Terrible at sight-reading? You need to read this!

Sight-read is important and it's a brilliant skill to learn. But too often students want to steer as far away from this element of music as possible. Piano lessons in Sutton with Qian Tutor, actively work towards guiding students to become proficient sight-readers. Sight-reading a short passage of unseen music, and daily sight-reading assignments are a natural part of the piano learning experience with Qian Tutor.


But how did this come to be?


When I young student, I (like most other students) hated sight-reading. It made me feel nervous, it showed me as a weak piano player and I always procrastinated working on it until the last 2 months before the exam. Then in the run up to exams, it was always a blind panic because the feeling of regret set in. It was only until I started joined orchestras and bands that my sight-reading vastly improved.


But not everyone has the desire or plays an instrument that allows them to join a music group. So here is a quick read about the MUST DO things to get better at sight-reading. No matter your age, ability or playing experience. you need to start doing this!


What is sight-reading?

Sight-reading is the ability to play unseen music. It can literally be explained as "first sight of music". It forms a mandatory part of majority of graded piano exams, and is core to ABRSM exams. The goal is to play through with as few mistakes in: note, time values, rhythm, dynamics, articulation etc.


Why is sight-reading important?

Learning music is analogous to learning a new language. Both require learning new structures of communication. The more vocabulary and words are exposed to in reading, the more proficient you become at reading new text in the learning language. The same is true of sight-reading. Piano has the difficulty of having two systems of displaying notation, treble clef and bass clef. Along with requiring both hands to be used other simultaneously but distinct.


Structuring piano practise to include sight-reading everyday has two main benefits: it takes away the fear out of learning new pieces and makes you a better player.


Terrible at sight-reading? You must do this!

Sight-read everyday. I'm serious! Sight-reading is like a muscle, the more you work it, the strong it becomes.

Spend about a quarter of your practise session on sight-reading new material. i.e. if you practise for 1hr a day, spend 15mins dedicated to sight-reading. If your practise is 30mins, spend 7-8mins on sight-reading. Even on the 2nd or 3rd play through, you are still learning sight-reading (although not as effective).


Play duets with others. This is brilliant at establishing a sense of tempo and perseverance to continue even with mistakes.


Train yourself to not look at your hands. Get used to the geography of the keys.


Train yourself to spot patterns in the music. This can be: notes, rhythms, scales, arpeggios, chords, transpositions, finger pattern. Practising scales, arpeggios, chords and inversion all aid in this.


Choose material to sight-read that is 2-3 grade levels below your current playing ability. i.e. if you are Grade 6, choose Grade 3 level music to sight-read. If you are Grade 1, choose complete beginner music to sight-read.


Have an extensive sight-reading library. Buy repertoire books. Reuse previous exam books (pick the pieces you didn't learn). Use IMSLP, use Musesore, use Faber Piano Adventures sight-reading coach.