Do you like challenges? Are you looking for ideas to take your sight-reading to the next level? Then read on for a list of 10 sight-reading challenges.
Doing challenges is a fun way of improving any skill. So why not try a sight-reading challenge?
Just make sure that the challenge you pick is not too difficult or too easy for you. Choose a challenge just outside your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’ll feel frustrated or bored.
Note that these challenges, while intended for pianists, can be done on any pitched instrument.
1. Sight-read with a metronome
Set your metronome (I recommend the MetroTimer app) to a given tempo and try sight-reading the whole piece at that tempo. If you do well, you could try again at a faster tempo. Try to get as close to the required tempo as possible. If there is no tempo marking, think of an appropriate tempo for the piece. The key here is to stay in tempo. Don’t worry if you make mistakes.
2. Play every single dynamic
Play every dynamic marking, including the crescendos and diminuendos.
3. Play as musically as possible
This means observing the dynamics, the expressive markings, the articulation, playing with rubato if appropriate, etc. The aim is to capture the essence of the piece.
4. Record yourself on camera
Something funny happens the moment we hit the record button – we suddenly get nervous and make more mistakes. This is a great challenge to do if you want to see how you sight-read under pressure (aspiring accompanists, this one is for you!). Watch the recording you made and make a list of the things you like and the things you can improve for next time.
5. Sight-read in a style you’re not familiar with
For example, if you only ever play classical music, try a jazzy piece, or something modern. Try a composer you’ve never heard of or played before. You might find something of your liking.
6. Sight-read a piece with many sharps or flats
A piece with 5 sharps? Why not? Give it a shot. It may be harder to read, but you’ll notice that pieces with many black keys are actually more comfortable to play than keys with few black keys. Go to the Free Piano Sheet Music page and pick a piece.
7. Sight-read without looking down
No matter how much you want to look down, fight the urge and keep looking at the score. Use the black keys to guide you. You’ll see how much more fluent you can play. Ask a friend or a relative to count how many times you look down. It might be more times than you think. Aim to play the piece without looking down once.
8. Play along with a recording
Find a recording of the piece you’re sight-reading on YouTube and see if you can keep up with the recording. This is another great challenge for aspiring accompanists.
Tip: You can change the playback speed of the recording by clicking on the Settings button of the video.
9. Play a fast piece slowly or a slow piece quickly
Just because it says “Allegro” or “Largo” at the start of a piece doesn’t mean that you have to sight-read it at that tempo. To spice things up, you could play a fast piece slowly and a slow piece fast. This is a great way to test your sense of rhythm and your counting skills.
10. Do a 40 piece challenge
Talking of challenges, have you heard of the 40 piece challenge? It’s a challenge that Australian piano teacher and composer Elissa Milne began to combat the exam-oriented paths many Australian teachers take their students on. She believed that “piano students would develop better skills and deeper understanding if they learned more music”.
The idea is to learn 40 pieces a year. The pieces can and should be of varying degrees of difficulty. In this way, some of the pieces will take one week to learn while others will take 2-3 weeks. Hence the number 40 in the 52 weeks of the year.
You can, of course, pick any number you want but pick an achievable number.
Over to you
Which challenge(s) are YOU going to try? Can you think of any other sight-reading challenges? Let me know in the comments below.