Is sight-reading something you wish to incorporate in your piano practice but somehow you never get to it? Or maybe you do practise sight-reading but only when you remember to? Then read on to learn 10 tips that will help you keep a sight-reading routine.
If sight-reading is something you practise only once in a while, your progress will be slow. And if your progress is slow, you will undoubtedly lose the motivation to even keep going!
So, what can you do to make sure you have a sight-reading routine in place so that you can improve gradually over time?
In this article, I’m going to share 10 tips to help you make sight-reading part of your daily piano practice.
1. Start small
Apply the “two-minute rule” to get you started. In case you’ve never heard of it, the “two-minute rule” was coined by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. The idea is that if you can get something done in two minutes, then do it. And the beauty is that once you’ve started a task, it’s much easier to keep going past the two-minute mark. The important thing is to start.
2. Same time of day
As James Clear explains in his book Atomic Habits, you’re more likely to follow through if you make a specific plan and decide when and where you will perform a new habit. The “where” is pretty obvious for pianists like yourself (unless you have multiple pianos to choose from!) but what about the “when”? What time of the day are you going to practise sight-reading?
Start and establish a system that works for you. As Clear says, you have to commit to the system. If this means 10 mins of sight-reading at 10 am every day, great. Do that. Or if it means 15 minutes at the start of your piano practice at 6 pm, do that. Find what works for you.
But remember, if you planned to do 15 minutes of sight-reading and only got 5 minutes done, it’s okay. As Clear observes, it’s better to do less than nothing at all.
3. Habit stacking
“Habit stacking” is when you combine two habits together so that habit 1 becomes the cue (or the trigger) for habit 2. You could decide to practise sight-reading immediately after a habit you already have in place. This could be something you do in each practice session such as your warm-up routine, or something before your piano practice, such as making a cup of tea. In this way, you’ll prepare and train your mind and body to expect sight-reading practice every time you do your warm-up routine or have your cup of tea.
4. Start your practice with sight-reading
Start your practice with sight-reading or straight after warming up because that is when your mind will be the freshest. Sight-reading requires a lot of brainpower so it makes sense to practise it at the start rather than at the end of your practice session when you’re mentally fatigued.
5. Always have music ready
A habit is more likely to stick if you make the task easy to start so rather than having to search for new music every single time, have music on your piano for you to sight-read. Make it as convenient as you can for yourself. If you don’t, you’re going to feel frustrated and you’ll probably give up, which is the last thing you want to do.
As Clear states, “Whenever you organise a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy”.
And if you want my two cents here? Instead of only using loose sheet music downloaded from the internet, use big compilations (like the Essential Keyboard Repertoire series) with lots of pieces – I’m talking hundreds of pieces – and collections of works (for example, “the complete sonatas of X”). Build a huge library of music over time. It will make your life so much easier!
LEARN MORE >> How to Never Run out of Music to Sight-Read
6. Sight-read music just outside your comfort zone
Find music that is not too easy nor too hard to sight-read – just past your comfort zone – so you don’t feel discouraged. In general, the music you sight-read will be one or two grades below your current level. Figuring out your sight-reading level will take a bit of trial and error but it shouldn’t be too difficult. And in case you’ve landed on music that is a bit of a stretch for you, you can still have a go, albeit at a much slower tempo.
7. Sight-read music that you enjoy
You’re more likely to stick with something if you find it satisfying and enjoyable. And besides, why spend time sight-reading music you don’t like when there’s so much music out there that you could like better. If you’re not sure what it is you like, sight-read pieces in different styles until you find ones that really resonate with you and take note of these pieces or the composers of these pieces so you can find more of them.
8. Reps, not perfection
As Clear points out, “If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.” Or as I wrote in another article, to improve sight-reading, focus on quantity over quality.
Besides, the aim of sight-reading is not to get everything perfect. The aim is to practise reading new material on a regular basis so that your reading becomes more fluent and you can learn pieces faster. So get in the reps by keeping a sight-reading routine.
9. Track your progress
Research has shown that people who track their progress are more likely to improve than those who don’t. I think this is because when you track your progress, you’re better able to witness your improvement over time and seeing this improvement keeps you motivated to keep going and improve further.
So, use a practice journal, a notebook or an app to track your progress. Write down the date, the pieces you sight-read, how long you spent, how you would rate your performance and any observations you may have had.
And every few months, go back to the pieces you sight-read in the past and see if you notice the progress you’ve made. If sight-reading is something you work on on a consistent basis, you will see improvement and this will keep you motivated.
10. Change your mindset
And most importantly, ask yourself how you feel about sight-reading. Does it scare you or does it excite you?
If you don’t view sight-reading as a fun activity, try to change that. Sight-reading gives you the opportunity to play a whole stack of pieces that you wouldn’t normally get to play. And besides, some of the added benefits is that it helps you learn pieces faster and your musicianship improves from being exposed to so much music.
Enjoy the process of discovering new music. Listen to the music you produce and when you stumble on a sound, a chord or a passage you particularly like (which will happen, I promise!), stop and “smell the roses”. Who says you have to barge through the whole piece without stopping once? You are not being examined so keep it fun!
Focus on the process, not on the destination, as I’ve discussed in this video: How long does it take to learn sight-reading?
Over to you
Those are my tips for you to keep a sight-reading routine. Which of these tips resonated most with you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. ⬇️
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