"TELL ME THE STORY"- 10 Steps Of Mental Preparation
- Start your music sight reading practice with the simplest, easiest and shortest musical examples you can find. A couple of measures will do.
- The following 10 steps are to be done in your head, away from the piano. You can hum, conduct, wave you arms or whatever you like but not play anything yet.
So go and get a nice cup of something and plop down in a comfortable chair, and let's get started!
I ask my students to tell me (“the story”) about everything they see in the score starting at the beginning of the staff:
Check the notes in the score . In what range are you playing this piece? Is it high or low?
Pianists also need to scan the score for what hand to use, if the hands are played together or separately.
2. Key signature:
Observe the key signature, (the sharps or flats at the beginning of the staff).
- Look at the last note to find out if the piece is in major or minor.
- You need to see what notes are being altered in this tonality with sharps and flats. Scan the score quickly to see where notes that are being raised or lowered with the key signature are hiding.
- Also check for any other accidentals (sharps, flats or naturals) that will be written where they are used.
3. Time signature:
Observe the time signature and what meter it indicates.
Try to feel the meter; for example if it is in 3, count 1-2-3 a few times with the emphasis on 1.
4. Rhythm patterns:
Are there any complicated rhythm patterns? If you know rhythm syllables, it is easy to quickly say the rhythms that seem tricky, otherwise count the rhythm patterns.
You don't need to do it in all the piece, just focus on where the rhythm seems more complex than the rest.
5. Melodic Outline:
See how the melody moves. Do the notes move with steps, skips and/ or repeats? If it moves with skips, how big? What intervals do you see?
How many phrases can you see? Imagine singing/playing each phrase, and the "breathing" you need to do between each.
- Singers and anyone playing a wind instrument would also get an idea on how fast they'd need to play. Since they have to breathe, a phrase couldn't go on forever!
- String players would have to plan the up or down bow in general.
- For pianists; you need to plan where to lift your hand from the keys ("breathe") and where not to.
Should the piece be played staccato or legato? Are there any places where you need to use any other articulation like portato, or detached notes?
Again, in your head get a “feel” for how that feels to play or sing.
If you need help with ear training, Emedia has a handy software for that.
Is the piece loud or soft? Are there any crescendos or diminuendos?
Think and feel how this would sound in your mind. Plan the dynamic "outline" of the piece.
Even if the speed of a piece you play prim a’ vista should always be very much slower than the proper tempo, the tempo marking also gives you an idea about the overall character of a piece.
For example a piece marked Allegretto (a bit fast) gives you a completely different picture than Grave (very slow and serious).
If the piece has a title it might give you an idea in what way or style to play the piece, there might also be an explanation somewhere in the beginning of the score, like Giocoso (jokeful) for example.
If you now have a clear picture in your head about the piece (or part of) you're ready to continue with the preparation at the piano.
Continue to: Music Sight Reading Techniques, Part 2 >>>