Learn to Play Ukulele: What is Sight-Reading and How Do You Do It?


As you go on your music journey with your ukulele, you may encounter the term sight-reading. What is it, how can it benefit you as a ukulele player and how do you go about doing it? We’ve got you covered!


What is sight-reading?

In music, sight-reading refers to the ability to read and play a piece of sheet music you have never seen in your life. It’s like being handed a print-out of a dramatic monologue and being able to read it out loud it with the right emotion even if you haven’t read the piece before. Sounds challenging, right?


It is challenging, but sight-reading is a skill that one can develop with practice. Knowing what words mean and how sentences are phrased helps readers understand the context and therefore deliver a speech with the appropriate intonation, pauses and other elements that make up a dramatic reading.


It’s the same with sight-reading music. If you have this ability, you can easily play a new piece without having to spend hours studying each sheet. The more you develop your sight-reading skills, the less time you’ll need to learn and practice new music. Being able to sight-read increases your musical abilities and takes your playing level several notches higher.


How does sight-reading benefit you?

As a ukulele player, you no doubt want to learn as many songs as you can. Learning how to sight-read requires a high degree of competence in skills such as reading notes and recognizing keys and rhythm patterns. When you’re working to develop your sight-reading skills, you also develop mastery in these aspects of ukulele playing, and this makes you a better ukulele player.


Sight-reading also encourages you to keep going even when you make a mistake in your playing. Making mistakes is one way to learn how to do things correctly, so don’t be afraid of stumbling!


You learn to work the music out as you go along, and as a result you will be able to learn new music pieces more quickly. When you have this skill, you can explore new and untried pieces with confidence. You can even “hear” what a piece sounds like as you read. If you are handed sheet music on the fly and are asked to play, you will have no trouble at all playing it.


How do you develop your sight-reading ability?

Sight-reading seems like a daunting task when you’re only beginning to play the ukulele, which is why it’s important for beginners to learn the basics. Here are some of the things you can do to learn how to sight-read like a pro.

  • Know your notes and scales. You can’t read words and understand sentences without knowing letters, and you can’t read and play music without knowing the notes and scales and how they all work together.
  • Become familiar with different rhythms. Incorporate rhythm exercises in your practice routine so you have a good grasp of the wide variety of rhythms in music.
  • Know key signatures by heart. Identifying key signatures is one of the music lessons you shouldn’t skip if you want to develop your sight-reading skills, so make sure you have those key signatures memorized!
  • Practice reading music regularly. Practicing how to sight-read is also practicing how to read music. The more you practice reading music, the more you’ll improve your skills and sight-read naturally. Don’t forget to take breaks between practice sessions!
  • Sight-read something new every day. Challenge yourself to sight-read something different each day, such as songs from different genres, so you can get better acquainted with different music styles, rhythms, keys and so on.


Tips for sight-reading music

Don’t play right away - take a couple of minutes to mentally work out the music sheet. Get a feel of the rhythm, read the notes and get an idea of the song’s structure. With enough practice, your brain will be programmed to put everything together and your hands will know what to do.


Practice playing the song in your head. Remember what we said about being able to “hear” the music as it’s written? You can train yourself to play and hear the notes in your head as they are laid out on paper. You can even hum along to give you a better idea of how the song sounds like. Pay attention to rhythmic patterns, song sections and the main melody. When it’s time to play, it will be like playing along to the song you’re heard in your head.


Oh, and before we forget - be on the lookout for annotations. Some pieces of music contain notes or musical direction that would require a change in your playing.


If you make a mistake, don’t stop - keep playing, but make a mental note so you can play the note right next time. Don’t worry, you will get better with practice, and soon you’ll be able to wow your friends and family by how adept you are at reading music and learning new songs. Happy sight-reading and uke playing!

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