Jen Cluff ~ Flute sightreading

Canadian Flutist and Teacher

Sight-reading for Flute

Beginning sightreading

Intermediate sightreading

Advanced sightreading sources

Beginning sightreading

Take a book of flute music that's easy as pie for you to play (your old beginner books are fine, or easy etudes you did three years ago, or anything at all that has big half-notes, and easy key signatures) and do the following every day for at least 10 minutes:

1. Scan over the easy music noting: key signature, rhythms, tonguings and slurrings, dynamics and all other musical markings.

2. Imagine what the piece may sound like if you put a firm, steady pulse under it, and sing along silently in your mind, in order to set the pulse to an easy one for you.

3. Play the piece as convincingly perfectly as possible, always looking ahead to the notes beyond the note you're currently on. Make every dynamic immediately where it is written and keep the pulse no matter what.
(skip over mistakes and keep going. Don't stop no matter what.)

4. Play it over once more making all the corrections, and/or playing it slightly faster.

5. Next day, choose a piece that's just 1 or 2 degrees harder.

By the end of a year you'll be sightreading up to 5 #s and 5bs, and you'll have the fastest music-reading eyes in the west.

The key is to do it everyday.


Intermediate sightreading

Q: I have to sight read at my next audition, and I get 30 seconds to study the few hardest measures in the music.  Does anyone else have a strategy for dealing with this sort of obstacle?

A: when talking about required sight-reading for audition purposes, as an "obstacle" ;>) we have to ask ourselves three things:

1. Why is sightreading a useful thing to learn?

2.  What is the level that this ensemble sight reads at? (Band level Three? Grade VIII Conservatory Flute? Level 7 from the US Band Audtiions handout? etc. Find out from the audition infomation people
and ask for typical level sample pages or previous excerpts used.)

Knowing what level of reading will help us direct you more precisely in how to tackle the sight-reading prep.

You also want to ask yourself:
3. What can I practice between now and the audition that will put me at the required sight reading level for this particular audition?
1. Why is sightreading useful?
Answering this question will tell you what you personally need to work
Sightreading is useful because it allows an ensemble to spend their time on the fine points of music making (interpretation and playing in tune and perfectly together) instead of using precious rehearsal time while the less-skilled members learn the rhythms, notes and dynamics.
Learning by rote and by example takes too long---and each player should be quick at interpreting the written musical symbols on the page in front of them; even reading it as fast as they read a sentence in english.

Therefore to excel, you need to have, (in order of importance):

- Constant musical pulse (practice with metronome)

- Exacting rhythm (clap, tap or sing the rhythm of sightreading
with your teacher's help until you can do it on your own.)

- Correctly chosen tempo ( Understanding of: Allegro, Andante, Largo etc)

- The right notes with good tone.

- Correct articulation

- Correct dynamics (practiced so you can keep great tone and tuning no matter what dynamic you have to play at.)

- A good sense of musical line (flowing forward musically with; not choppy or with unexpected breathing, stumbling or rhythmic "time-outs" or hiccups.)

- A good sense of phrasing (rising in intensity to the peak of each phrase and finishing the phrase with sensitivity)

If you develop each of these qualities by adding 20 minutes or more a day of sightreading to your daily practice, you'll soon be ready to sightread more advanced music.

2.  What is the level that this ensemble sight reads at? (Band level
3? Grade 8 Conservatory flute? etc. Find out from the auition
infomation people)
If you can ascertain what level of sightreading is expected, you might be able to get the past year's sightreading so that you can find out whether the sightreading is over your head, or well within your grasp.

Usually, if an ensemble is at level "4" the sightreading will be at a level "3". Or if the flutes are all grade 8, then the sight reading will be at the grade 6 level.
I don't know where you're from, but the those in charge usually can furnish you with some idea of whether the sightreading will only be 4/4 or 3/4 or 2/4 in meter; whether there will be mixtures of sixteenths and eighths, or smaller values, and whether there will be extreme dynamics, or tempo changes etc.

Having this info. in advance means your teacher can help you find several excerpts to work on that will be at a similar level so you can work out stumbling block areas in advance.

Call the info. number of the group that's holding the audition and ask if they could describe the features of the sightreading pieces that are typically chosen. They may not be able to tell you, but on the other hand, some groups have a file of pieces used in previous years and have no problem offering to set a few aside for you to pick up so you and your teacher can be more well informed as to the group's expectations prior to the audition.
3. What can I practice between now and the audition that will put me at the required sight reading level?
Take old beginner books, easy pieces, easy duets and easy studies that you have from when you were younger, and use little bits of them as sighreading excercises. Here's the method:

- Choose a chunk of music that's a few lines long, and make sure it's very easy at first (simple, steady rhythms in half-notes, quarters etc.) Set the metronome (not too fast) and mentally go through the excerpt for PULSE.

Beat ONE should be heavier than any other number in your mind.
ONE-2-3, ONE-2-3 etc.

- Mentally pre-hear the length of each rhythmic value in your head as you read along. Keep the metronome going for the rest of the exercises.

- Now start at the top of the excerpt again and verbally articulate the rhythm: "Too tu tu TOOOOOOO" etc. (or if you know how to clap or tap rhythms, do this instead.)

- Next, play the excerpt through, looking ahead by a note, so that you're always seeing the NEXT note beyond the one you're playing. - Play the excerpt through and widen your eye's perception so that you see all dynamic markings. Add all these dynamics. Go back and make a point of breathing more deeply at the  breathing points before those p rases where you noticed that you ran out of breath. Dynamics and breath control have to be guaged ahead of time, so practice going back and correcting at this stage.

Ask yourself: Did I look ahead, or did I just not make it to the end of a phrase with good tone because I didn't see it coming?

 - Play the excerpt through and check for all articulations (tonguings and slurrings.)and areas of weak tone quality. Circle the problems and make a mental note of them, and then go back and fix each one systematically.
Many flutists play slurs when they should have tongued and vis versa,
and don't even notice that they are doing it over and over again line after line.

- Play the excerpt through and put all the natural phrasing in (rise to climax, fall to gentle endings, or rise gradually to climax over many bars, and connect high-excitement level phrases with a quick breath.) When you're satisfied with the phrasing, turn the metronome off.

- Play the now almost completely corrected excerpt through and check for the correct speed that you "feel" would make it come to life.
Does it give a metronome speed?
Is it a march? Is it a walse? Is it a lament?
Is the music courageous? Depressed? What kind of statement is the
music making?
See if you can choose a tempo that reflects that sentiment perfectly.

In time, with steady practice, any intermediate musician can become a fabulous sightreader, but it needs to be practiced regulary, or even daily for music reading to become as quick as word-reading.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes, or what problems you run into. Jen :>)

Sarah writes:
>  If your rhythm is solid and you are correctly interpreting the style and dynamics and catching the accidentals, it really won't matter too much if you flub a fingering in the "hardest measure."  To sum it up, play the music, not just
> the notes!  What do you think, Jen?


Advanced sightreading sources

> I'd love to hear from some of the upper level players or teachers among us about what *you* use to practice your own sight reading,

If you want to develop a library of great sight reading material at the intermediate to advanced levels, why not try one or more of the following?:
1. Ultimate Sheetmusic; Flute Solos, or Flute Methods, Studies and Ensembles. see:
These two Cd-roms allow you to print out hundreds of pieces of flute music including Bach Concert Studies, Altes Studies, Hughes, Kohler and Andersen studies; tons of great duets (including Mozart and a huge number of Kuhlaus, but also Kohler, Quantz, Telemann etc), and on the flute solos CD-rom, a wide range of solos from Baroque to Romantic.

I tend to sightread the etudes, but having solos to switch off to for sightreading is also fun.
2. Orchestra Musician's Library CD-roms. Full Flute I, II, and piccolo parts for orchestral works from Beethoven and Brahms to Bruckner and Mahler.
These three CD-roms contains hundreds of major symphonic works
Sightreading while playing along with CDs of profesional orchestras is amazingly fun.
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3. For Opera lovers, John Wion has published ten books of opera excerpts. See link for details of which operas are in which books and choose your favourites.

I take the opera CDs out of the library, and sort out the important bits for further study.

4. Tape recorder duets: Using collections of standard flute duets available from various publishers (a list of good duets can be found at
faverep.htm) and create live duets by sightreading flute II into tape recorder using metronome, and then sightreading part I overtop live during playback.

Fun duets: Blowin' a Storm by Mike Mower.

5. Sightreading for fun with playalong CD:

Celtic and Renaissance music for flute by Jessica Walsh/Allan Alexander see:

Music Minus One with CD:
Recommended: Jeffrey Zook and Julius Backer recordings. Also Vivaldi Concerti.
De Haske Playalong series: ex: "Moments of Swing" for flute and CD. Dowani Playalongs: Ex: Pergolesi Concerto G+ and other works.
Hope these ideas get you started.
Jennifer Cluff
Principal Flute, Vancouver Island Symphony



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