Are you trying to sight read before you’re ready?
If you’re frustrated by what you feel is a slow progress when reading music… it may be that you’re actually trying to sight read (before you’re ready).
What is sight reading?
Sight reading is a very specific type of reading music. It requires translating all the markings found in the score into sounds (all at once). These markings include the correct rhythm (without slowing down at tricky bits), playing up to speed, with dynamics, and many others found in the score. You aim to get as many notes correct as possible and without any previous practice play a whole piece through, without stopping.
On the harp this also means being able to change all the levers or pedals required by the score, read harp-specific notation (for example, harmonics), and damp the strings on time at the end of a piece.
When does one have to sight read on the harp?
Sight reading is usually needed in some very specific situations like:
- wanting to get familiar with a lot of repertoire quickly (but perhaps without diving too deep)
- playing with others (any number, from your one musician friend to a whole orchestra!)
- taking music exams with sight reading requirements
What is the difference between sight reading and reading music?
Reading music is a more general term. A harpist learning to play a new piece is reading music. And that is regardless whether she spends 10 minutes on one bar or play larger sections through.
A harp student learning bass clef notes using flash cards is reading music.
An harpist playing in the orchestra is also reading music (and she may be at the same time sight reading).
We are all reading music when working with a score, regardless of how advanced we are!
The main difference between the two is the main objectives, or priorities when doing one or the other.
Is sight reading only for advanced harp players?
You can sight read music at any stage. If you are a beginner on the harp, it is important though that you…
- take care of the right balance between sight reading and practising reading music
- choose easy pieces when sight reading for the first time. Hint – they need to be A LOT EASIER than the pieces you’re learning now!
- have the very basics of reading music covered – so you’re not stressed out by tons of unfamiliar (yet!) notes and symbols!
Priorities when sight reading
Your main objective is to play the piece through without stopping, at the correct rhythm. This is the highest priority when sight reading. It is especially important when you’re playing with others. Otherwise the piece may soon fall apart!
With your rhythmic structure in place, you aim to add as many other elements as possible, including playing as many correct notes as you can get – which usually means a fair bit of multitasking!
Priorities when reading music
Your priorities will largely depend on a piece that you’re learning. You will be likely moving between different stages of learning. For example, after you’ve worked out the notes, you will be thinking about the best fingering. When later you’ll be bringing the piece up to speed though, you may want to tweak your fingerings slightly so they work better in the faster tempo.
But when you’ve just started learning to read music on the harp, your priority should always be working out the notes first.
The best thing about learning a piece when you’re NOT sight reading is being able to focus on one thing at a time. So if the notes in the score are still a challenge, you may choose to temporarily let go on trying to get the rhythm right… and instead choose to really drill down on the patterns that you see in the music.
If you take the time to do things slowly, ONE at a time, and are patient however much time it takes, you can learn even the most challenging pieces.