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How to Improve Your Sight Reading Skills

Updated on June 4, 2011

Have you ever seen a pianist given a brand new piece of sheet music and still be able to play it like they have played it for years? Do you find yourself wondering "how can I improve my sight reading skills and learn to play like them?" Well let me tell you, it's actually pretty easy to develop this skill as long as you are willing to put the time and effort into working on it.

I know a lot of people that can play a few songs by memory very well but aren't very strong at playing by sight. If you work on your sight reading skills then the amount of music that you can play at a moments notice could be limitless. Of course depending on how much sheet music you have on you at the time. Here are a few tips that I follow that I hope can help you get started on improving your sight reading skills yourself.

Tip 1. Start with the easy stuff. Some people like to jump ahead of themselves and open up a pop music or broadway music book and try to play the first song they find. If you are at this level then by all means go ahead and play.

But if you are brand new at working on your sight reading then I recommend starting with an easy songs book like Disney Collection (Easy Piano Series) or Wicked (Easy Piano). As you can see I'm pretty fond of playing disney and broadway musics.

If you jump ahead of yourself and try to play at a level that you may not be at yet then you will probably burn yourself out early on. I remember when I first started trying to sight read songs that were a little more difficult, it would be extremely frustrating not to be able to play the song the way I knew it was meant to sound. So start with the easy stuff and slowly move your way up.

Tip 2. Practice reading slightly ahead. While you are sight reading you want to get used to reading slightly ahead of the measure you are playing. Why would you want to do that? Well by reading ahead of where you are playing, it will give your mind a little more time to process what notes are coming up. When you get used to it it kind of feels like you are reading the notes ahead and your hands are playing what is behind by themselves. So when you are sight reading, sight read by reading slightly ahead.

Tip 3. Don't read every note, note for note. Depending on the level of music you are playing, trying to read every single note will just end up slowing you down. As you get used to sight reading try to be able to just glance at the note and get a feel at their placement. Sometimes taking a break away from the piano and just "reading" the music can help you develop your sight reading skills more than just trying to hammer your way through a song.


Tip 4. Learn the different chords. This will help you a lot with the previous tip. Sometimes there are just so many notes that when you sight read something for the first time, especially if it's in front of an audience, there is just no way you can read them all at the right speed with a high amount of accuracy. In the past I have had to play for friends who were singing somewhere and needed a pianist at the last moment. So many times I would end up sight reading the music right there on the spot.

If you know how to play and read chords from the music then sometimes you don't even have to read the left hand, you can focus on reading the right hand. For me when I play I usually just focus on the first note of the measure for the left hand and play the chord in various ways to keep it sounding interesting. This way I can focus on reading the melody on the right hand so the audience can recognize what song we're performing.

Tip 5. Be patient. I know that when you have that piece of sheet music in front of you, you want to just play it up to speed the way it should be played. But if you are not ready to play at that speed then try to hold back. You want to get used to playing songs with a high amount of accuracy every time you play one. But the only way to do that is to develop your skills from the ground up.

If you try to play a song at a speed you can't handle, the constant mistakes can discourage you and keep you from practicing. I have definitely felt like this before, ending my practice session by slamming my hands on the keys in frustration before storming away. So be patient and build up your sight reading skills slowly.

My last tip to you is to play anything and everything. I tend to focus on more show tune-y songs just because most of my friends are into theatre and need me to play show tune songs, but you can play whatever you like. I hope these tips have have helped you and if not at least got you interested in working on your sight reading skills.

Happy playing!


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