficult to understand, regardless of attempts of removal or alterations. Art Markman, psychologist (Prof. of Psychology/UT at Austin) stated that preferences continue to evolve if we remain psychologically open them. However, the challenge in remaining open is in the ability for one to endure perceived psychological strain. Changes in environment, relationships and/or economic status showcase an instability to our environment. The instability is perceived as pain due to the possibility of collapse of living conditions. Even in areas of poverty you will find individuals that are reluctant to give up a dirty and torn blanket. This is because that individual perceives that item as a key part to their survival. The psychological shift that is required to occur if an individual intends to become independent of parental conditioning is two pronged: 1. The cultivation of endurance in psychological strain via life changes within multiple intensity levels. 2. Sustaining the consistent allowance of new ideas to remain valid in the shifting perception of our environment. Researchers call this psychological training. Just as in the example previous, the runner is conditioning himself to run longer. Psychological training is the conditioning of growth. In other words, we are conditioning ourselves to keep from becoming conditioned. Therefore, unless we intend on settling on a set of values and standards, we will need to train our mind continuously. Research has found that individuals that are continuously striving to grow, typically shift their reference point of conditioning from their parents to other individuals that exhibit values and standards they with to immolate. This suggests that as we continue to grow and change, we also continuously alter our reference point of value and standard validation. This is why many adolescents will take hold of role models such as sports stars, celebrities and historical figures. When the pre-teen finds common association with the public figure the bond is set and the immolation process will begin. Most children will still reference back to different and accepted components of their parental condition but, by age 13 most adolescents have started to develop their on sensibilities to the external world, allowing them to conglomerate many influences to who they will become as adults. As a pre-teen the act of exploring the ways of thinking seems natural and effortless. Experimentation, research and inquiry are all natural occurrence during these times of post-child psychological development. However, research has found that if not continued, by age 23 (on average amongst those studied) preferences are locked into comfort mechanisms that serve as points or reference when celebrating substantial career options. In contrast, when continuous development of mental faculties persist into adulthood individuals are more prone to career advancement and position alterations. This is done when the individual accepts new ideals and values as part of their psychological make-up. For example: A 30 year old graphic designer accepts that modern design is becoming more minimalistic, in

opposition to the past design structures of the 20th century; primarily influence by European architects. In this scenario, the graphic designer allows himself to be open to a shift in cultural identity in order to remain relevant and educated. The 21st century, with the Dotcom boom, allowed information to be shared instantly between individuals that differ in opinions and value structure. This has allowed and, in some cases, required more individuals to abandon select ideals of their parents in the attempt to stay current with fast-changing trends and world events. Therefore, the common structure is to find parental anchors that allow for acceptance of differing ideals then, allowing for a continuum of changing ideals that match the changes that are occurring around the world. As the spread of information and ideals become more easily accessible to more people, we hope to find individuals that are more accepting of the opinions of others. Individualism will win in the end, as only select parts of parental conditioning is kept by the psychology of the modern individual. If we take the initiative and momentary mental strain to expose ourselves to new ideas, we will realize we have many new things to learn from the world. Conclusively, our parents will also play a role in how we view the world and the choices we make. This gives us ground to stand on and a formulation around which to allow ideas to prosper. However, if we keep an open and progressive psychology over our lifetime, the world will open up to us a continuous feed of current ideals that best aid us towards the career we are best suited -and suitable- for.

A new way to look at practicing music

We all hear it from our music teachers, “Practice! Practice! Practice!” But, what does it mean for us in the long term? I think what many music educators miss is the explanation and example of what long-term practicing can do for the student. For the student the drudgery and monotony of constant practice can create a grim outlook on their daily musical activities. Music students need the following two components for practice success:

1. Fun: Practicing needs to be more like play. After all, we do call it “playing music.” Practice should be outlined and described to the student as a time for them to explore and compete with themselves. They need to perceive practice as a time to be curious and to take risk. To try new ways of doing things and to engage self-teaching mechanisms.

2. Practicability: Students of all ages need to fully understand how practicing will impact their future musician-selves. This can be achieved by showing them examples of world-class musicians, explaining to them all the daily hours that went into becoming that great; with an emphasis on the musician competing with them self for that mastery. Students need to see how what they do now will impact their future as a musician. By seeing this in actuality via professional musicians, students will be inspired to work harder and longer than ever.

Once these two elements are seen by the student the teacher can prescribe practice goals that make sense for the individual level of the student. There will be a drastic shift in both, attitude and focus when the student understands more clearly why practice is such a good idea.

According to Edward Droscher, founder of Real Music Production, there are two major keys to effective practice.

1. Goals are key. It is human nature to take pride in reaching a goal whether a promotion at work or winning a competition. If you have a set goal to reach you will be more willing to put in the work required to achieve it. Some examples of goals could be to learn the latest song you’ve fallen in love with, to be able to sight read in a certain key, to develop faster, more technical playing or to reach a certain exam grade before a certain period.

2. Little often is better than a lot occasionally. One key point to remember is that repetition is the quickest way to learn something due to your brain and muscles ability to develop and store a so called ‘muscle memory’. It will take a substantially longer time to learn and retain your new knowledge if you practice for a long period but only occasionally. See tip 3 on how to easily incorporate regular practice sessions into your daily routine.

When you are having a bad day and nothing is going right . . .When the pressures of life are crowding in on you and you need some time by yourself . . When someone, or something has made you angry . . When you are bored, or when you are feeling flat or unhappy, don’t complain, just go and do some music practice. That will lift your spirits and energise you. — Ron OttleyOttley, Ron., Now I Love Music Practice (Eileen Margaret Publishing, 2009) Pg 62-63

Practicing should be taken out of the “nose to the grindstone” light, into the “play and exploration” sunshine. Students need to see an overview of how what they are doing now will make an affect on their future selves. This is enabled when the responsibility of this eye-opening is taken on by the teacher. After all, the teacher is the guide for the student to reach full potential. Therefore, the teacher’s J.O.B. is to bring the students narrowed vision of practicing into full vision of how fun and explorative it can be. Once this is achieve, the sky is the limit for both, you and the student.