Sight Reading Music

Not what you might expect, but sight reading music effectively actually requires quite a bit of preparation. With practice, the technique you'll learn here will become a very quick habit.

Even though it hardly seems like sight reading with all this preparation, you will develop a "quick scan and test" technique, that you can do in under 30 seconds before actually playing the piece.

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

After preparing the piece in your head, in the exercises below, you will continue the preparation by playing, or singing, a few segments in the score using two important 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.

Step 1: Physical Preparation

This preparation is an important step to tweak your muscle “memory” a little in advance.

But, please observe that you are not playing the piece though 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.
  • “Finger through the piece”: This is a very important step! Play the whole piece once through on top of the piano keys, or on the fret board, neck of the violin, etc. without actually 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 now having checked out positions, intervals and raised or lowered notes, it is finally time to actually play the piece.

You have carefully prepared the piece very well already so it is actually not the first time you see the score. But it will be the first time you play the piece for real, so to say.

Here is what to do:

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

Phew! That’s it!

Congratulations on your music sight reading practice!

Unit counting means to count each note for what it is worth 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:

So, how did it go?

If you made a lot of mistakes simply pick an easier piece or a segment of a piece.

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

Review the steps of the mental preparation list in part 1 of music sight reading techniques for the types of mistakes you did. You will most certainly have managed a lot on the list, but maybe not all.

Your goal should be that after following the 10 steps of Mental Preparation outlined in part 1, and the Physical Preparation above; you will play the piece correctly at first try.

If not, pick an easier piece. If yes, pick a slightly harder next time.


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