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Violist Karen Dreyfus on How to Improve Your Sight-Reading Skills

”How do we get better at sight-reading?" We threw the question over to American violist and pedagogue Karen Dreyfus to seek her advice.

Paganini was reportedly one of the best sight-readers there ever was — there was nothing he couldn't do or play on the spot. He was, of course, one of the rare exceptions. How do we get better at sight-reading, an activity much dreaded by so many musicians? VC reader Sebastian was keen to know.

What are some sight-reading tips that you know of? How have they been working for you? Please leave a comment below, we are keen to know your thoughts.



Violist Karen Dreyfus Shares Some Crucial Tips on How We Can Improve Our Sight-Reading Skills


Dear Sebastian:

“What do they say in the sports world? “Just do it!” One can also say that this is the very key to sight-reading music. Musicians spend so much time in the practice room perfecting their technique, analyzing musical ideas and learning the repertoire for their instrument. However, rarely do they spend enough time sight-reading music.

I could state the obvious about sight-reading; scan the entire passage, start with the key/time signature, follow the shape of the line, look for unusual rhythms, changing meters, figure out a fingering pattern that works for the passage, observe the dynamics, etc.

Musicians that are adept at sight-reading have honed this skill over many years and enjoy the discovery of new pieces. One should not be intimidated by reading new music in front of their peers.

I suggest that students sight-read music both at home and with other colleagues. If you have access to a library, check out different composers’ works of solo, chamber and orchestra parts or download music that you have not played. Place these works on the music stand and go for it!

One of the great joys of sight-reading is having chamber music parties where you can read through the vast repertoire of chamber music written by composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and other greats. Sight-reading is such an invaluable tool that will only improve the more you do it. There is an endless amount of music waiting to be discovered by you.

I am wishing everyone at the Violin Channel a wonderful summer filled with all the music you love to play and listen to.

Happy sight-reading!

Best wishes,

–Karen Dreyfus


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Karen Dreyfus ranks high among the leading American violists of the current era. She maintains a richly varied career, dedicated to concertizing in solo, orchestral and chamber music settings, to her wide-ranging recordings, and to teaching. Dreyfus began violin studies from an early age with her father, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Soon adopting the viola, her teachers included Leonard Mogill, Heidi Castleman and Martha Katz. Dreyfus subsequently graduated from Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Karen Tuttle and Michael Tree.

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