How are your sight reading skills?
Does the thought of reading new clarinet music scare you? If you think you are not a very good sight-reader, don’t worry! That can be fixed. All you need to do is practice that clarinet! Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you become. Just think back to when you started reading as a young child. How fast did you learn? Did you get better every time you picked up reading materials? Did you read the same few books over and over? Did it get easier? How well do you read now?
Just remember: Music is a language. Additionally, it is a pretty easy one to learn and the better music reader you become, the more fun it is to play and learn new clarinet music.
Practicing Sight Reading
Here are some simple steps to improving your sight reading.
1. Rhythm studies are essential. Understanding how to count and clap rhythms is extremely important. Rhythm is the most fundamental thing in reading music. Be sure to practice with a metronome!
2. Learn your scales!
These are the building blocks of music and learning them is much like learning sight words to become a better reader. It is important to know how to SPELL every major scale so you really know them. Memorizing fingerings (muscle memory) is not learning your scales–trust me!
Learn all 12 major scales and the enharmonics (there are three of these). You should be able to both READ the scales and play from memory in addition to spelling them. A great way to start is by writing out (spelling) the scales by letter name on a sheet of paper. Then, with the aid of a fingering chart if you need it, practice! If you don’t know how to spell your scales, check out some helpful resources on understanding scale structure:
Once you have mastered your major scales, move on to their relative minor (this means they have the same key signature).
Check out the Circle of Fifths, which should help you to better understand the relationship of key signatures and major and minor keys.
3. Learn scale patterns as you are learning each scale. You should practice various patterns on each and every scale, arpeggios, thirds, and 7th chords.
4. Learn the chromatic scale and learn it well. Be able to start and end on any note and play in virtually any rhythm.
5. Read music. Read a lot of music. The best thing you can do is buy some books that have plenty of material in them and read something new every day. Start easy. You should be able to read with few or no mistakes and with ALL THE DETAILS! If you fail to play elements like dynamics and tempo, you need to keep practicing until you get better at playing them on the first read.
6. Analyze and critique your reading. The best way to do this is to record yourself. Playing for a more advanced player or a teacher is also helpful, but you will remember more when you critique yourself. After this step, read the line(s) again. Analyze and critique again. Rinse and repeat.
7. Play duets with a friend or teacher. This will reinforce reading skills and really show your weaknesses so you know what you need to practice more. Plus, it’s fun!
8. Listen to lots of different music. One of the key components to learning a language is to listen to it. Often. Divulge in a variety of music, both old and new. Challenge yourself to listen to something new every day, even if it is just a sample of a piece (the more, the better). As you listen and train your ear, you become accustomed to what different styles of music sound like and it is much easier to approach reading a piece of music with that knowledge!
General Practice Tips
My favorite practicing tip: Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Tools for success: working clarinet, good reeds, metronome, tuner, pencil, reading materials, music stand, chair (optional), mirror, recording device.
1. Create short term and long term goals for your progress. Keep a practice journal if you like. I find this to be extremely helpful.
2. Decide on a good time and place to practice every day. Know how long you need to practice every day so you can fit it in your schedule.
3. Daily practice is essential for development (mental and physical). You should aim to practice at least 30 minutes every day, but if you are in a bind for time, 10-15 minutes of long tones and scales is better than nothing at all.
4. Have a designated, distraction-free place to practice and make sure no one bothers you while you practice!
5. Organize your practice sessions based on your goals.
6. Practice long tones, scales, and fundamental exercises every day. You can even have a separate practice session for this extremely important material.
7. Master the material you practice. Don’t just play through it and move on.
8. Mark your music. If you make a mistake, mark it and don’t make that mistake again!
If you practice it wrong, you learn it wrong and it is hard to “unfix” wrong music. Pay attention to details in every part of your practice, and continue to analyze and critique your playing.
9. Practice everything with your BEST sound. No exceptions.
10. Fatigue means you should take a break. Physical fatigue (usually our embouchures) doesn’t mean you can’t keep mentally practicing. Work on rhythms and fingerings without actually playing. Mental fatigue means you should probably step away for a bit.
11. Practice small sections or tricky licks first. Practice them repetitively and daily.
12. Use a metronome frequently, especially during your fundamentals and warmups.
13. Use a tuner periodically throughout your sessions.
14. Record yourself and critique your own playing.
15. Finish your practice session with something that makes you feel great about your playing, as it can easily motivate you to keep up your practicing!
ALWAYS REMEMBER: Even a small amount of progress is progress. Keep practicing with patience and perseverance and you will reap the rewards.
Questions, suggestions, or testimonials? Email me!