Forget what Meghan Trainor might have you believe: when it comes to sight reading, it’s “all about that” – beat!
At first, many music students are so focused on figuring out what the notes are, they completely forget about maintaining a steady beat or pulse. And yet, without a pulse, music is dead!
But how can I sight read with a steady beat you might wonder?
Step 1: Tap into the beat
A good way to start is to become aware of steady beats around you and they are everywhere: ticking clocks, all kinds of machinery and particularly present of course in recorded music.
So the next time you attend a live performance, watch TV or listen to the radio; tap your foot, clap your hands or nod your head to find the steady beat. People around you may raise an eyebrow but that’s okay, you can blame me!
Step 2: Count before you start playing
Okay, so you can hear the beat in other people’s music but what about when you sight read?
A method that has always helped me and my students is a slow, two bar count in before we begin.
Take note of the time signature. How many beats in the bar should there be? Four? Okay, let’s begin: “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.”
Remember that the speed you do your count in, is the speed that you should maintain throughout the piece so don’t start too quickly at first. It really helps to emphasise the first beat of the bar in your counting and it is always best to physically “feel” the beat by tapping your foot or nodding your head.
Step 3: Keep going!
Now here comes the really important bit! Are you paying attention? DON’T STOP!
Maintain the counting aloud (unless you’re a singer or wind player of course). Keep tapping or nodding at a steady pace. It’s up to your fingers (or mouth) to keep up. The beat (pulse) is the “master” and the notes are the “slaves” that must fit into that basic rhythmic framework!
Wow! That was hard!
Yes, learning to count aloud is challenging. Learning to get to the end without correcting mistakes and letting the beat slow down is really tough. It takes time and patience. Such discipline simply goes against our natural human instincts but is the single, best way to improve your skills as a sight reader! Remember, from now on, you are a “slave” to the beat!!!
The awesome beatnik photo above is courtesy of Amy Silva Photography.