Before continuing, let me show you where I stand. Here are two pieces being sight-read, one easy, one a bit harder (click on the images for a full-sized version).
Click here to hear me sight-read When my Sugar...
Not Looking at my Hands
One thing that I'm really, really good at is not looking at my hands. I can read an entire song, and not even glance down once, even when there are big jumps. I highly recommend getting this ability nailed. It feels really cool, and I never have to worry about losing my place in the music.
There are two things going on here: Feeling the keys, and knowing where they are.
Concerning feeling the keys, you have to get into the habit of caressing them all the time. Imagine that you are a lovesick teenager, and the keys are your girlfriend. You just can't get enough of touching her/them.
As for knowing where they are, I should give some credit to the book Super Sight Reading Secrets by Howard Richman (more on that book later). His keyboard orientation drills made me realize that I could move my finger to a note pretty accurately with my eyes closed, even if I wasn't starting from a known note. Here's the exercise I do:
I make sure I am sitting right in front of middle D (that is, with my belly button lined up with the middle of the middle D key). Then I close my eyes, put my hands in my lap, then think of a note and move a finger to it. I found that often I got the note exactly right, and my accuracy improved with this drill. In other words, the feeling of where your arm is can be pretty good for hitting the note you want.
Combined with feeling the keys, this ability can help you eliminate your need to look at the keys. It's true that doing this is a lot easier one note at a time than in the middle of some complex song. Also, I sometimes get "desynchronized" with the keys, and play, for example, an E when I'm expecting a B. But once you get some ability and confidence here, you might find that you can make those big skips without thinking about them.
I'm hoping that the habit of not looking down at my hands will get so ingrained in me, that I won't do it even if I'm playing in public or am nervous.
Looking ahead as I'm playing is still a struggle for me, and I'm still working on it. I play better when I do it, but that just may mean that the song is easier, and it gives me a chance to look ahead. Sometimes I try to look ahead just a half measure or so. I played prelude one in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier yesterday, and was able to zip through it with almost no errors. Why? Because each measure repeats the same five notes twice, so there's plenty of time to read and understand the next measure as I'm playing the current one. If I can just get that same idea working for other songs, I'll be set.
That's it for now, sight-reading fans. Please leave a comment if you're finding this blog useful!