how important is sight-reading or reading piano music "off the cuff" in the professional music industry?

i'm certain i could take something home, pick it out, and learn it in a few days.

recently i had an audition for berklee and i aced everything but the sightreading. it was humbling for the audtioner to tell me to pick out songs from children's books(???!?!?) and gradually increase the difficulty. but i've only had the benefit of 6 years of lessons. i've been teaching myself jazz and been playing by ear for much longer.

so the question is, how many times have some of you full-time pros musicians been asked to come into a recording session and have to sight read a chart or a full piano part?
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no shame in the advice given by your auditioner.  (it is good advice imo) if that's where you are with sight reading, that's where you are. sight reading is a skill that can be developed like anything else...and so what if you haven't done much if it? if you are planning a career as a full-time pro, you would do well to work on it  

as for how many times have i been asked to sight read on a session? - pretty much all of them.  i had to read anything from chords written on a plain piece of paper, to elaborate piano scores - and everything in between. once there was a thing that had 16ths going in each direction at a blazing tempo and piano was the only thing going - so we cheated and recorded each hand separately :)  (it helps to be on the good side of the engineer)

times are different now though.  i'm not sure how much call for that kind of thing is still around.  i'd rather leave that to the folks that really want to do it.  

bottom line, i think sight reading is a very valuable tool, but i wouldn't stress it too much.  i have a lot more fun just playing music
sight reading is essential in the studio and on the bandstand. when i played a gig with ralph bowen a few months ago, there was no rehearsal - just reading his book down. all the gigs are reading gigs - from pick up big bands, to musicals, to studio work - all require good readers. the advice is good - make sure you're practicing sight reading often and consistently. make sure you're practicing sight reading, and not actually learning the material - allow yourself one shot, then move on. it's a skill that you can definitely work on and develop, but it is absolutely essential for most of the work out there. good luck!

i've recently started practcing reading everyday (1 year ago), due to my teachers advice. i practice reading hands together in 12 keys.i have a sheet of random note heads on two staffs. no rhythms just note heads, all half notes at 40 bpm.
i also was given similar excercises for practicing one beat rhythmic unites.
sightreading is really a good skill to develop, but for me i've had to break it down into it's components.
good luck
btw, i'm interested in a good method to develop sight reading.  is there a standardized way?  or is it one of those "gotta find what works for you" kind of thing?
hi styles,  
i used to be a terrible sight-reader. it was always what i dreaded in exams, but then i was asked to accompany kids playing for exams (by somebody who assumed i was a good sightreader when i wasn't) and i did that.  my sightreading improved ten-fold very quickly due to having to play on the spot and not having any choice. that may not sound like advice, but i think that the only way to learn a skill or improve upon it is to be thrown in at the deep end.  my advice to you would be to get some singers or instrumentalists to play along with you as you sightread. it makes you think faster and have to learn faster. and it's ok to fluff over the parts that you can't play immediately, but the trick at the beginning is to keep going and don't stop. when you do this, your confidence improves and even if you leave out a lot of the accompaniment the first few times, you'll be improving all the time. when i moved into jazz for a bit after doing accompanying and sightreading, etc. i found that people thought it was great i could sightread, but i was in awe of their ability to come up with original chords etc. in comping and all of the other stuff that goes with jazz. my advice in a nutshell styles is to play with others, put yourself under pressure to play along with them, and the rest will come in its own time. practising sightreading is going to be good too, but the pressure element isn't there. what i always heard when i was younger about sightreading was to "read ahead." i think it's good advice, but i can't really remember how i learnt to sightread except that i had to do it. maybe reading ahead happens naturally after a while, i don't know - but i thought i'd mention it anyway. i hope this erratic and unstructured advice helps in some way. bon chance! gill
great words of wisdom  mcjazz.  i was kinda forced to learn sight reading years ago when i took a job that required it.  (i was a show pianist for six flags and had to play for the auditions)  to prepare i placed stacks of sheet music (mostly shows) on the piano, turned on the metronome and played the stuff - mistakes and all, making sure not to get lost. (keep your eyes on the music) i did that for about 2 hours a night for about two weeks prior to the gig and i actually pulled it off...(learned lots of show tunes too)

after a while you start noticing figures you've seen and heard before - and i think you also learn to look ahead - without thinking about looking ahead - it just happens naturally like mcjazz said. like your auditioner said, start with simple stuff...and don't practice it
i have to sight read horrendous stuff on studio gigs.  if i didn't have a classical background, it would be nearly impossible.

i've also had to sight read tough stuff on big band charts.

being able to sight read is required if you want to be a pro who can do it all.
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i would like to add that hampton hawes missed out on a lot of studio and session gigs in his later years because he couldn't sight read. i think that he could read music on some rudimentary level, and based on his book he knew chords and reharmonization, so he wasn't musically illiterate in the same way as erroll garner.  but his reading chops on the bandstand and in the studio weren't up to snuff in any case.  there were and probably still are a lot of guys with that same story.
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