Sight Reading Tips
In a previous music blog, we talked about the incredibly important musical ability called “sight-
reading.” We defined it as playing or singing a piece of music that one has not seen before.
This includes being able to play or sing without pauses while maintaining a steady beat. We
also talked about why it is important to every musician, and why it is a skill that all of us can
This month’s blog will cover sight-reading tips to help work toward the goal of becoming a
better, more profitable musician. If you are new to sight-reading, or if you are familiar with it
and are trying to improve your skills, the following tips will help guide you to your goal of being
a more advanced sight-reader.
Sight-read a little bit EVERY DAY! Even if you can only do it for 5 minutes a day, it will help
you improve your skill more than if you just do it 1 day a week for an hour. Just like practicing
your music, it is better to do it more often for shorter periods of time than 1 day a week for a
Choose songs to sight-read that are just slightly below or at your current level of playing. If
you sight-read a piece of music that is above your current playing ability, it will be too difficult
to keep a steady beat throughout and maintain good technique if you are really struggling to
read the notes.
Before you start sight-reading your song, scan the music (without playing or singing it!) and make a mental note of the following things: hand position and finger numbers-Figure out your starting hand position and notice any finger numbers given in the music. Can you identify where/if your hand position changes in the music? time signature-How many notes are there is a measure and which kind of note is getting the beat?
Key signature- Are there any letters that are going to be sharp or flat throughout the
song unless otherwise indicated by a natural sign?
Intervals-Do you notice where there are steps, skips, fifths, octaves, etc?
Rhythm-Are there any tricky rhythms to look out for? Remember that counting your
notes correctly are of utmost importance!
Primary chords-Look at the notes in each measure and notice if you can recognize if
they are part of an I chord, V chord, IV chord, etc? Instead of trying to read every letter in
the staff individually, first, see if you can recognize what chord it is to help you identify
the letters at a quicker pace.
Form-Are there any sections that repeat or look really similar?
Other musical markings-If you are at a level where you can sight-read and also pay
attention to any musical markings, like dynamics, articulations, crescendos,
decrescendos, etc, take note of all of these before you start sight-reading to see how
many of them you can include while playing through the piece.
Once you have taken a few minutes to notice all of the above, you are ready to begin.
Before you start, count out loud 1 measure at a SLOW, steady pace, so you can give yourself
enough time to look ahead while playing or singing. For example, if your song is in 4/4 time
count aloud “1-2-3-4” at a slow enough pace that will allow you time to look ahead each
One of the most difficult things about sight-reading is the fact that you cannot pause or stop
and go back if you make a mistake. No matter what happens, or how many notes you read or
play incorrectly, you must challenge yourself to keep going. For example, if I am playing a piano
piece and I accidentally play 3 notes in a row incorrectly, I would need to keep my steady pace
going and just playing the very next note coming up. This ability to let go of mistakes in real-time
and just focus at the moment and look ahead, has the wonderful benefit of making you a better
and a braver performer.
Let’s think about this for a moment… The more you sight-read, the more experience you have
playing or singing new music without faltering. Imagine how useful this would be at an event
like an APA recital, Solo and Ensemble, or WFMC competition? Let’s take this further and apply
this confidence that you will gain to other aspects of your life. Imagine how useful this ability
(to keep going no matter what happens) would be for things like public speaking events, your
first interview, taking a difficult test like the ACT?
We all make mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes as nothing in life is perfect. Improving your sight-reading ability is a wonderful way to build your confidence to get through these mistakes and allow yourself to be a braver, and a stronger performer.