sight-reading-how good are you?

sight-reading - a figment of our imaginations?

  • depends whether my valves/slide/sticks is/are working-little beasties that they are!

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Active Member
PeterBale said:
Another aspect of sight-reading in a band situation is being able to focus on what matters, so that things keep going. Better to miss a few notes out if you can make sure the pulse remains steady and the key parts are played.

Thats the best way to aproach it. My band always gets told that and when I have played in proffessional situations and had to sight read, that advice has served me well!


Active Member
Sight-reading is the greatest test of your musicianship imho. I am, quite frankly, rubbish at it. Although I have improved a lot since playing in a brass band.

I'd agree with what Peter and others have said that it's about picking what is most important in a phrase or passage. I often work by the rule of thumb that if it's slow/sustained then pitch and tuning are the most important, if it's quick/moving then the rhythm and placing are the most important. But as always composers will write bits that just have to be played right and are rock hard - you just have to be top drawer to do those bits first time (sadly I am more sock drawer than top drawer).

We sight-read a version of Lawrence (sp?) of Arabia last night and the start has some crazy rhythms and time sig changes - I was a bit flumoxed I must confess.


Active Member
GJG said:
An incorrect note, played in the right place, at the right dynamic, with the right articulation, will usually pass un-noticed by most people (esp. the average audience) unless it's a) very exposed, b) very slow, or c) obstinately sustained against every instinct of basic musicianship!

On the other hand, a correct note, played in the wrong place because you mis-read the rhythm, or played too loud, or held too long because you didn't see the staccato, will almost always stick out like a sore thumb!

Very true. I used an example of this when talking to the kids learning brass at the local school, basically I played the first bit of "Flight of the Bumble Bee" by waggling 1st and 2nd valves very quickly and approximately lipping the rest in the right rhythm, then asked them how many notes were right. Oddly they all thought it was brilliant :oops: , and were most disappointed when I told them it was complete flannel. It does show though that rhythm is more important than pitch!

I've always found sight reading a lot easier if I've heard the piece (played properly, obviously), before. Gives you a grounding in what to expect, both in your own part and others.
I also agree that if you want to improve your sight-reading then helping other bands out at short notice improves it rapidly! I once helped a band out and got told just before the finale (Riverdance, which I'd never seen before at the time) that "we stand up and play this without the music". Oh......right...ok.....? Cue me stood up while trying to look out of the furthest corner of one eye at the copy........mimed a lot of it!

Dave Payn

Active Member
andyp said:

I've always found sight reading a lot easier if I've heard the piece (played properly, obviously), before. Gives you a grounding in what to expect, both in your own part and others.

This is very true. You can get a grasp of the phrasing and 'think in the right key' by doing this, giving one a head start in the sight reading stakes! ;-)


Active Member
My sightreading is ok, have had plenty of practise as the majority of time you sightread and play a piece. Have had a couple of hair raising but totally cool experiences such as sight reading on the contest stand :shock: ...least I was concentrating in those perfomances :D

Dave Euph

GJG said:
I have to say I don't really understand the logic; it may not be so important in rehearsal, but if you're forced into sightreading on a performance, (something I seem to find myself doing a lot of these days!) then in my experience the actual pitches are almost the least important element.

Yep, heard that one too ... and I can understand it entirely. But it's not as though I want to throw my logic out the window, so I keep practising my sight-reading as I have been, but trying to incorporate other aspects in as well. Frankly I'd find it a lot harder to sight-read a piece purely on style when it is different to how I've always done it.

I'm just hoping with practise, down the line my sight-reading will be able to represent a good idea of what a piece is supposed to sound like when up to scratch, rather than just what the notes are! :shock:

Brian Bowen

Active Member
And spare a thought for singers. They have to pitch notes accurately without mechanical assistance and usually sing words (lyric) to the notes at the same time.

Dave Payn

Active Member
Brian Bowen said:
And spare a thought for singers. They have to pitch notes accurately without mechanical assistance and usually sing words (lyric) to the notes at the same time.

And some conductors (like me) who have had to attempt to play, read the score, conduct AND bring people in at the same time! (In my case, the phrase 'Jack of all trades, master of none' springs to mind.... ;-)

Tuba Miriam

Speaking as someone whose sight-reading is decidedly dodgy - ranging from the superlative heights of mediocre down to the 'was I even playing the same piece as everyone else?' I would say ease of sight-reading depends very much on whether you are the sole person in the ensemble sight-reading or whether the whole group is floundering with the same problem.

Lots of people have mentioned the value of depping as a means of improving sight-reading ability. This is undoubtedly true, but is also far easier than the whole band sight-reading together. Trying to hold your own while everyone else is apparently doing their level best to put you off (or so it can seem) is no help when trying to hear how your part fits in to the whole. It's partly about having the confidence to believe you are correct, even if it doesn't sound so; the problem with this approach is that misplaced confidence can be catastrophic!


Contrary to what a lot of you have said, I don't think that sight reading ability and good musicianship are necessarily connected.
One of the best brass soloists I know of could not sightread a hymn tune to save his life. That would probably mean that depping would not be an option for him, so he now lives as a full time trumpet soloist.

Its not unlike the situation where someone is a poor reader (of books) but where they are still well read (just takes a bit more time).

On the other hand I fully understand the desire to improve the sight reading ability cos it makes your life much easier.

On the question about professionel musicians ability to sightread everything I don't think that even wizards like Steven Mead or Roger Webster can sight read every solo that is put before them - and why should they be able to?
Is it more admirable to be able to play a difficult solo at first sight than to study it carefully and make a perfect performance?

Cheers Erik


Supporting Member
I still think good or at least reaonable sight-reading ability is an asset no matter what you are doing. We have a superb player in our band who often gets a lot of stick because most of the time he doesn't actually read the music.

Because he is young, he doesn't have enough experience of different types of music to be able to 'fudge it' and often gets in a bad panic (which only makes things worse) because everybody else is apparently getting it right which then knocks his confidence.

Even a simple scale of C can throw him if it's attached to semiquavers.

I think another thing that helps people to sight read well is knowing your scales and arpeggios. :shock: :shock: (That has probably opened up a number of old wounds) If you really know all your scales and arps in all keys then very little that the composer throws at you will catch you out, providing you're awake and concentrating, of course. :)
euphoria said:
Contrary to what a lot of you have said, I don't think that sight reading ability and good musicianship are necessarily connected.

I'd say that's a fair comment. I've seen a few decent players get written off because of their reading which is a shame.

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
I would definitely agree that sight-reading isn't necessarily a yardstick of musicianship. (Though that may be because I'm a pretty appalling sight-reader! :oops: )

Some of the best advice an MD ever gave me was....

"I'm not interested in a player who say's 'I can't play that.' I'm interested in a player who says 'I can't play that YET'."

...When I was sitting feeling :shock: :? :oops: :cry: trying to sight-read coventry variations. Message being, good sight reading's nice, but if you have to take it away and cane it to get it right, you do that. So long as you get it right.

P.S. Shouldn't be hard to work out who said it, rambochick! :wink:


People as school/uni always wondered why I was good at sight-reading (I got 19 out of 21 in Grade 8) and the answer always is I don't know!

I don't think it is an important part of how good a player you are though as there is nearly always private practice time to get notes, rhythms, dynamics etc sorted so when you get to the concert/contest stage, you can go up there 100% sure of what you are doing.

Dave Payn

Active Member
And of course in a band situation, a few good readers can pull others along into sight reading better than they thought. That was certainly the case last night when I took Yiewsley and West Drayton. (Home of David Walton, WhatSharp? and the 'bunny') In the second half I put them through their paces for the Butlins piece Verona Lights (which one wag suggested sounded like a packet of cigarettes!).

Despite the name, it's a nice piece and whilst not fiendishly difficult, does contain plenty of traps. Even accounting for the fact I deliberately went through the faster tempos a little under the indicated metronome markings, I was very impressed with the bands sight reading of it. I've played and conducted enough 2nd section bands to know that YWD's collective reading ability will stand them in good stead for the contest if the first run thorough was anything to go by! A thoroughly enjoyable evening!


Active Member
Thanks for you comments Dave, and it was great having you conduct us. As with most things the first run through isn't usually too bad however the old adage "Familiarity breeds contempt" kicks in after a couple of rehearsals and concentration slips :D I have to agree I rather like the piece (though I still reckon Peter our drummer needs to wear a big Indian Chief headress and do a war dance :D )


Active Member
Quite an interesting thread and maybe a couple of other things could be added which helps a musician sight-read that little bit better.
- First of all, the practice of exercises, scales, arpeggios & styles collectively creates a set of patterns which are recognisable when tackling a new piece. Problems arise when new & unique rhythms, intervals and notation is introduced. Working through, e.g., the Arban tutor does help when sight-reading air-varies or pieces based on similar structures but not necessarily on modern or avante-garde music. In short, we use recognition memory as a tool to improve technique & first performance.
- Secondly, a good sight-reader tries to read ahead and anticipate any obstacles which might hamper a seamless, clean first attempt. Anyone who also plays piano here will understand what I mean. Reading bar by bar without looking ahead tends to stall performance and even worse when sight-reading an soloist's accompaniment which is fairly modern and original to the individual concerned (Poulenc's Elegy for F.Horn & piano is a classic example).
- Finally, if all is well and notation/technique is anticipated successfully, the musicianship of the reader comes next into question....and as we all know, interpretation/style (unless it has been well documented by composer or by historical performance) depends on the individual's experience and the appraisal of the audience, if present. If sight-reading within an ensemble, the usual factors of listening and blending with the other players is paramount, especially when relative dynamics, articulation and phrasing is to be considered.
- Summing up, the combination and practice of these factors helps the sight-reader assume more control and ownership when facing new material. Challenges arise when the unexpected gets presented then new learning and assimilation has to take place. I hope my comments have some relevance to the other posts before this one.


Active Member
I am a good reader but didn't like ticking the box so did the last one instead. :oops:

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