Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum - Part 4

Rhythm Practice Methods (2)

The secret to success in sight-reading lies in our ability to decipher difficulties before we play. This is especially true of rhythm. With rhythm, we cannot play what we cannot hear. Take time, therefore, to find an appropriate tempo, search the score for difficult rhythms, and hear them in your mind before you play.

The three practice methods below are very helpful in laying the groundwork for a successful rhythmic reading, and can be used throughout all four of the modules on rhythm. It is worth repeating that we make improvement in sight-reading not just by playing lots of pieces, but by creating new habits, thinking in new ways, and practising new skills until they become engrained. Mastering these practice methods will do much more to improve your sight-reading than simply playing through the pieces in the modules in a habitual, unconsidered way.

The basic procedure is simple – we play only the notes that fall on the beats, and none of what comes in between them. If there are rests, or notes that last longer than a beat, we of course observe these while maintaining our regular pulse. Below is the beginning of a sonata by Haydn (in the module on Dotted Rhythms).

The only potential rhythmic difficulties here are the dotted notes, but we can only play these rhythms accurately in the context of a regular pulse. Therefore, before playing it as written, play only the notes that fall on beats one and two, in order to firmly establish the pulse in your mind. Do this in the tempo at which you would play the original.

If the outline you played resembled the one written below, you’ve got the idea. It’s very simple, of course, but this is the framework upon which the entire rhythmic structure is built. Practising in this way ensures that our pulse remains regular, and trains our eyes to locate the beats on the page, in tempo, as we play.

After playing a quarter-note outline, we might next play an eighth-note outline. Since the left hand in this excerpt has a nearly continuous eighth-note flow, all we need to do is select the right-hand notes that coincide with the left hand. Try doing this from the original score above, then compare your version to the one below.

Having established a stable rhythmic framework with these two outlines, it should now be much easier to fill in the remaining notes. The only remaining issue is the accurate subdivision of the beat in dotted rhythms, which we discuss in the introduction to the module on Dotted Rhythms.

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