Frequently Asked Questions about Sight-Reading

Here you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about sight-reading. You can also submit your own question using the form below!

questions about sight-reading

 

 

General Questions on Sight-Reading

Sight-reading, also called a prima vista (Italian meaning “at first sight”), is the ability to read and perform a piece of music you’ve never seen or played before. This could be a piece you’ve never played before, a piece you’ve heard before but not played before, or a piece you’ve played but haven’t committed to memory.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> What Is Sight-Reading?

The point of sight-reading is to accelerate the learning process and to be able to play at short notice with little or no prior practice. Sight-reading is a useful skill to have in both social and professional settings.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> Why Is Sight-Reading Important?

Sight-reading is important because it helps you:

  1. Learn pieces faster
  2. Learn many more pieces
  3. Play at short notice
  4. Learn pieces without having to memorise them
  5. Develop your overall musicianship
  6. Be an independent learner

 

FOR MORE INFO >> Why Is Sight-Reading Important?

Sight-reading is hard because of the number of complex tasks you have to accomplish simultaneously in real-time. When sight-reading, you have to:

  • produce the notes,
  • produce the rhythm,
  • stay in time,
  • remember the key signature,
  • coordinate the hands,
  • look ahead,
  • etc.

It is especially demanding on keyboard instruments because of having two or more lines of music to read and play.

If you’ve been playing piano for a while and you still can’t sight-read music, it could be due to several reasons:

  • you don’t practise sight-reading on a regular basis
  • you memorise the moment you learn a new piece and don’t use the score
  • you always learn pieces hands separately
  • you lack music theory knowledge
  • you lack technical skills

 

FOR MORE INFO >> 10 Habits to Avoid When Reading Music & How to Break Them

To become a good sight-reader, you should learn and have a good understanding of the following concepts:

  • Notes in the treble
  • Notes in the bass
  • Note values
  • Rhythm
  • Key signatures
  • Time signatures
  • Scales
  • Chords / harmony
  • Intervals
  • Musical terms

 

You should be able to identifyhear and play these concepts.

 

Learning to sight-read is a long process. How long it takes you to learn sight-reading will depend on how much time and effort you devote to reading music every day. If you only sight-read once a week, it’s going to take you much longer than if you sight-read every day.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How Long Does It Take to Learn Sight-Reading

When sight-reading, try to look at least one beat ahead which can mean looking several notes ahead, depending on the piece. To do this effectively, learn how to read groups of notes.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Look Ahead when Sight-Reading

It depends largely on the piece you are sight-reading. You should look back and forth between the two parts but mainly focus your eyes on the part with the most changes, whether in the harmony or in the melody, only glancing at the other part when changes take place.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Read Both Clefs at the Same Time & FREE Exercises

How-to Questions on Sight-Reading

To read two clefs at the same time, you need to be able to read both clefs fluently as well as play both hands together. Work on your note-reading and on coordinating your hands with hand independence and two-handed rhythm exercises.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Sight-Read Both Clefs at the Same Time & FREE Exercises

To read ahead when sight-reading, learn to play without looking down at your hands, read chunks of music at a time (not individual notes) and use your working memory to always remember what you just played so you don’t need to look back.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Look Ahead when Sight-Reading

To sight-read rhythms, go through the rhythm of the excerpt by clapping and counting or by conducting and saying the rhythm using syllables. While playing, either count in your head or maintain an inner pulse. If you’re having difficulty keeping a steady beat, try playing with a metronome or tapping your foot to the beat.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Read Basic Rhythms (Quiz Included)

                               How to Read Complex Rhythms (Quiz Included)

To sight-read like a pro, you need to have a good knowledge of music theory, a sound technique and good aural skills. To become a sight-reading expert, keep developing your skills in these three key areas while practising sight-reading on a regular basis.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Become a Sight-Reading Expert

                               How I Became a Good Sight-Reader

Questions on Sight-Reading Practice

Try to practise sight-reading daily or as often as possible during the week. It is far more beneficial to practise five minutes a day every day than one hour once a week.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> Piano Sight-Reading 101

As a general guide, I recommend you practise sight-reading for at least:

  • 5 minutes a day, if you’re a beginner
  • 10 minutes a day, if you’re intermediate
  • 15 minutes a day, if you’re advanced.

There is no time limit though. Sight-read for as long as you wish and stop when you feel your focus waning.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Practise Sight-Reading & Improve Faster

Ideally, you should only sight-read a piece once. But if you have trouble sight-reading the piece at a slow tempo, either try again slower or choose an easier piece.

 

If you’re just starting out, I recommend you use graded sight-reading books or graded repertoire books because these are progressive and offer a structure to follow. If you’ve been practising sight-reading for a while, use sets of pieces or sheet music by your favourite composers or composers you are curious about.

In general, your sight-reading ability will be one or two grades lower than your current playing ability so pick pieces of that level. The music should neither be too easy nor too difficult to sight-read. If it’s too easy, you won’t learn as much and if it’s too hard, you may get frustrated. The level of difficulty should be just outside of your comfort zone.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> Piano Sight-Reading 101

At every practice session, aim to sight-read several pieces as opposed to one piece several times. In fact, the more pieces you sight-read, the better. For example, if you practice sight-reading for 20 minutes, then try to sight-read between 5 to 10 short pieces.

Try to always sight-read hands together. Having said that, if you’re a beginner and you’re still learning the treble and bass notes, consider starting hands separately and then hands together once you’re familiar with the notes in both clefs.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> How to Sight-Read Both Clefs at the Same Time & FREE Exercises

When sight-reading, you should use a metronome if you need help keeping a steady beat but it can also be distracting. It’s not recommended to only ever sight-read with a metronome as it can cause your playing to become very mechanical. Try sight-reading with and without a metronome to see what you prefer.

As a beginner, aim to play the notes and the rhythm accurately. Play the whole piece at the same tempo by starting at a tempo that will enable you to play the notes and the rhythm accurately without having to slow down. Go as slowly as you need to and keep your eyes on the music so that you can always read ahead.

 

As a more advanced sight-reader, aim to also play musically by following all the dynamics and expressive markings.

To practise sight-reading without a piano, work on:

  • note-reading with flashcards or apps like Note Trainer, Notes Trainer or Tenuto,
  • ear training with apps like Tenuto or Ear Trainer,
  • music theory with Tenuto or its corresponding website,
  • mental practice with physical or digital scores where you visualise yourself playing the notes and imagine the sound, or
  • rhythm and hand coordination with two-handed clapping rhythms (see How to Sight-Read Both Clefs at the Same Time & FREE Exercises).

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Questions on Sight-Reading Resources

To improve your sight-reading, I recommend you use several books such as a sight-reading book (like Piano Sight-Reading: A Fresh Approach) a method book and a graded repertoire book (like the Essential Keyboard Repertoire series). Look for books that are progressive and provide a structure to follow.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> The Best Sight-Reading Books for Piano – Review & Buying Guide

The best sight-reading books out there are Piano Sight-Reading: A Fresh Approach, Sight-Reading Exercises Op.45, Improve Your Sight-Reading and How to Blitz Sight Reading.

 

FOR MORE INFO >> The Best Sight-Reading Books for Piano – Review & Buying Guide

The best sight-reading apps out there for iOS are: Read Ahead, Note Quest and Piano Marvel.

 

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