The One Ability All Good Sight-Readers Have

All good sight-readers have this one ability that is rarely talked about. In this article, I reveal what this ability is.


good sight-readers


You may have already heard the advice to scan the music before you sight-read. And maybe you’re already doing this. But while you’re sight-reading you may still have problems sight-reading fluently because you have difficulty reading ahead. Although you prepared before playing, you still struggle through the piece. And this can be frustrating.


I understand. Having to process SO many notes and stay in tempo is hard. And to make matters worse, we have to read TWO lines of music! Is there anything we can do to help us sight-read more fluently?


What you may not realise is that good sight-readers possess this one ability that can really help you get your sight-reading to the next level. And that is the ability to predict or guess what’s going to come next in the music. Good sight-readers instinctively know what is most likely to come up next and 90% of the time, they get it right.


I see it all the time when I’m sight-reading. Especially at the end of a phrase or at the end of a piece. I’ll be sight-reading along and then I’ll see a really low note or a really high note. At that moment, I can’t recognise the note – it’s simply too high or too low with too many ledgers lines.


The usual way to work out notes like these would be to pause, figure out the note then continue, or figure out the note before sight-reading and hoping you’ll remember when you get to that spot.


Having sight-read for so many years now, I can usually predict or guess what that note is going to be as I’m sight-reading.


For example, in the piece called Badinage by Poulenc, there was this bar with a really low note in the left hand:

Badinage by Poulenc

I couldn’t tell what that low note was but I did guess that it would be an E-flat because I knew I was in the key of E-flat. Sure enough, it was an E-flat.


To be able to predict or guess, you need to have a good understanding of music theory. You need to be familiar with:

  • Key signatures
  • Common chords
  • Common cadences
  • Common patterns

The more familiar you are with music theory, the more easily you can predict or guess what’s going to come next.


To get there, one way is to expose yourself to loads of music. In time, you’ll know instinctively what should come next, especially with classical music.


Another is by actually studying music theory, and practising your scales, chords, arpeggios and cadences. That’s why we practise these in the first place. So that once we get to pieces, we recognise them and can play them automatically without thinking.


If you want to be able to predict or guess when sight-reading, practise your scales, etc. and be conscious of what you’re playing. Make sure you understand how scales, arpeggios and chords are formed because there’s not much point practising these if you don’t actually understand how they work.


To help you get more familiar with scales, broken chords and triads and cadences, I’ve made several exercises in all keys.

I’m going to share my favourite exercise with you in this video:


For more info on the Circle of Fifths, check out this article.


If you’d like to get the sheet music for the Circle of Fifths exercise and for 3 other useful exercises using scales, arpeggios, triads and broken chords, just fill out the form below and you’ll get them straight to your inbox.

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  • Mike says:

    My knowledge of music theory is a bit average, but I am an excellent sight-reader… I can even read an unfamiliar score with more than 2 staves. Basically I have become very good at pattern recognition from playing lots of different types of music, so my fingers know even if I could not consciously tell you what key the piece was in.

    • Interesting. Although wouldn’t you say that pattern recognition stems from knowledge or at least familiarity with music theory? But yes, I can see how pattern recognition could get you pretty far in sight-reading.

  • 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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