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Sight Reading Piano Music With Ease

Updated on February 15, 2011

Five Key Methods to Develop Your Piano Sight Reading Ability

When you pick up a new piece of piano music, do you find yourself going slowly, note by note, to read and learn the piece? Do you spend weeks attempting to learn a new piece of music, only to be so frustrated by your efforts that you want to give up on the piano entirely? If this sounds like you, then you may need to develop your sight reading abilities. As long as you dedicate yourself to the cause, I think it is possible to read sheet music just as quickly and efficiently as you read the daily newspaper or your favorite novel.

1. Keep sight-reading!

Though it may seem rather obvious, most people overlook the first tip, which is to maintain a steady level of sight reading. For instance, if someone only reads an article or book aloud to someone else, they are spending less effort on developing their reading abilities than they are spending on executing the tone and temperament of their voice. The same goes for music. If the only music that you sight read is the music that you are playing for your piano teacher or for a performance, then you are not effectively developing your sight reading skills. By taking the time to sight read a variety of music, you will help train your eyes to effectively read piano music.

2. Do not focus on perfection!

Don’t strive to get all of the notes precisely on point while practicing your sight reading skills. If you miss a key, or overlook that accidental or slur, or even omit the pedal, it’s perfectly fine to do so and not correct yourself in the process. The goal is not to strive for perfection. The goal is to seamlessly learn how to read piano notes in an efficient and flowing way. If there is a certain problem you are having with reading sheet music, then address those needs specifically (as detailed in tips three, four, and five). 

3. Practice rhythms!

Rhythm practice can be crucial to some pianists. If you have difficultly deciphering the rhythms of a piece in a timely manner, that might be an aspect of sight reading to concentrate your efforts. Take a moment to reflect on the parts of a piece that are difficult for you. Once you understand why it is giving you trouble, you can figure out a way to overcome the challenge through practice exercises. When the situation occurs again, you will be more equipped to play through the piece. If you are not already well versed in the fundamental rhythmic signs and note values, take the time to learn and understand them. To develop your rhythm, you should also consider playing a series of pieces that have the same time signature until you become more confident in your abilities. Begin with music in 4/4 time, followed by 3/4, 6/8, etc. 

4. One hand at a time!

If you sail through rhythm with ease, but find the actual reading of notes to be your challenge, consider playing just one clef at a time. Practice is just that— practice. Play does not have to be perfect or complete. If the bass clef is more difficult for you to read than the treble clef, then give the right hand a break and concentrate solely on the left hand. If it means disregarding the rhythm and all other aspects of the music, simply focus on the left hand’s play until you can read the bass clef with ease.

5. One key signature at a time!

Isolate your sight reading difficulties to an individual key signature. By remaining in a single key for an extended amount of time during practice, you will gain confidence in the scale of that key. This confidence will become instilled in your play and you will find your fingers reaching for the right white or black key without even thinking about it. By complementing this isolation practice with a dedicated set of scale exercises, you will find your repertoire of scale knowledge growing exponentially.

Your best sight-reading tips

Do you have more tips about how to improve your sight-reading skills? Don't leave without sharing your thoughts on this subject. Or just tell us if liked our lens and if you think it is going to help you.

Comments, questions and feedback

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    • profile image

      sushanta bakshi 3 years ago

      Brilliant tips,being an adult beginner it will really help me a lot.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 5 years ago from Tucson, Az

      oh boy Im doing it correctly ! good, I needed that bit of reinforcement!

    • profile image

      Gabriel micheal 5 years ago

      I lov dis.

    • jeremytorres profile image

      jeremytorres 6 years ago

      This is nice to me. Great.

    • profile image

      Shyguytony 6 years ago from United States of America

      Reinforced what I already know! Exactly what I needed

    • profile image

      Kim 6 years ago

      Excellent hub! I found learning the location of the notes without looking at them helped speed up my sight reading

    • ahmiz profile image

      ahmiz 7 years ago

      Nice hub, thanks for the tips. I'm currently only able to focus on one clef at a time, and deciphering one note at a time. I'll be sure to have more practice on "flowing" sight-reading.

    • OnlineMusicHelp profile image

      OnlineMusicHelp 7 years ago from Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

      Very good hub, with some very solid advice! Thanks for that, and I will probably link to it in the future, and ... I will use your tips myself! Thanks again!

    • profile image

      EUGENE 7 years ago