Sight reading

From Academic Kids

Sight reading is reading and performing a work (for instance, a piece of music, or a passage from a play or book) without having seen it before.

Sight reading of musical notation is considered a useful and important skill for musicians. When singers sight read, it is often called sight singing. If no lyrics are specified, they use solfege, numerical sight-singing, integer notation, or simply pick a syllable ("la", "duh", etc.) to sing on each note.

Studio musicians (that is, musicians employed to record pieces for commercials, etc.) often record pieces on the first take without having seen it before. Much of the music on television is played by musicians sight reading.

In some circumstances, such as examinations, the ability of a student to sight read is assessed by presenting the student with a short piece of music, giving the student an allotted time to examine the music and prepare to play the music, then testing the student on the proficiency of how the student plays. A harder kind of test requires the student to perform without any preparation at all.

The ability to sight read seems to depend in part on a strong musical memory. An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicate that highly skilled musicians can look ahead further in the music and remember the notes up to the time they are played. The relevant limit on memory capacity seems to be measured in notes, not time; thus for pieces in fast tempo, less time elapses between the instant a note is read and played.

Sight-reading also depends on familiarity with the musical idiom being performed; this permits the reader to recognize and perform whole patterns at once, rather than individual notes, thus achieving greater efficiency. Errors in sight reading tend to occur in places where the music contains unexpected or unusual sequences; these defeat the strategy of "reading by expectation" that sight readers usually employ.

Highly skilled musicians can sight-read silently; that is, they can look at the printed music and hear it in their heads without playing or singing. Less able sight-readers generally must at least hum or whistle in order to sight-read effectively. This distinction is analogous to ordinary prose reading during the Middle Ages, when the ability to read silently was apparently considered remarkable.

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