Are you tired of constantly running out of music to sight-read? Wouldn’t it be nice if you always had music ready for you to play? Read on to find out what simple steps you can take to never run out of music to sight-read.
If you’re an avid sight-reader and gobble up music in no time, then you’ll know how annoying it is to run out of music and to have to think of what to play next. Being a music-gobbler myself, I’ve encountered this problem many times over the years, but I’ve developed a system which allows me to always have music to sight-read which means I can just get on with it and sight-read to my heart’s content!
What is this system I’m using?
Let’s find out!
System to never run out of music to sight-read
The system I want to show you involves the least amount of effort, money and time over time and therefore makes it much more sustainable. It’s also the most convenient setup I can think of.
If you prefer to only use physical sheet music instead, that’s fine. You can still apply many of the steps I give here but bear in mind that it will end up costing you a lot of money and time (time to get to the shops or for the music to be delivered if you buy online).
What you’ll need
For this system to work, you’ll need the following:
– a tablet
I recommend an iPad (11″ or 12.9″) as you’ll have more score-reading and music-related apps to choose from. It’s portable, versatile and allows you to do many other things besides reading scores. It’s well worth the investment.
– a score-reading app
ForScore is the score-reading app that I use for reading and annotating scores. Amongst many other things, ForScore allows you to manually flick the pages like a book or turn the pages with a page-turning device, as opposed to scrolling up and down, which is bothersome when sight-reading or playing.
– a Stylus pen
A Stylus pen, or Apple pencil, is optional but useful to have if you want to annotate scores.
– a page-turning device
A page-turning device like the Firefly by PageFlip is also optional but great to have if you want to turn pages hands-free and sight-read without having to stop at every page turn. It comes in very handy, especially if you’re an accompanist.
– an Internet connection
You’ll need the Internet to find and download scores.
– Notes app or a notebook
You’ll need this to write down a list of composers you want to sight-read.
This system won’t last long unless you have curiosity! Being curious about the music of known and lesser-known composers will keep you wanting to read more and more music so let curiosity drive you.
Now that we’ve covered the equipment and attitude required let’s look at the steps you need to take.
Step #1: Make a list of composers
First and foremost, make a list of composers you want to sight-read. Start writing down the names of your favourite composers. Try to think of as many composers as possible. The more composers you can think of, the merrier!
Tip: Type out the list in Notes so that you can access the list on all your devices at any time.
Then, as you go about your daily life, add more composers as they crop up. For example, if you come across a piano piece you like in a collection of pieces, on social media, in a forum or at a live concert, find out who the composer is and write down the name.
It doesn’t even need to be a piano piece. You might hear a piece for orchestra or clarinet quintet that makes your ears perk up – write down the composer’s name. Chances are, you’ll find piano music by this composer.
Step #2: Find music to sight-read
Now that you’ve got a long list of composers, the obvious next step is to find music by these composers.
My No. 1 go-to online resource is IMSLP which I’ve mentioned in The Best Sight-Reading Books for Piano. IMSLP has thousands of scores you can download for free. You’ll find the music of all the famous composers and of lesser-known composers provided that their music is out of copyright.
N.B.: For music composed in the last 50 years or so, you may need to look on Scribd, Amazon or other sheet music websites.
On your tablet, type “piano imslp” in Google and click on the result that reads “Category: For piano – IMSLP”. Once on the page, you’ll see a list of all the piano compositions in alphabetical order.
If you feel adventurous, pick pieces at random, or in alphabetical order and download them. But if you have a particular composer in mind, type the composer’s name in the search box marked “Search category…” on the right-hand side to see a list of all the piano compositions by the composer.
Step #3: Download the music
Click on the piece(s) that interests you, scroll down to the “Sheet Music” section and choose an edition you like (you can preview by clicking on “View”). Download the score by clicking on “Complete Score”.
If you’re not an IMSLP member, you may need to wait 15 seconds before the file can be downloaded. If you don’t want to wait 15 seconds each time you download a file, you can become a member for as little as US$22 a year.
OR you can find free piano sheet music which you can easily search by sight-reading difficulty, number of sharps or flats, composer, title or style on this page: Free Piano Sheet Music (Searchable)
Tip #1: Aim to download one week’s worth of music. For example, if you normally sight-read one piece a day and practice five days a week, download at least five pieces.
Tip #2: Make your choice of pieces as varied as possible; rather than picking pieces by the same composer, pick pieces by different composers in contrasting genres. For example, choose a Baroque piece, a classical piece, a romantic piece, a modern piece and a jazz piece.
Step #4: Copy the music to ForScore
Download the sheet music to your tablet and click on the Share button in the top right-hand corner then click on “Copy to ForScore”. The file will automatically open in ForScore.
Step #5: Create setlists
Once you have a list of pieces in ForScore, create setlists by clicking on the 3-line icon at the top left-hand corner then the + sign. Give the setlist a name then add pieces to the list by clicking on the + sign and selecting the pieces from the list of pieces.
I recommend that you create four setlists to keep everything organised entitled:
– “To sight-read” for pieces you intend on sight-reading;
– “Done” for pieces you’ve sight-read;
– “To return to” for pieces you want to sight-read again; and
– “To learn” for pieces you want to learn properly.
Step #6: Sight-read
Congrats, you’ve done all the hard work for the week! Now you can relax and sight-read the pieces you’ve added. Open the “To sight-read” setlist you’ve created in ForScore and sight-read away.
At the end of your sight-reading session, update the setlists accordingly, i.e. remove the pieces from your “to sight-read” setlist (by editing the setlist) and add these to the “Done”, “To return to” or “To learn” setlists.
N.B.: Alternatively, you can remove the piece from the “To sight-read” setlist if you no longer wish to keep it.
Step #7: Repeat
To always have music on the go, you’ll need to repeat the above steps periodically. I suggest you replenish your list at least once a week. You could do it every Sunday evening or Monday morning so you’re set for the week.
Other ways to supplement your “To sight-read” list
Using IMSLP and ForScore is just one of many ways to collect music to sight-read.
Here are a few other ways:
Get yourself collections of pieces by your favourite composers and/or graded repertoire pieces online or in a music shop. To keep track of your progress, use a bookmark to mark where you left off and add dog ears to the pieces you want to learn or come back to.
Scribd is a paid subscription service (US$8.99 a month) where you can access books, audiobooks, documents, magazines and sheet music. You can use the Scribd app to read scores directly on your tablet. You can also save scores and add them to lists. The nice thing about Scribd is that it remembers where you left off and recommends similar items, which is an easy way of finding more music to sight-read.
If you have a Kindle, you can use the Kindle app on your tablet to access scores bought on Amazon in the Kindle edition. Like Scribd, the app remembers where you left off and recommends similar items.
Pianist Magazine on the Pocketmags app
If you have a subscription with Pianist Magazine, which is a fabulous resource for pianists, you can use the Pocketmags app to read the magazine on your tablet and sight-read the 50 or so pages of scores provided in each edition. On the first page of each piece, you’ll find a short introductory paragraph about the piece as well as a Play Track button, you can click to hear a recording of the piece. Note that the app is not compatible with page-turning pedals, so you’ll need to flick the pages manually.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea!
In a nutshell
Be on the lookout for new music to sight-read, be curious, regularly save lists of pieces on several platforms (reading apps and physical books) and enjoy always having new music to discover each day!
Now, I’m curious to hear what YOUR current system is. Do YOU have a system and if so, what does it look like? Please share in the comments below.
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