Originally Answered: how to be a better sight reader?
I wrote my MM thesis on sightreading - so here goes:
Sight-reading is NOT about playing your instrument; it is about your eyes and your brain. Yes, you eventually - and sometimes that is a few seconds later - need to be able to play it - but not at the first moments.
Step one - freeze your sight on the first inch. Determine the meter, and look ahead for the subdivisions. Your eyes/brain might be saying "OK - it's in 6/8 meter, and eighth note gets a beat. I see a dotted quarter - that's 3 - and I see sixteenths - two of them go on each beat." Now your foot is tapping- if you were not given a tempo, you establish a reasonable one in your head, and in your FOOT- very crucial to do this physically, becasue now you need your brain for other things.
Step two - look back at that First Inch - and find the key signature. Silently (over your instrument if you can) *play* a scale and an arpeggio. Most music is based on these, and you now have your touch memory kicking in to assist your eyes and soon - ears.
Step three - look for articulation, phrasing, dynamics - any of the diacriticals and expressive markings, as well as repeats, DS, etc.
Step four - you are playing. It has taken you only a few seconds to do each of these four steps, but you have each layer taken care of. What if you mess up? Blow off the artic, dynamics, etc. - chances are you will miss a wrong PITCH - but since your foot is relentlessly moving, you will not miss a beat, so with a fraction of a second - you are back on track. Very few people will notice - they will assume that THEY had a brain fart, not you.
There are other instrument-specific techniques that are life-savers, but these first four steps take mere seconds, and will save your bacon. I have taught this to ALL my students - my advanced private flute students, and my beginning voice students who must also sing in solfege - and they all do VERY well in competitions and auditions. I am a NYSSMA judge, and try to *hint* to the kids I am adjudicating (not allowed to actually TELL them) that they are graded on FOUR things in SR - they saw them written right on their sheets - and they should spend a bit of time looking over each one separately, and that will make the whole thing gel. Some listen - or have heard this from their teachers - and some panic, just throw themselves at the whole things, and die in the fiery crash.
EVERYTHING in life is a learnable skill - except those contortionists who have to be born that Mongolian valley where everyone is a natural freak of flexibility, before training even begins. We wont count them. Whatever the musical skill is that you seek - a really fine teacher can get you there with skill, style, and far less stress than if you try to beat yourslef up about it. That is why I am SO down on most (not all . . .) self-teaching, and always tell students to get the best teacher they can find - we know stuff. Lots of GOOD stuff.
Good luck - and quit saying you suck. I had a huge sign behind my desk in school - all it said was YET. When kids had a hard time, and said "I can't do this!" - they knew they better say YET - because otherwise, I would require them to stay after school for me to help them. YET meant that they were working on it, would ask me if they needed me - and realized they just need teaching, time, and practice. Nobody dropped form Heaven or Outer Space knowing stuff - we all learned it from somebody else, too.
It's late - overlook the spelling errors for now, even from a teacher. G'nite.