How to Turn the Page When Piano Sight-Reading

This is a serious issue at auditions, or if you’re called to fill in as an accompanist for a show or rehearsal at the last minute.

If you’re lucky enough to have one of your show’s assistant directors or your little brother in the room to turn pages for you, then you’re golden (assuming they can read music, or at least react quickly to a timely head nod. Actually, there are surprising number of people who can’t!)

But it happens more than ever so often that you’re stuck having to sight read and turn pages at the same time. In auditions the singer will often just plop the music in front of you, so you can’t do the earmarks-on-the-corners thing (if you’re one of those people who does that — I’m not).

I don’t have the full answer to this question, but here’s what I’ve learned:

1) My basic rule to try always to be reading a bar ahead applies doubly here. If you can, quickly scan the last bar or two (this is going to depend on tempo and meter) of the page before you turn it.

2) 99% of the time, it’s the bass line, hence the left hand, which is most important in guiding the singer. So make sure that if you hit anything, you get those bass notes in the last bars on the pre-flip page — especially if they’re on a downbeat (or whatever the basic beat structure is of a piece).

3) The worst situation is when multiple aspects of a piece change at the top of the post-flip page. And publishers love to do that, for some reason, maybe just to freak us accompanists out. You just always have to be wary of a possible change in time signature, tempo, or key… remind yourself every time you’re on the bottom staves of a pre-flip page that things could be really different on the flip side. This is just a matter of practice.

Those are my tips. But they still haven’t prevented the occasional disaster. Any other ideas?

7 thoughts on “How to Turn the Page When Piano Sight-Reading

  1. gittlerd

    Something I’ve done is in the time that the singer is explaining what he or she is singing and the directors are talking to him or her, I just look through the score really fast, seeing if there’s anything to be watching out for. Usually it takes about 5 seconds since most auditions are 16 to 32 bars long.

  2. Jennifer Feels

    Point 3 is sooo true! It often seems to me that music publishers actually have no idea of how to set the music to make it performable for musicians. Given your exact situation, I can’t think of a better advice than gittlerd’s. If you always got the music as a pdf-file and had an Ipad, then I could tell you that there are automatic page-turners which you work with the help of a special footpedal.

  3. Krystal

    For 1), it is also good to regularly practice sight-reading a wide variety of music. It would help you train yourself to read a bar or two ahead and become familiar with what is likely to happen next in different composers’ styles.

  4. Daniel Gittler

    Something that may be good to note is that while music PUBLISHERS don’t seem to understand that their music will be put in front of a pianist for auditions and whatnot, music COPYISTS completely understand that needs of the musician, not worrying about the singer – if you’re playing from a show’s score, you might notice the V.S. at the bottom hand of the page, or the pages that say “This page intentionally blank,” sometimes followed by “to facilitate page turns,” which is entirely true. The V.S. stands for volti subito, or “turn fast” (or suddenly), and they’re put usually on rests or when one hand isn’t playing. The blank pages make it so you aren’t turning on some complicated phrase.

    Another thing to look for are the double bar lines (not the final bar lines), but the double bar lines are underused in commonly published music and overly (and perfectly) used in musical theatre scores. If you see a double bar line right before a page turn, be prepared – they indicate the end of a section (usually the measure after it has a big block rehearsal number in lots of scores), and it would not be uncommon if it is followed by a key change, a meter change, a tempo change, or simply a section break (i.e., from the chorus to the bridge). They’re a big giveaway, so if it’s right before the page turn, maybe start looking ahead and then turn early so you’re ready to go on the next (possibly/probably more difficult section).

    1. Erik Joseph Campano Post author

      Wow. Never noticed the V.S. That’s a truly polite thing for the copyist to do!

      Absolutely right on the double bar lines. Thanks for adding that.

    2. Erik Joseph Campano Post author

      I just saw a V.S. in Light in the Piazza. Can’t believe I’d never noticed one before. Thanks Daniel!


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