Sightreading 101: Audiation

Thank you for joining in on this Sightreading 101 series, if you're joining us now and haven't checked out the previous weeks, you can find them here! 

I know I've said this series of posts was going to be all about sight reading, but I sorta fibbed. Today I'm talking about one of the valuable skills that musicians have that definitely relates to sight reading, but is really a skill in and of itself, and that is Audiation. Audiation is the ability to 'hear' or comprehend music internally in the absence of the actual sounds that would comprise it. This can be with or without sheet music, but being able to read sheet music while comprehending the sounds can really take our sight reading to the next level. I think the best way to introduce this is with a picture. A little while back, this image made the rounds among the classical music circles on social media.

And I think this sums up the idea quite nicely. This really is a musicianship superpower. And while it may seem like a weird idea at first, a similar phenomena we are more familiar with is visualization - when we can see a scenario or object in our mind's eye, even when it's not physically present. Audiation just does this with sounds. Can you sing or playback Happy Birthday in your head without actually humming it? If so, you're audiating. It not, you probably think I'm crazy for suggesting it's even possible. So why is this important for a musician? I mean, besides the obvious, when you just might have to study your score on a bus.

It comes back to that well-rounded idea again. A musician who can audiate has a much broader toolkit at their disposal when it comes to making music. 
  • They will better anticipate what the music will sound like when they are sightreading, which means they will be able to play with more musicality. (Playing without audiating at all can feel akin to walking in the dark, so unless you know the piece well, it's a little uncomfortable until you feel your way through it once or twice first.) Audiating brings us up to speed on new music quicker.
  • They will be stronger improvisers because they will hear the notes they want to play next within their "mind's ear."
  • They will better understand music, and through that understanding their enjoyment & appreciation of what they are learning will also grow.

Now while audiation is something that's always been a general goal I have for my students, I recently attended a lecture on it at Central Christian College give by Dr. Brett Janssen that motivated me to be more intentional about including the aural training skills alongside the sight reading so that students develop real audiation skills earlier on, even at very beginning levels. But how can you support this at home? In next week's post, I'll be sharing lots of tips for home practice about sight reading in general, but for today, some simple ways to implement audiation in home practice is to sing along, or sight-sing a piece of music every so often without playing the notes on your instrument, to verbalize or count rhythms before playing pieces, and finally, to take some time to explore with some improvisation. 

And if you've been following the series, definitely check back in next week for some hands-on, easy to implement ideas you can use to support sight reading at home