Sight reading sheet music on the ocarina
When you read your native language, do you read one letter at a time, or do the words just 'pronounce' in your mind the instant you see them?
I'd guess the latter is the case, and this is the goal of sight reading. You train your subconscious mind to immediately know the rhythm, fingerings, and blowing pressures required to play a series of notes as soon as you see the sheet music.
And like any skill, the key to learning to sight read well is preparation. Start simple, and gradually build up the complexity as you get better.
Sight reading rhythms
Rhythm really is the foundation of music, and likewise is where we will start learning to sight read. The most basic aspect of rhythm is a steady pulse, like the ticking of a clock, or the 'pat, pat, pat' of walking.
As was explained in Playing the ocarina with sheet music, different rhythms are shown by the appearance of the note symbols. Different types of note last for different numbers of beats.
For the time being, we will be using two types of note, the quarter note and the half note. In 4/4 time the quarter note has a duration of one beat, and the half note has a duration of two beats.
== Need a graphic here
One of the great things about rhythms is that they tend to be very repetitive. Lets look at an example. See the groups of notes between the vertical bar lines, do you notice how some bars are the same?
If that isn't clear, here are the three distinct rhythm patterns. Notice the appearance of the notes in each of these, and see where the patters occur in the example.
By developing a fluency in playing these rhythmic fragments in isolation, you'll be able to perform them on sight, and play them in arbitrary orders just like you do with words.
There are a few ways of internalising these rhythms, from 'repeat after me', to counting:
Repeat after me rhythm games
If you have access to a music teacher or someone experienced with basic rhythms, a great way of getting started is to play some 'repeat after me' games:
- Put on a metronome and hear its repeated click, like the tick of a clock. Set it to a slow tempo like 60 bpm.
- Write out the notation of the rhythms you'll be practising on cards, where you can both see them.
- The teacher points to one of the cards and performs the rhythm by clapping along with the metronome.
- You listen to the rhythm, and repeat it, either after the teacher, or in sync with their claps.
- Once you've got a bit of experience, the teacher can point to one of the cards, and you have to clap it to the metronome by yourself.
Note that it is possible, but awkward, to do this by yourself. You'd need to use a notation software like Musescore to reproduce the audio of the rhythm fragments, listen to it, and copy them by ear.
Counting is one of the most commonly taught way of practising rhythms, and its very simple. Literally, you listen to a metronome and count the beats as you hear them. In 4/4 time, you count up to 4, like: '1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 ...'.
Reading a rhythm using counting is just a matter of holding each note for the correct number of beats. For example, if you consider this rhythm:
You'd count it like this:
- The first note spans the count '1, 2'.
- The second note is count 3.
- The third note is count 4.
Practice this repeatedly by clapping, and counting aloud untill you can feel the rhythm without needing to count it. Continue with this for the 3 rhythms above.
Sight reading pitches
Now that you've internalised the sound of some rhythms, the next step is pitch.
Pitch is represented by the vertical position of the note head on the staff. You may have previously encountered methods of learning sheet music that name the notes, but you really do not want to be naming the notes at all.
Our goal is to associate the position on the staff directly to the fingering at a subconscious level, such that you see the note, and immediately know how you would play it.
We develop this association by starting with a very narrow range, and the corresponding fingerings. To get started, here are 3 notes and their associated fingerings on an alto C ocarina. Higher notes are being used as they have a more stable pitch.
And here is an example of some simple music that you might start with. Try putting on a metronome at about 40 bpm, then read the following notes, playing one note for every metronome click.
When you are practising sight reading each piece can only be used 2 or 3 times. As as soon as you start to memorise it, you won't be reading it any more.
Thus you need a large amount of music to practice which has been carefully difficulty graded. There are a few options:
- Crafted exercises. This is where the traditional 'method book' would come in, and there are some more exercises in Beginner sight reading exercises.
- Compose!. Get some music staff paper, and make your own exercises, or if you have a friend learning with you, make exercises to challenge each other.
- Random generation. There are tools online that generate random sheet music letting you specify the key, range, and rhythms to use. It won't sound very musical but it's a great way of making a lot of exercises with low effort.
Remember that pitch changes with blowing pressure. You may find it helpful to start your practice by playing long tones of the different notes, using a tuner to check their intonation.
Increasing the complexity
As you keep practising these rhythms and notes for a few days, you'll find that it becomes effortless for you. It's then time to add a few more rhythms and increase the range of notes, until you know all of the notes within the range of your ocarina.
I'd recommend sticking initially to the notes of your ocarina's primary diatonic scale, and after that learning the other scales following the circle of fifths.
With only the natural notes you'll still have a lot of music that you can play. Large collections of carefully difficulty graded music is very useful. The grades 1 through 8 ABRSM exam books for flute or recorder make a great point of reference regarding difficulty scaling.
However it is very important that you don't add too many new notes too quickly. When learning to sight read it is critical to work with music that is within a difficulty level that you can play pretty easily.
If you ever find yourself struggling, you have increased the difficulty too much, and should back off a bit.
learning to sight read is a lengthy process of gradually building complexity, yet it pays off big time in the long term. You will be able to effortlessly read and play any music you encounter that fits in the range of your instrument.
What we have explored here is admittedly basic, but these fundamentals hold true up to sight reading very complex music.
The following sections of this book expand on the basics, discussing additional details on reading rhythms, playing music with key signatures, and identifying music that fits within the range of your ocarina.
The book 'teaching beginners' by Paul Harris introduces a similar method of learning to sight read, with some additional detail, and is worth reading.