Sight Reading Music

This article may contain compensated links. Please read the disclosure for more info.

Not what you might expect, but sight reading music effectively requires quite a bit of preparation.

The technique you'll learn here can become a very quick habit with practice. And done daily, at least for periods, you'll improve your sight reading quite dramatically!

Sight Reading Music with Simple Techniques

After preparing the piece in your head (mental preparation), continue your preparation with the exercises below.

Play or sing a few segments in the score while using two essential steps:

  1. The first step is the "physical" preparation, where you prepare your fingers and muscles to play- without actually playing!
  2. The second step is where you (finally) play "prima vista" slow and steady, without stopping.

Even though it hardly seems like sight reading music with all this preparation, practicing these exercises will help you develop a "quick scan and test" technique. This technique you may later use, quickly in under 30 seconds, before playing the piece; a prima vista!

In this way, you will be sight reading music with fewer mistakes and much more confidence.

Remember to do some sight reading practice every day you practice the piano. A little bit each day has the benefit of the accumulated effect. 

Sight Reading MusicTips for Sight Reading Music

Step 1: Physical Preparation

This preparation is crucial to tweak your muscle “memory” a little in advance. But, please observe that you are not playing the piece through properly just yet- this is still part of the preparation!

Sight reading music
  • Intervals: For pianists, it is a good idea to "block" (play the two notes simultaneously) any intervals you see. For other instrumentalists or singers, test any larger interval by playing the two notes one at a time.
  • Play on top of the keys: This is an essential step! Play the whole piece by playing on top of the piano keys (or the fretboard, neck of the violin, etc.). Without making any sound.  
  • As you do, try to also imagine the sound of the piece.
  • Observe the hand positions, and make sure to "play" any raised or lowered notes correctly.

Step 2: Sight Reading Music; Play!

After thoroughly preparing the piece in your head and checking out positions, intervals, and raised or lowered notes, it is finally time to play the music!

You have already prepared the piece, so it is not the first time you have seen the score. But it will be the first time you play the music for real, so to speak.

Here is what to do:

  • Get a feel for the tempo. Set a metronome if you wish, but keep it very slow.
  • Play slow and steady.
  • Keep your eyes looking ahead at the score; never look back!!
  • Keep a steady pulse, and use “unit” counting (see below) for easy fluent playing.
  • If you make a mistake, never mind. Just go ahead and keep going, and going!

Unit counting means counting each note for its beat value and not regarding where it is in the measure.

For example, four quarter notes in a measure would be counted 1-1-1-1 with unit counting and not 1-2-3-4 as with regular counting. This technique makes it easier to keep looking ahead and the music going forward.

Review and Self-Check

Phew! That’s it! Congratulations on your sight reading practice!

So, how did it go? If you made many mistakes, simply pick an easier piece or just a smaller segment of a music piece next time.

You can’t force the ability to read prim a’ vista by playing too tricky pieces. Step by step wins the race! 

Now what?

  • Review the mental preparation list steps in part 1 of music sight reading techniques for the types of mistakes you made. You'll most certainly have managed a lot on the list, but maybe not all.
  • If not, pick an easier piece. If yes, choose a slightly harder next time.

You might like these