7 Signs You’re Making Progress in Sight-Reading

Are you finding it hard to know whether you’re making progress in sight-reading? Then you’re in the right place because, in this article, I give you 7 signs to look out for that indicate that you are making progress in sight-reading.


making progress in sight-reading


If you’re like most piano players I talk to, then chances are you sometimes feel frustrated that you can’t measure progress easily. Somehow, you can’t really tell whether you’re making any progress despite spending time each day on sight-reading.


I get it. I feel like that at times too. The reason we feel this way is because we’re constantly changing pieces and each piece presents its own challenges. Even if you got the hang of one piece of music, it doesn’t mean you’ll do just as well with the next one. If anything, you might feel like you’re back at zero because everything’s different.


Unfortunately, progress in sight-reading is not linear. It’s not like in a video game where each level gets progressively harder. It doesn’t work that way. Sure, you can try to reproduce this progressive structure in the way you choose pieces but even then, it’s not going to be all that linear because each piece of music stands on its own, it doesn’t take into account other pieces. It has its own rhythm, its own melody, its own harmony. Each piece has its own structure and rules.


Sight-reading a different piece of music each day is a bit like learning a new language every day. On Day 1, you learn Chinese, on Day 2, you learn Spanish, and then French, etc. There will be some similarities between the languages like grammar, but each language will also present its own challenges like pronunciation or its writing system. Well, the same is true for each new piece of music we encounter.


So what are we to do? How can we measure progress then? How do we know whether we’ve made any progress?


In this article, I’m going to give you 7 signs to look out for that will indicate that you are in fact making progress in your sight-reading. I will also share ways to measure your progress.


Sign #1: You’re no longer counting

If you’re new to sight-reading, you’re probably still counting as you’re playing and you might also be subdividing for quavers and semiquavers. But there comes a time when you won’t need to count anymore. Counting will become so automatic that you’ll be able to play almost any rhythm just by feeling the beats. So if you’re no longer counting, that’s already a good sign.


Sign #2: You’re no longer decoding every note

If you no longer have to think “What note is this!?” and use mnemonics for every second note, then you’ve definitely made progress. Great sight-readers don’t pause to figure out notes, except for maybe really low or really high notes on ledger lines. They can read the notes as fast as they can read the letters of the alphabet.


Sign #3: You use the right fingering

If you notice your fingers moving to the right keys, using appropriate fingering on common patterns such as chords, arpeggios and scale passages, then you’re onto something. That means you’ve been working on your technical work and it’s paying off.


LEARN MORE >> How to Work out Piano Fingering when Sight-Reading


Sign #4: Accidentals don’t scare you

If your brain no longer freezes at the sight of accidentals, this is a big win. If you can immediately play the right key upon seeing a sharp, a flat, a double flat or a double sharp, you’re making progress.


Side note: to this day, it still takes me more than a split second to work out double flats and double sharps!


Sign #5: You can sight-read in any key

You’re improving if you can sight-read pieces with more than 3 sharps or flats in the key signature without too much difficulty. If sight-reading a piece with 7 sharps or flats doesn’t scare you, good on you. You’ve just stepped up your game.


LEARN MORE >> How to Sight-Read in Any Key


Sign #6: You no longer get lost

If you no longer get lost, it probably means that you’ve learned to keep your eyes on the music and play without looking down.


LEARN MORE >> How to Play Without Looking at the Keys + FREE Exercises


Sign #7: You listen to your playing

A sure sign that you’re becoming a good sight-reader is if you can actually listen to your playing. This is the stage I wish everyone of you to get to because this is when things really become fun. It’s the stage where you can really get in the zone and just enjoy playing music. It’s the stage where reading notes and rhythm is now second nature to you, you’re able to play expressively, you’re able to bring out certain notes, use rubato, etc. Essentially, you’re able to interpret the music. It’s probably the hardest stage to get to but it’s definitely the most rewarding.


LEARN MORE >> How to Interpret While Sight-Reading


In a nutshell

The more things you can do without thinking, the better you’ll be at sight-reading.


So if you want to become a better sight-reader, you need to work on the things that don’t come to you easily, that you can’t read or play automatically. Revisit the 7 signs I’ve just mentioned here and identify the ones that you’re not seeing yet.


I know what you’re thinking. “You’ve given us signs that we’re making progress but how do we actually measure progress?”


Good question. There are several ways you can do this.


You could:

  • Go back to pieces you’ve sight-read before and sight-read them again
  • Use graded repertoire. This will allow you to observe that 6 months ago, you were sight-reading Grade 1 pieces. Now you can sight-read Grade 2 pieces.
  • Record yourself and listen back months later
  • Use a metronome and test yourself at faster speeds. If you’ve been sight-reading pieces at crotchet equals 60, try crotchet equals 70.
  • Ask yourself questions after sight-reading pieces (see this video Want to Improve Your Sight-Reading? Then Do This AFTER Sight-Reading a Piece to learn more)


Over to you

What has your experience been with your progress? Are you able to notice when you’ve made progress in sight-reading? Share in the comments below.


READ MORE >> The Reason Your Piano Progress May Be Slow



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    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny, or Manu, is a piano and violin teacher, composer and accompanist based in Sydney, Australia. She is passionate about sharing her love of music and her sight-reading and practice tips to help other pianists become more confident sight-readers.



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