Finding piano music is easy but what about finding music for sight-reading? How do you choose music for sight-reading and how do you know if a piece of music is at the right level for you?
In this article, I’m going to give you 9 things to look out for when choosing music for sight-reading so that you don’t waste time trying to sight-read pieces that are way too difficult for you.
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Probably one of the most important things to look out for is the rhythm so scan the music and have a look at how vertically aligned the music is. Are the hands mostly playing at the same time like in this example:
Is it pretty straightforward with just crotchets and quavers? Or do you have a lot of syncopation or polyrhythms? What about the note values? Do they keep on changing from triplets to quavers to dotted rhythm like in the following example:
Have a look and see how straightforward the rhythm looks.
Another thing to look out for is the density of the music. How dense is the music? Is every beat made up of many notes with chords and arpeggios like this:
Or is it relatively thin with maybe one note in both hands like this:
Also look at the texture. Is the piece made up of a melody and accompaniment like in this example:
Or is it mainly made up of countermelodies? In other words, is it contrapuntal like the music of Bach:
And if it is contrapuntal, how many voices does it have? Just keep in mind that the more voices you have, the harder it’s going to be to sight-read.
Have a look at the tonality. In other words, check the key signature. While it’s not necessarily harder to play something with many sharps or flats it does make it much harder to sight-read so have a look at the key signature. Also look at whether it’s predictable, as in is it in a major or minor key or is it made up of modes? And what about accidentals? Is the piece littered in accidentals like in the example below or is it fairly straightforward?
The structure is another thing to look out for. Is the piece made up of sections that repeat? For example, is it in ternary form with the structure ABA or is everything different? Are there any repeated patterns in the base or any repeated chord progressions?
If you can spot these, it’s going to be easier to sight-read because the more repetitions you have, the easier it will be.
Also have a look at the range of notes. Are the notes within a five-finger position or do they go beyond that? And if they do, are there any leaps? Does it move from one register to another or does it stay fairly consistent in one part of the piano? The wider the range, the harder it’s going to be to sight-read.
Also take note of the articulation. Have a look at whether there are lots of slurs, whether there are any staccato notes and more importantly, whether the hands do different things. Say you have slurs in one hand but staccato notes in the other. It can be hard to play, not so much to read but to play so watch out for that.
Also have a look at how much detail you have in the piece. Does it have a lot of ornaments, trills and runs like in the example below or is it fairly straightforward with no ornaments whatsoever?
And lastly, ask yourself how familiar you are with the style of the piece. If it’s something like a waltz, have you played waltzes before? Because if you have, then it’s going to be easier to sight-read. Or if it’s a jazz piece, have you played jazz before? If you haven’t, then it’s going to be harder to work out how to read it and what to expect.
Something you don’t need to take into account is the tempo. If you see Presto or Allegro at the top of the piece, you don’t need to worry about that because the aim is not necessarily to be able to play the piece up to tempo. You can get just as much benefit from sight-reading a fast piece at a slower tempo then sight-reading slow pieces so I wouldn’t worry too much about the tempo of the piece.
Those were the 9 things to look out for when choosing music for sight reading. Next time you go and search for music, think of these elements that I mentioned in this article and if for any reason you still have trouble deciding what to pick then I suggest you go for graded repertoire books like the Essential Keyboard Repertoire series that I mention in The Best Sight-Reading Books for Piano because then you have an idea of the level you can expect.
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