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Tips for Sight Reading Violin

Over the years, I've provided guidance to numerous students on audition strategies, and one key area of focus has always been sight reading.

Today, I'm excited to delve deep into this topic and share a simple system I've developed for mastering sight reading. While I'll address audition strategies in a later video, let's focus on the basics of sight reading for now. Remember, a strong understanding of time and key signatures will significantly enhance your grasp of this system.

The 3-Step Approach to Sight Reading

When you're about to sight read, especially during an audition, there are three primary steps to keep in mind:

  1. Ask yourself: What is in your hand?
  2. Ask yourself: What is in your foot?
  3. Perform an action: Tap your foot and silently play the notes with your left hand for 2-4 measures. Repeat this action until you're instructed to start playing aloud.

1. What's in Your Hand?

Understanding what's in your hand is perhaps the most complex part of the process. The essence is to instantly recognize the key signature and adjust your fingers accordingly. Consider this: the default finger pattern on your violin is G major. Any deviation from this requires you to adjust your default position.

  • For instance, in G Major, you'll find a high 2nd finger on the G and D strings and a low 2nd finger on the A and E strings. This setup is due to the single sharp in G Major, which impacts your 2nd finger on the D and 1st finger on the E.

  • With two sharps, as in D Major, you need to adjust additional fingers. Here, you'll encounter the F# and the addition of C#, affecting the 3rd finger on the G and another finger on the A.

To master this, practice with different key signatures. Beginners can focus on signatures with up to 3 or 4 flats or sharps. Here are some practice methods:

  • Use flash cards featuring varied key signatures. Visualize the impact on your left hand.
  • Use a scales book. Practice each scale to understand the effect of each key signature on your fingers.

2. What's in Your Foot?

This step is simpler. The trick lies in the time signature, specifically the bottom number. If it's a 2, your foot should represent a half note; if 4, a quarter note; and if 8, an eighth note.

For instance, with a 3/4 time signature, your foot should represent the quarter note. Always remember: What's in your foot?

Here's a chart to understand to what pulse to tap your feet.

3. Sync Your Left Hand with Your Foot

While tapping your foot, sync your left hand to match the foot for at least 2 measures. This step ensures organization in your playing. Take as much time as provided to align your foot and hand, ensuring a rhythmic and organized performance.

  • Key Point: Never stop your foot. Maintaining a consistent rhythm is essential, even if you miss a note. This consistent rhythm ensures you remain organized throughout your performance.

  • It's common for students to lose their internal rhythm during sight reading, leading to disorganization and mistakes. Thus, always maintain the rhythm for a cohesive performance.

  • While slurs, dynamic markings, and tied notes are crucial, prioritize maintaining your basic rhythm and hitting the correct notes.

In Conclusion

To excel in sight reading:

  1. Recognize the key signature and adjust your fingers.
  2. Understand the time signature and decide the rhythm for your foot.
  3. Sync your left hand with your foot rhythmically, as many times as needed.