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Sight Reading Help

Posted By: saye

Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 01:43 AM


New to the forums, but I've spent the greater part of the day reading back among archives. I wish I knew about this resource a long time ago!

I would like help with more advanced sight reading drills... I can read music and understand all the notation but have pretty serious trouble routinely connecting high and low (more than an octave away from middle C) notes to keys on the keyboard quickly. Learning new pieces is agonizing because I can't read through them quickly, so I have to memorize line by line. I pretty much need to look at my fingers all the time, which I'm sure is horrible practice.

I would prefer a set of drills that address this specifically because I find general teaching books boring as crap and I currently play out of "The Library of Piano Classics" and any classical sheet music I decide I like. I made it to Grade 3 Conservatory as a kid and then had a temper tantrum and quit because I was bored out of my mind with what I had to play. I would absolutely love to branch out to jazz but (for example) a Vince Guaraldi songbook is terrifying to look at in terms of ability to read and learn.

Lessons aren't an option because I'm a dirt poor graduate student. I bought a Yamaha P70 DP (loud keys are loud) several years ago and I feel stuck at a brick wall because of my difficulty with sight reading. I think there's only so much you can do with only a small amount of skill in playing by ear and memorizing.

All help completely appreciated frown
Posted By: CebuKid

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 02:09 AM

Somebody, not too long ago, posted a websight link - sort of a diary, if you will - of how they methodically went about becoming a better sight-reader. He/she showed the progress made after 2 years. It was amazing. He/she was very much yourself and myself....poor at sight reading so forced to memorize anything remotely "difficult." The ability to memorize is also a gift, so don't beat yourself up too badly about that. smile If the aforementioned member reads this, please re-post that link. It was pretty helpful.

Personally, I have been trying as much as possible to play new (and difficult) pieces HT whenever it is "do-able." This forces me to sight-read (though at an extremely slow tempo) and I was amazed at how much quicker the pieces are learned and memorized vs. playing only HS. I can memorize after about 15-20 or so play-throughs with the score. smile

Also, I recently purchased a book called "Progressive Sight Reading", by Hannah Smith - also recommended by another member. Since I'm lazy, I haven't gotten past the first page...lol. If you're disciplined and not lazy like I am, perhaps you'll want to try this book. It's a method book of sorts.

Lastly, some good advice I read was to sight-read, on a regular basis, easy stuff - even kid stuff, and church-type hymns are helpful too.
Posted By: Monica K.

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 02:10 AM

Welcome to the forum, saye. smile I know that I have seen recommendations for various sight reading books and drills, but danged if I can remember what they are now. My own personal belief is that the best way to improve sightreading is by... doing lots of sightreading. Yeah, it will be painfully slow at first, but the more you play from sheet music, the easier it will get. And one day you'll find yourself surprising yourself by sitting down and looking at a piece of unfamiliar music and being able to translate it immediately to the keys on the page.

It's sort of like learning to read regular books. Preschoolers and kindergartners have to sound words out, painful syllable by syllable. But over time something clicks and they begin to read fluently. That will happen for you.

Posted By: saye

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 02:16 AM

I see now that I'm registered that there's a search function, I posted immediately after my account was activated and didn't see it after looking earlier today :x oops. I'll look for those threads.

Thank you - I guess my lack of progress despite trying to practice is the most frustrating part. Although I learned how to read music as a kid I spent many intervening years reading only tablature for bass guitar and never even really picked up notes beyond the basic strings (out of total laziness natch) so I feel frozen at a very early level and that I resort to my bass ways instead of trying to progress properly because I'm impatient.
Posted By: Chris G

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 02:23 AM

For a long time my sightreading was very weak compared with my ability to play from memory and I spent most of my practice seesion for a year or so working on reading, i.e. rather than working on a small number of pieces which I ended up memorizing I kept on moving onto new pieces. I stil can't read as fast as I can play but my reading ability is way ahead of where it was and now that I can read better I can learn new pieces more quickly and no longer have to rely 100% on memory when playing.

My advice is to just get a collection of music that you like and which is not too difficult and just work through reading a lot of different pieces. It does get easier over time.

Posted By: Scrubby_Jones

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 02:37 AM

I can actually ONLY sight read. My mother was a music teacher and had tons of sheet music lying around. I never played the same piece twice growing up, so I didn't learn anything for memory. I can improv a bit, but without at least a lead sheet in front of me, I'm useless. From there I built up the skill to where I can read fairly involved pieces in real time.

It's incredibly frustrating, but you've gotta just keep with your internal (or actual) metronome and not look back. It helps to play pieces that you like and know. Try practicing when you know that nobody can hear you so you're less embarrassed by the wrong notes you'll inevitably hit. You'll play a similar piece a thousand times wrong before you play one right. But if you go back and fix your errors, you're still only learning that song.

If you learn how to fake the music using guitar chords, it works as a nice crutch that allows you to have the gratification of playing the song without stopping. But what it also does it bridges you to the point where you recognize the chord structure within the music and can simply glance at the staff and your hand immediately jumps to the right position so you're not looking at your hands as much.

Again, it's not easy. There's no book, lesson, or exercise that can teach you to sight read without a little frustration. Also, don't bother learning to sight read just the right hand and trying to go back and learn the left. In order to sight read in real time, you have to learn to visualize all 10 fingers working together, not simply two hands.

As a physician, I can tell you that frustration is the feeling you get when the nerves in your brain are making new connections. Good luck, and be prepared for some hard work ahead!
Posted By: landorrano

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 06:14 AM

Originally Posted by Scrubby_Jones

As a physician, I can tell you that frustration is the feeling you get when the nerves in your brain are making new connections. Good luck, and be prepared for some hard work ahead!

Ah ha!
Posted By: Teodor

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 08:54 AM

I used this online drill and I no longer have problem finding the notes on the keyboard. You can configure it to also include accidentals if you need to.

Here is the link:

Now when I sight read I automatically know the position, I see it in my head before I actually know what note I'm looking at smile
Posted By: Mark...

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 11:16 AM

It's all about practice and time...
Posted By: bolt

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/14/10 07:34 PM

I bought the first three levels of Sight Reading by Lin Ling Ling yesterday and after starting to use them I have a good impression. I think they are going to help me.

Each level has a large number of drill exercises that you sight read.

They are $5.95 each.
Posted By: ll

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/17/10 09:11 PM

--benefit of ear-training along with sight-reading
--goes from level Prep to 10; gets progressively harder, and by the end, looks like a nightmare...

--a bit more simple than the above link, but not as plain. has more exercises but they aren't as difficult
--goes from 1A to 6

--matches along with the ABRSM guide, so you could technically prepare for that portion of the exam should you choose to participate...no real experience with this one myself, apologies...

There are a lot of 'exercise' books like these that get progressively harder. Go to a music store and look through them if you can. You pretty much can't go wrong with any of them as long as you learn correctly. Here are some of my own tips--

1) get a progressive repertoire series (Succeeding with the Masters, Keith Snell, etc etc etc), start at the first level, and slowly make your way through sight-reading them...

2) don't play the same song twice because, honestly, that defeats the purpose...

3) LEARN TO READ BY INTERVALS AND RECOGNIZE CHORDS... holy moly, that's probably the most important and only way to learn how to sight-read correctly... Do *not* look at the second note and say its name... instead, say how far it was from the start note.

eg, "Middle C, up a fifth, down a third, up a fifth, up a second," etc.

4) remember that rhythm proceeds all else... sight-read at a pace that means you aren't changing tempo at any time... playing the right note at the wrong time makes it wrong.

5) augment the repertoire books with one of the afore-linked series for little exercises...

6) LEARN TO RECOGNIZE PATTERNS... there is a book that I have in mind, but can't recall... the goal was to teach you many patterns before you even got to the piano, and once you did, you'd see them in the music... I'll try to find it.

7) do it daily! Sight-reading is probably the most difficult task when it comes down to it, and it requires all of your muscles to work together on-the-spot...doing it every day will make sure to 'exercise' that ability more than once a week...

8) THEORY!! http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/search?q=fundamentals+of+piano+theory If you learn your theory well, I believe that your sight-reading will improve by leaps and bounds... some may disagree, but I've experienced it and seen it work. Just make sure to do the theory AT THE PIANO and even if it is incredibly simple, USE THE PIANO with each step and exercise. It will reinforce everything mentioned above (intervals, chords, rhythm, linking notes with the keys, etc).

9) TRANSPOSE! Instead of learning the pieces all in the written key, try to learn them in another key. Or learn them in all the keys after you sight-read the first time. Whichever. This will force you to read by interval, but also to see the relationships between the notes and the keys. If you can do that, while sight-reading, you will definitely be a lot better when it comes to simply reading what's written. Highly important if you want to be a good sight-reader.

10) Last but not least (and really, probably not last either), sight-read in front of others if you can...preferably someone who is also a musician. This way you have the nerves against you (because chances are you're usually sight-reading FOR someone anyway), and if they are also a musician, someone who can listen to the music for accuracy and such while you focus on the playing.


Posted By: Legal Beagle

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/17/10 10:11 PM


Thanks so much for your excellent post. That's the best response I've seen yet to the often-posed question about improving sight reading ability.

6) LEARN TO RECOGNIZE PATTERNS... there is a book that I have in mind, but can't recall... the goal was to teach you many patterns before you even got to the piano, and once you did, you'd see them in the music... I'll try to find it.

If you're able to find it and post the title, I would be very appreciative.

Posted By: ll

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/18/10 06:42 PM

The book is called "Patterns For Piano" (with a name like THAT, you wonder how I forgot it). It is from the "Artistry at the Piano" series.


Good luck!!
Posted By: Legal Beagle

Re: Sight Reading Help - 04/18/10 08:23 PM

Thanks very much, II. I'm intrigued by this idea (and as promised, I am grateful).

Best of luck in your quest to be a piano teacher... you were one for me today!
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