Quick Tips

Learn How to Sight Read with Our 7 Steps to Super Sight Reading

By Hoffman Academy Team
How to practice sight reading - exercises, tips, and resources.

Practice sight reading now by using our tips below!

1. Focus on Sight Reading:

Sight reading, the ability to read and play an unfamiliar piece of written music, is a separate skill from performing. Realize that it’s going to take some focused sight reading practice in order to master it. Dedicate time to practice sight reading each time you sit at the piano. It doesn’t need to take long! For instance, you could make a habit of dedicating five minutes at the beginning of each practice session. You’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ll make with just a little bit of consistent effort. 

2. Got Rhythm?

When you sight read a song you need to be able to read both rhythm and pitch at the same time. To make things easier, practice reading rhythms alone. Use the rhythm cards from our lesson materials, or make some of your own. Lay out the cards in random order and try tapping or clapping the rhythm. Start out slow. Once you feel comfortable tapping the rhythm on the cards, pick up the speed and see if you can tap the rhythm faster! Shuffle the cards and then try again. 

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3. Look for Relationships Between Written Notes

When you practice sight reading a new piece of music, look for patterns in how the notes relate to each other. Do the notes repeat? Step up? Step down? Skip up? Skip down? Repeat? To help develop this skill, take any piece of music and point to the first note and say “Start.” Moving your finger to the second note, name the relationship from the first note to the second. Continue moving your finger to each note, naming the way the notes move from one to the next. 

4. Master the Musical Alphabet

Practice sight reading by getting to know the musical alphabet. Be able to name the notes stepping both up (A B C D E F G) and down (G F E D C B A), and also know what letter will be a skip up or down from each note (for example, C skips up to E). Learning the musical alphabet can be fun if you make a game out of it! Grab a favorite stuffed animal and find a practice partner. Throw the animal to your partner and say “A.” Your partner will throw it back and say “B.” Continue passing the stuffed animal back and forth while naming the musical alphabet. Then, name the musical alphabet backwards! For a challenge, play this game by skipping up the musical alphabet (A, C, E, G), and then skipping backwards (A, F, D, B). You can also practice these skills with the music alphabet cards from our lesson materials, or make some of your own. 

5. Learn Letter Names on the Keyboard

For a fun way to learn the letter names of keys on the keyboard, see lessons 4, 6, and 17. Once you’ve learned the letter names on the keyboard, practice! Find a practice partner and have them call out letter names, or draw a musical alphabet card from the stack, and see how fast you can find the piano key. You can also ask someone to point to a random key on the keyboard and you see how fast you can name it.

Frog and Snake is another fun way to learn the letter names on the keyboard. This game needs two people, one to be the frog and one to be the snake. The “frog” will start on the left end of the piano, hopping all the way to the top of the piano on one letter name. For example, if the frog chooses B, they’ll start on the first B key and hop to the right side of the piano using only B keys. Once the frog reaches the highest B on the piano, the hungry “snake” chases the frog back down the piano! The frog must continue hopping on the B keys all the way back down the piano before the snake catches him. 

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6. Learn Letter Names on the Staff

After learning the musical alphabet and knowing the letter names of keys on the keyboard, it’s time to learn letter names on the staff (see Lesson 21, 32, and 49). Knowing the letter names on the staff provides an anchor and makes it quick and easy to find starting points. To practice letter names on the staff, say or sing the letter names of notes in songs you already know. You can also use flash cards to help practice letter names on the staff. It can be overwhelming to tackle the whole staff at once, so drill a few at a time until all the notes are memorized. Don’t forget to review often!

7. Practice Sight Reading by Reading Something New Every Day

Once you start learning note names on the staff, a little sight reading challenge should be a part of your everyday practice routine. Find music that is much simpler than the songs you’re learning for your lessons. For early beginners, it’s okay to do only a measure or two, whatever you find challenging but not overwhelming. First tap or clap the rhythm, then identify each note as a step, skip, or repeat, then say each letter name, and then try playing it on the keyboard. As you advance through your piano studies, keep up the habit of sight reading a little every day. The pieces you’ll be able to read will advance as you do.

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