If you are interested in learning to play new music and you are somewhat familiar with reading sheet music then there are techniques that will help you pick up new songs more quickly. The definition of sight reading is as simple as it sounds. You are able to play new music by reading the sheet music that corresponds to that piece. While you do need a bit of prior knowledge to understand the notation and structure you will find that it can be much easier than you might think.
Playing music can be somewhat physical, but the majority of the work is actually mental. Also, just because you might be a very good musician on your chosen instrument there is no guarantee that you can sight read. There have been many very famous musicians who could not read the first note. On some of the more difficult pieces an artist may take months of work to get the hardest parts right. One very important part of sight reading can be the ability to either sight harmonize or improvise.
When you reach a very difficult part and are unsure how to proceed it is at times acceptable to adapt the score to your current ability level. This is known as improvisation. It may also be that you feel that you would have a greater impact on your audience with a few changes here and there in the score. Both of these are decent arguments as to why improvisation can be a very important tool for the budding musician. Another very powerful tool is the ability to play by ear.
Playing by ear involves hearing a piece and then being able to emulate the performance with your chosen instrument. Some performers will read along with the sheet music while they listen so that they can get a better feel for what the sheet music is saying about how the performance should sound. Others will never have to look at the first piece of music. They are able to pick up an instrument and immediately be able to play back the piece.
It will help you to sight read if you are familiar with intervals, chords, scales and keys. You should also understand the importance of harmony and counterpoint as well as musical grammar. All sheet music is written in its own language. This language is organized by its own patterns of symmetry and principles as well. Take a chord for example, without understanding how to read one how would people have ever learned to play them other than the very limited method of passing them on to others by manual teaching techniques?
The very first thing you will need besides basic understanding of musical theory is thorough familiarity with your instrument. This will ensure that you know where the chords you are seeking can be quickly found. The next things you should be familiar with are the large scales and how to recognize them in a piece. If you can read the rhythms and hear them in your head you can more easily repeat the pattern once you begin to play. Always look forward as well.
If you stop to look back at notes you have already played, or possibly missed, you will find yourself missing more of the upcoming pieces as well. Finally, if you are a novice you should not try to sight read a piece that is much more advanced than your personal level. It can be extremely difficult and may lead to much aggravation. If you will follow these bits of advice you will soon find yourself sitting down to a new piece of sheet music and feeling much more confident about your ability to play it.