On a WIND instrument, sight-reading depends on the relationship between visual, mental, aural, and physical skills. The repertory may not provide a person with adequate fingering knowledge and general musicianship. In addition, EYE movements are REALLY seldom trained to recognise and to have the habit to read quickly notes and therefore to transfer through musical notation ALL you SEE through your instrumental skills. When I observe students during a sight-reading session, the most notable problem is their FIXED glance on the sheet music. Therefore I have included exercises strictly for developing fluid eye movements.
Scan the page to observe as many difficulties as possible
One approach is to glance from the upper left to the lower right of the page diagonally through the middle of the page. For a useful exercise, tap a pulse at the speed of crotchet = 60. Why 60? In my opinion, it is most common pulse or a tempo used in music and also the clock is ticking on the same pulsation, so we have a lot of touch in everyday life about this tempo 60. What do you SEE first? Does the tempo remains the same or does it changes? Next step is to look across the same line on beats one and two and name the highest note on that line on beat three-this is helpgul for phrasing. Repeat this procedure for each line to have an overview of phrase flowing structure. Identifying the highest note on each line will help one choose enough air to be able to play correctly and musically. The dose of AIR is the most important and crucial to understand. It is also helpful to locate visually any complex rhythms on the musical line which can then be of course carefully analysed more deeply. There are always 2 lines you need to practice 200 times more and that’s all!!! Easy!
Identify sequences and intervals
In fast movements the fluidity of sight-reading and eye movements and of course the brain needs to be very active! We need to recognise the sequences and intervals visually BEFORE you play them and follow the contour/structure of the note heads. The process is like that: READING AHEAD by looking towards the first note of each group and MEMORISING at least one beat of fast notes. DON’T STOP whatever happens, keep going! This visual skill can be practised actually WITHOUT the instrument. WHY? The control over the fingers is so essential while you are playing fast music, there in my practice the most effective has been working without blowing the saxophone. It needs some RETHINKING but it is so rewarding!!!! Hold a small sheet of paper in your hand and cover a group of notes after looking at them. Solfege (NAME the notes by heart) this group of notes without looking from the partition!!!!
Know all key signatures and be familiar with all diatonic scales
How important would be your theoretical knowledge about music you are about to play? Would be of course perfect to understand the backround of the music and style and how to achieve to play it correctly! It is helpful to practise scales without blowing the instrument, it is important to understand, that you need to divide the work between blowing, fingers, tonging, throat or vocal chord functioning…oh etc. So tehcnical skills like scales is all about finger work! In my practise I have got very good results working ONLY by saying notes AT THE SAME TIME moving my fingers exactly syncronised. So the work is essentially through the BRAIN, it is not only muscle of the hands! You NEED to understand the difference between that! More you practise like that more you are HOME one scales and in all keys. Also be able to start a chromatic scale from any note!
Be familiar with common metres and rhythms
This is again at first theoretical knowledge, but let’s take one of the most difficult mesures: triple metres of 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 along with asymmetrical metres are particularly challenging to read in quick tempo. Why? We need to read eights ALL THE TIME! Because as the metre indicates, not quarter notes (like 2/4 or 3/4 etc), but eight notes, I like to think about it as a inside pulsation of these metres! Keeping the pulsation of eights during different syncopations and rests is very important sight-reading game. Again I do recommend to read without blowing, because we need to divide the brainwork, we do not need to be overloaded from stress to do 5 things right a way! So the work of rhythm doesn’t need blowing, because I do not need to practice blowing!!!!! So divide the work and you HAVE LESS STRESS. Again, NAME the notes and touch the fingers on your instrument AT THE SAME TIME! You need to develop the connection between brain (sight-reading) and fingerwork on your saxophone.
Choose a tempo in which you can play the most difficult passages
How to choose the tempo to achieve the right tempo on difficult passages? First, don’t stress on a high tempos, everybody can achieve them. Because the most important factor X is TIME that you pass on that passage! Of course we professionals, start from the low tempo and we are working on “forward-backforwar”d method. It is the same principle when we practice the scales, I mean UP and DOWN – so I DO THE SAME with difficult passages! I reduce and increase the tempos, every day during one year I do practice also different scales and that particualr difficult passage. When you arrive on your GENERAL TECNICAL tempo on 100 or more, then when you see on that tempo difficult passages, I can garantie you – they are no longer difficult. So very important is also to increase your work on everyday scales also the average of your scales tempo! There is no problem, if it stays 5 months on quarter note=60, because the most important is to be stable at this tempo and feeling good, the rest follows and you will enjoy all fast tempos!
Recognise and be familiar with all the intervals, both visually and aurally
In order to memorise the notes on fast sight-reading, we train our eyes to move really fast forward. The eyes have fabulous power to be 0,3 seconds ahead of what we actually do at the moment. So this is visually the most important to start to use and to start to TRUST! Well, we need to go once more time into the thoery of music. Intervals of perfect fourth, tritones, and sevenths, both major and minor, are particularly important in sight-reading. Be on the look-out for intervals which can be notated with enharmonic notes (Ab=G#, or Db=C#, Bb=A# etc) that make the original interval look different. But as we are saxophonists, we tend to think more in # than on bemoll/flat scales. I do react quicker when I see G#, C# and Bb, I know why. in the beginning of the studies we play C major, D major, G major, F major, Bb major! So we have already practiced more C# and Bb than Db or A#!!!! But nevertheless, it depends on a person’s backround and knowledge in music.
Listen to the other parts of the ensemble
Quite often we play in diferent groups or ensembles and we need to be very certain about our own written part, certain about our line, our contribution to make alltogther sound recogniseable piece of music. As well following the style, character and whole conception of the COMPOSER. While playing focus visually at the samet ime on your own individual part, really really really in focus. Music or composition consists often of the layers: rhythm, melody, middle voices, Dynamics, tempos, metress. LISTEN to the underlying rhythm of the composition and UNJDERSTAND HOW your part fits in the ensemble. It helps to visualise mentally the score from the parts that you hear. Listen a lot of music and analyse like Mozart did in live concerts, this is also developing your perception in music. General musical knowledge of music theory will help improve the sight-reading.