Are you looking for sight-reading books for piano? Not sure which ones to get? Read this comprehensive review & buying guide to find the best sight-reading books for you.
A quick Google search would typically help you find just about anything, including “the best piano sight-reading books”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show you all the books available, and it doesn’t clearly show you which books are good or which aren’t. So the only way is to read through hundreds of comments on Quora or in forums or read pages and pages of reviews on Amazon. But who has time for that? And even after spending all that time, you might not find all the answers you’re looking for!
So to help you, I’ve put together a list of my favourite sight-reading books, which I use for myself and with my students. I’ve also attempted to answer questions you may have in regards to these books and how to use them.
I have used other books, but I’ve decided not to include them here. I only want to recommend to you the very best ones!
Table of Contents
Why do you want to learn sight-reading?
Is it a short-term goal like passing the sight-reading component of a music exam? Or is it a long-term goal like being able to learn pieces more efficiently and with more ease? Or is it that you want to become an accompanist and you need to improve your sight-reading skills?
Decide what your goal is because this will help you decide which books are right for you.
READ MORE >> Why Is Sight-Reading Important?
Where should you start?
Work out where you need to start. Are you fluent in reading treble and bass clef notes? Or perhaps you can read treble clef but not the bass clef?
If note reading is something you struggle with...
I strongly recommend that you address this first and foremost. Otherwise your progress will be very slow.
You DON’T actually need to be able to name every single note on the grand staff, but you should, at the very least, be able to recognise reference notes like the following:
I suggest you get a note reading app like Note Trainer Lite or Pro, or Tenuto for Apple devices; Music Tutor or Music Buddy for android devices; or you can use music flashcards. Practise daily and review the notes you find hardest to recall until they stick.
Also, make sure that you have a good understanding of note values, time signatures, key signatures, expressive markings and common music symbols. A good resource to consult is How to Read Music.
If note reading is not a problem...
Your reading ability will generally be BELOW your playing ability. So, for example, if you are playing Grade 3 pieces, then your reading ability will most likely be Grade 2 or lower.
If you’re unsure, go with something EASY. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of a piece! Something that looks easy on a page might not be that easy to sight-read.
By starting easy, you can also fill any gaps you might have in your learning, whether these are unfamiliar rhythms, symbols or musical terms.
Sight-reading books for piano
There are 3 types of books to choose from:
- Sight-reading books
- Graded repertoire books
- Collections/series of pieces
Let’s look at each of these. You can also skip to the section you want to read by using the Table of Contents.
1. Sight-reading books
These books are specifically designed to help you with sight-reading so you should consider getting at least one book series.
If your goal is long-term, go for graded sight-reading books as these aim to help you improve sight-reading in a progressive manner.
If you only want to pass a music exam and need to practice sight-reading sample tests, then the graded sight-reading sample tests may be enough.
Graded sight-reading books
by Samantha Coates and Michelle Madder
Book 1 contains ten levels, and Books 2 and 3 contain five levels. Each level includes a section on rhythm, random note reading, melody patterns, chords, rhythm to melody and concludes with a sight-reading test to review the level before proceeding to the next.
Length: 84-96 pages each.
Level of difficulty: Elementary to Intermediate.
Pros: Rhythm exercises, random note reading, melody patterns, chords, rhythm to melody, tests.
Cons: There aren’t enough pieces in each level.
by Arnoldo Sartorio (aka Christian Schäfer)
These books are progressive but at a faster rate than the other books. Ideal for pianists who already have some sight-reading skills and want more challenging material. The exercises are enjoyable to play and sound like actual pieces, not exercises.
Length: 26 pages each.
Level of difficulty: Late Elementary to Advanced.
Pros: The pieces are grouped by keys (major and relative minor).
Cons: Starts immediately hands together. Fast pace and no instructions.
by John Kember
N.B.: If you like this series, check out More Piano Sight-Reading 1-3 by the same author (includes duets in different keys, a section on fingering, 2 and 3 note chords and 4 part chords)
This book differs from the others in that it teaches you to recognise patterns and intervals and to look at the shape of the melody rather the individual notes. The series introduces new concepts systematically, so you never feel overwhelmed.
Length: 52 pages each.
Level of difficulty: Elementary to Late Intermediate.
Pros: Instructions. Book 3 contains a section on different styles and a section on accompaniments and transpositions. Also shows you how to count in when the piece starts with an upbeat. Position and key changes are introduced gradually. The books are written in 3 languages (English, French and German).
Cons: Book 1 starts rather slowly with a significant portion of the book being devoted to hands separate practice. HOWEVER, the benefit of this method is that when you finally do get to play hands together, you have had a lot of practice playing in different keys/positions and rhythms. So this is not really a con.
by Paul Harris
Each book contains “stages” and within each stage are the following sections: rhythm exercises, melodic exercises, “prepared pieces” with instructions on how to analyse and understand the piece before playing it, and “going solo” where you no longer have instructions.
Length: 40-48 pages each
Level of difficulty: Elementary to Advanced
Pros: Rhythm exercises at the start of each section and instructions. Checkboxes to mark the pieces you’ve done. The pieces are grouped by keys. Dynamics, rhythms, keys and articulation are introduced gradually.
|Product name:||How to Blitz Sight Reading||Sight-Reading Exercises Op. 45||Piano Sight-Reading: A Fresh Approach||Improve Your Sight-Reading!|
|Level of Difficulty:||Elementary to Intermediate||Late Elementary to Advanced||Elementary to Late Intermediate||Elementary to Advanced|
Random note reading.
Rhythm to melody.
Grouped by keys.
Sections on different styles, accompaniments & transpositions.
Shows you how to count in when there’s an upbeat.
Position and key changes introduced gradually.
Written in 3 languages (English, French and German).
Rhythm to melody.
Grouped by keys.
Concepts introduced gradually.
|Cons||Not enough pieces in each level.|
Starts immediately hands together.
|A significant portion of Book 1 only devoted to hands separate practice.||None.|
Graded sight-reading sample tests
by Caroline Evans
Encourages you to analyse and understand each piece before playing it by asking you questions and warning you about things to look out for.
Length: 40 pages each.
Level of difficulty: Elementary to Advanced.
Pros: Rhythm drills and instructions. Expressive markings and articulation are introduced gradually.
Cons: The key signatures change constantly.
Unlike the Right @ Sight series, there are NO instructions, and the concepts are NOT introduced progressively but all at once.
Length: 12-16 pages each.
Level of difficulty: Elementary to Advanced.
Pros: Genuine sample tests.
Cons: No instructions. The key signatures change constantly. Tempo markings, expressive markings and articulation are ALL introduced from the start! The books are only 12-16 pages long! I would only recommend these books if you just want to get a feel for real sight-reading tests and assess your level. Not worth the money otherwise.
2. Graded repertoire books
by Alfred Music
Collections of Baroque to Modern pieces. Aimed at early to late intermediate players. Each volume covers a particular type of piece, such as:
- 100 Early Intermediate Selections in Their Original Form (Volume 1)
- 75 Intermediate Selections in Their Original Form (Volume 2)
- Sonatinas (Volume 3)
- Early / Late Intermediate Selections in Their Original Form (Volume 4)
- Handspan of an Octave or Less (Volume 5)
- Technique & Musicianship (Volume 6)
- Spanning Seven Centuries (Volume 7)
- Miniatures (Volume 8)
Length: 128-164 pages each.
Level of Difficulty: Early to Late Intermediate.
Pros: Each volume contains more than 120 pages of music! That’s a lot of music. Some volumes come with a CD. Wide range of styles.
Cons: Not all volumes come with a CD.
edited by Jane Magrath
Like the Essential Keyboard Repertoire series, this series also contains Baroque to Modern pieces, but each level comes with a CD and the range of difficulty is wider.
Length: 32-72 pages each.
Level of Difficulty: Late Elementary to Early Advanced.
Pros: Each level comes with a CD.
Cons: Could contain more pieces in each volume.
Getting To Preliminary and Grades 1-5 (two editions available)
Popular series in Australia used to complement the AMEB – the Australian Music Examination Board – exam pieces from preliminary to fifth grade. Each book has around 30 pieces and varies in styles, from Baroque, classical, jazz and modern. Can be bought with a CD.
Length: 48-76 pages each.
Level of Difficulty: Elementary to Late Intermediate.
Pros: Nice variety of styles in each book. Each book contains a section to prepare you for the AMEB exams including scales, triads, arpeggios, broken chords, aural and musicianship tests and sight-reading.
Cons: The books only go up to Grade 5.
|Product name:||Essential Keyboard Repertoire||Masterwork Classics||Getting to Series|
|Suitable for:||Early Intermediate||Early Intermediate||Beginners|
|Level of Difficulty:||Early to Late Intermediate||Late Elementary to Early Advanced||Elementary to Late Intermediate|
|Styles||Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern|
Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern
Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, Jazz
|CD?||YES for some||YES||YES|
Large number of pieces in each volume.
Each volume covers a particular type of piece.
|Wide range of difficulty.|
Large variety of styles.
Technical, aural and sight-reading components of correspond grade included.
|Cons||Not all volumes come with a CD.||Could contain more pieces in each volume.||The books only go up to Grade 5.|
3. Collection or Series of pieces
These can be any collection of pieces. For example, the complete sonatas/preludes/waltzes/impromptus of your favourite composer or composers you are curious about.
If you don’t have any composers in mind, then the best way is to get a repertoire series like the Essential Keyboard Repertoire, the Masterwork Classics or the Getting To series I mention above.
What about sheet music?
Besides books, you can also look for particular pieces or pieces of a specific grade. An excellent website for this is pianosyllabus.com, where you can search its database of piano music by grade. For example, by typing Beethoven in the composer box and 3 in the grade box, you’ll get a list of pieces by Beethoven that are Grade 3.
N.B.: the grading system is by AMEB, which might differ slightly to the grading system you’re using in your country.
Imslp.org (IMLSP stands for International Music Score Library Project) is another excellent website where you can legally download sheet music for free. You’ll find all the major composers and MANY more that most of us haven’t even heard of.
To find your way through this treasure trove, you can search by genres, composers, instrumentation, or period. Just to give you an idea, there are a total of 32,760 hits for solo piano, so it’s a great resource IF you know what you’re looking for!
But if you don’t, I would suggest Scribd.com. It is an online platform where you can access books, documents, podcasts and even sheet music! The great thing about Scribd is that you’ll find not only standalone pieces but collections or series of pieces, which for our purpose is much more useful. You can always find more books under the heading “Similar to …” when you scroll down the page, and you can create a “sight-reading” list and save all the music to the list.
What other music can you use for sight-reading?
Say you’ve already bought and gone through loads of books for sight-reading and you’re running out of material. What music should you use then?
I suggest that you look at pieces or studies for children like the following:
- Album for the Young by Schumann
- Children’s Album Op. 39 by Tchaikovsky
- Album pour la Jeunesse Op. 140 by Gulritt
- 30 Pieces for Children Op. 27 or 24 Pieces for Children Op. 39 by Kabalevsky
- École Primaire Op. 176 by Duvernoy
- 100 Progressive Studies Op. 139 and Practical Exercises for Beginners by Czerny
- Essential Keyboard Études by Alfred Music
I also recommend sonatinas by Clementi, Kuhlau, Beethoven, Haydn, etc. which you can find in Volume 3 of the Essential Keyboard Repertoire series (if you want them all in one place), or for free on Imslp.org.
Hymns and chorales are also great resources for sight-reading as they encourage you to read vertically and recognise chords quickly. You can find a huge list of hymns on Imslp and Bach chorales in Cory Hall’s book Sight-Reading & Harmony: Progressive Pieces for Keyboard, Grades 1-10, Selected from Four-Part Chorales by J.S. Bach, which I highly recommend.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea! Let curiosity guide you.
READ MORE >> How to Never Run out of Music to Sight-Read
How long and how often should you practise?
It largely depends on your level but as a rough guide, if you’re a:
- beginner, do at least 5 minutes a day
- intermediate, do at least 10 minutes a day
- advanced, do at least 15 minutes a day
NOTE: Just like your regular piano practice, you should assign 5-15 minutes to sight-reading every day rather than 1 hour once a week! Aim for consistency.
How many times should you play each piece?
Once or twice at the most. If you’ve picked the right level – not too easy or too hard for you – you should be able to sight-read the piece in 1 or 2 attempts. Remember to aim for fluency, NOT perfection.
If you can play the piece from beginning to end while maintaining a good rhythm, then you can move on to the next. But if you keep stumbling even when you play it again slower, choose something easier. Don’t play the same piece over and over again to get it perfect. That’s not the aim.
READ MORE >> 5 Tips to Improve Your Sight-Reading
How many books should you get?
I suggest that you get a combination of books, not just ONE type.
- one graded sight-reading book series
- one graded repertoire book series, and
- one collection or series of pieces you fancy
The reason you should get more than one book series is so that you can alternate between them and always keep it interesting.
Remember that the goal is to expose yourself to as much music as you can. This way, you’ll learn to recognise patterns, chords, intervals, tonalities, rhythms, styles, etc. and sight-reading will become easier for you. So the more music, the merrier!
READ MORE >> How to Become a Sight-Reading Expert
Can you reuse the same material?
YES, of course! I highly recommend that you DO go back and cycle through your old books from time to time. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to remember every piece you’ve sight-read anyway. You’ll notice that passages that were once tricky will have become automatic for you! This will give you a significant boost in confidence.
And don’t forget that you can also keep challenging yourself with the same material by changing your goals. For example, you could aim to sight-read faster or up to tempo, with more dynamics, without looking down at your hands, with better fingering, etc.
How to use recordings for sight-reading
You can use a recording (a CD or a Youtube video) in several ways:
- Listen to the recording while looking at the music BEFORE you play
- Listen to the recording AFTER you play to assess your playing
- Play along with the recording at tempo or at a slower speed
To change the speed of a CD recording without altering the pitch, you can use an app like Anytune available on Apple and Android devices. N.B.: You’ll first need to burn the CD onto your computer, download the pieces in iTunes/Google Play and create a playlist.
For Youtube videos, you can simply adjust the speed by changing the “playback speed” after clicking on the Settings icon of the video.
Playing along a recording forces you to stay in time, which is an important skill to develop for sight-reading.
Good on you if you’ve made it this far! I know this is a long post, but I wanted to make this guide as helpful as possible and to do that, I tried to answer all the potential questions you may have had. If you still have questions, ask away in the comments below.
You may feel overwhelmed with the list I’ve given you but don’t be! You don’t have to get everything all at once! Start with one book and go from there. Gradually you’ll get to know what you enjoy sight-reading, which composers or styles you like and you’ll grow a wonderful piano music library for yourself that you can keep coming back to.
And for those who already have sight-reading resources, is there anything I’ve missed? Are there any other books I should add to the list? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase the product I recommend, but you won’t be charged more.