Organists who struggle with sight-reading, often try to perfect their skills
and start playing unfamiliar pieces from their favorite collections regularly.
However, while doing so, they often have trouble looking ahead at the organ
score, playing fluently and without mistakes. In this article, I will give you
the advice on what is the best way to practice sight-reading on the organ.
The problem of looking ahead while playing new music on the organ is really
an important one. Inability to look ahead while playing and unfamiliar music
leads to mistakes, lack of fluency etc.
Concerning the issue of how many beats do you have to look ahead while
playing new music I would say that it depends upon tempo. The slower the tempo, the less beats you have to look ahead.
In an ordinary tempo of 60 beats per minute, approximately 1 measure is
enough to look ahead. But if you take a really slow tempo like 40 beats per
minute, then looking 2 beats ahead are usually fine. However, in the pieces
where the meter is 2/2 there are 2 beats of 2 half notes per measure. So that
means while practicing slowly, you need to be looking ahead 1 measure.
In addition, it is better to lean backwards a bit while sitting at the keyboard. Sitting this way will allow you to see the big picture well while sight-reading at a normal tempo. It is like driving a car - the faster you go, to further ahead you are supposed to look.
I also recommend when you prepare to play a new material, you have to
mentally prepare for it as well. Don't open the score and jump right into sight-reading without the proper preparation. Take some 20-30 seconds to look
over the piece, notice key signature (and key), meter, try to discover the more
difficult measures in terms of chromaticisms or rhythms, such as syncopations
etc. This way you will be prepared for what is coming.
Then when you start playing the piece, try to look a some 2 beats ahead. But
don't worry, if this is going to be a difficult task at first. After several
months, when you have progressed far enough, your note-reading ability will
become much better and you will be able to look ahead easily. It is just a
natural process of practicing.
Finally, don't make the mistake of playing all parts together right from the
beginning. Unless you can sight-read fluently and without mistakes in notes,
rhythms and articulation all parts together in a slow tempo, I strongly recommend practicing separate voices first, then taking two various combinations of two parts combined, three voices, and only then the entire four-part texture.
Use the above tips, find the collection of organ music that you love, and start sight-reading it one page a day for best results today. Remember that only 15 minutes of wise and regular practice in playing new music is enough to begin to see some tremendous changes in your ability to play new music at sight.
By the way, if you really want to develop unbeatable sight-reading skills, check out my systematic Organ Sight-Reading Master Course which is intended for organists who want to perfect such seemingly supernatural abilities as playing fugues or any other advanced organ composition at sight. To successfully complete the practice material of this course will only take 15 minutes a day of regular and wise practice but you will learn to fluently sight-read any piece of organ music effortlessly.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.