PracticePrompt Blog

Sight-reading: YouTube Tutorials, Notes and Thoughts

Posted in Sight-Reading by elwynrees on August 14, 2010

There are many piano tutorials on YouTube and   I started reviewing some of these.   You can find a collection of  these and a summary of their key points and my thoughts and strategy in the full article…

A Summary of key points when learning to sight-read


1. Practice sight-reading with material you can “Read”. Do not use pieces that you have to “decode” or “decypher”.   If you find yourself decoding, then the piece is  too hard and you have drop down a level.  However, it needs to be challenging but “playable”.

2. When learning to sight-read, it’s not a time to be proud.  It doesn’t matter what level the pieces are that you normally decode, practice and work up, you have to practice sight-reading with pieces you can “read” (see (1)).

3. Sight-read every day.   10 minutes daily is better than 1 hour once a week.

4. Get out the “beginner” pieces.  I’m using those in pianist magazine  but any “beginner” level sets of graded pieces will do. 

5. It is good to play a wide variety of styles (baroque, classical & romantic) together with some contemporary, Jazz and popular music.

6. When practicing sight-reading study the score for a  specific piece away from the piano for several minutes then sit down and play:

a) Look at the key signature (numbers of sharps and flats) and time signature (4/4, 3/4 etc) first

b) Look at the first and last bars (what key is it in)

c) Scan the whole piece quickly. Suck out as much information as possible:

  • look for section breaks (with or without repeat signs?)
  • look for accidentals
  • look at the left hand patterns (arpeggiated, waltz, minuet etc)
  • look at the chord patterns
  • look for scale runs

d) Do not look down at the keyboard or away from the score (use peripheral vision for leaps)

e) Go Slowly

f) Imagine a metronome and establish the tempo before starting

g) Count  (“one & two & three & four)

h) Do not stop

i) Do not correct mistakes

j) Keep going forward and maintain the rhythm

k) Read intervalically

  • In scale runs read: it starts on “C”, then up a second, up a second, up a second, up a third, up a fourth etc
  • In chords read the shape: it starts on “C” and is a major triad

l) Try to “hear” it in your head before playing it. Do NOT listen to recordings of the piece before playing it (but play a recording afterwards to check rhythm, timing, tempo and so forth).

7. Exercises and study in support of sight reading

  • Scales & Arpeggios
  • Chords and their inversions
  • Common LH accompaniment patterns
  • Be familiar with notation for seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths sixths, octaves, ninths and tenths
  • Be familiar with notation for root triads,  first and second inversions
  • Be familiar with dominant sevenths, augmented fourths etc

8. Specific drills

Review and read through the piece AWAY from the piano (only when this is done sit down at the piano and play it)

Very, very slow tempo: Aim for note accuracy

Spot memorisation: Read a bar then play the bar from memory. This will sound “fragmented” but all bars are played from short-term memory.

Spot memorisation and reading combined: Read a bar then whilst playing it from memory read the next bar. Pause and repeat


Currently I’m spending 10 minutes daily on sight-reading.   3- steps

1) Read throught the score away from the piano as described above.

2) Sit down at the piano and play the piece (record for reference and review).

3) Listen to a recording of the piece afterwards to check how it should have sounded (tempo, phrasing, rhythm etc).  

I do this practice task first.  It seems to work well as part of a warm-up exercise and seems to help me focus for the rest of the sessions.

At the current rate I’m going to run out of these pieces in a month.   I have a collection of books of graded pieces and some ABRSM graded exam pieces which I can then work my way through.    I’ve also checked the local library (which has a large collection of sheet music) and they also stock collections of graded pieces for piano. 


Progress?   It’s early days and not quite 2 months since starting.   I’ve now read more than 30 beginner pieces from Pianist Magazine.    Most recently I’ve started noting the common issues frequently causing mistakes (mostly wrong notes at this stage, but having to slow down to decode simple chords and intervals, reading notes with lots of ledger lines).   I’ve become more aware recently of the need to recognise these common patterns and read just the lowest note.  This can be practiced as a separate task.   I also tend to go too fast and forcing myself to count 4/4 as “1- and-2-and-3- and-4”

However, I do need some method to track progress.  The simplest of these is to start recording them and to review it along with listening to a professional recording of the track for comparison.  

The main “progress” so far is the discovery of specific methods and tasks to practice such as “intervallic reading”, the importance of patterns.


Much of the summary above is  from the  sight-reading tutorials on YouTube, which  are of variable quality and listed below in no particular order with brief set of bullet point summaries:

  • Practice reading not decoding or decyphering, its not a time to be proud.  You must practice sight-reading with material you can “read” rather than “decode”
  • The music must not be so difficult that you have to “decode”
  • You need to be reading ahead (of what you are playing)
  • Exercise the sight-reading muscle of the brain
  • You have to spend time everyday actually reading
  • Decoding is not reading (its too hard for you).
  • Get out the basic music books and beginning piano books
  • Grasp hunks of notes not one note at a time
  • Find your level, if its way to easy go up a level, to where it is challenging but you can keep going
  • You are not trying to learn the piece. You are exercising the reading part of the brain
  • Take  a good look: key signature, what is the easiest thing here!  Simple patterns (same note played 4 times) etc
  • Then just do it…
  • Would like a gadget/application to cover up the notes just read. You don’t want to be looking at what you are playing, you need to be looking beyond
  • The eye should be constantly jogging over to the right
  • You have to be way ahead reading of what you are playing
  • The discipline of accompanying a choir is described: You must keep going, don’t try to correct any misstakes, keep going….
  • Need to admit if a piece is too difficult to read (if you find yourself decoding).
  • Lots of beautiful easy pieces that you can read by most composers
  • Use to spend whole evening reading music
  • Put time in every day starting on the easiest level


  • Requires practice
  • Need to be able to read sheet music
  • Uses an example from a RCM(?) grade 5 sight-reading book
  • Look at the key signature first
  • Check whether its a Treble and bass cleffs
  • Example has 1 sharp
  • Look through the score for accidentals
  • Check time signature
  • Take a quick little scan over the piece and note the final and start notes
  • You defninitely, definitely want to be counting (as you haven’t heard it before)
  • Explains “pick-up beat” at the start
  • Don’t look back and forth between keys and score, feel where the keys are
  • Don’t read individual notes
  • Go S-l-o-w-l-y when sight reading and count
  • Draws an analogy with car driving and looking into the distance to anticipate what’s coming.
  • Starts to introduce reading by intervals
  • Space to space  or line to line = third
  • space (miss space) to space or line (miss line) to line = fifth
  • Look ahead


Another Lypur one, this one is a bit more practically focussed:

  • RCM sight-reading example book
  • Practice daily
  • Never Stop!
  • Never Go Back!
  • Look ahead!
  • Go at a speed where you can keep hitting the notes accurately
  • Two fingers representing where you’re looking and playing (tw0 bars ahead)
  • Go at a steady pace, a steady tempo is emphasised
  • In exams use the time you are given to look over the piece as efficiently as possible: key signature, are there accidentals,  what style of piece examples Chorale (Bach), keyboard style etc…
  • Start slow.  Slow correct music sounds OK (but not too slow)
  • Keep going, keep going, just keep going, don’t stop
  • Read Intervallically: up a second, up a second, down  a third etc This is much easier for the hands to translate. Very intuitive.
  • Don’t look down at the keyboard
  • It takes time and dedication
  • Practice every single day (will help the most), even just 5 (or 10) minutes. It’s a daily skill
  • The better your sight reading abilit the better you can learn pieces since you can get the notes “out of the way” quickly


  • Looking at patterns and the significance of recognisng chord inversions (relevance of theory).  The example has the same chord descending in inversions as  single notes


  • The background of a good sight-reader is described (a teacher who made her count out load all of the time)
  • Book Piano guided sight reading (Leonard Deutch?)
  • Read Slowly enough so that you can identify every note accurately and count accurately
  • Elastic/flexible  time (slower in harder sections in order to read accurately)
  • Always reading from the bottom up
  • What is it good sight-readers do?  Another example: a good sight reader, the younger of two sisters was given 50 books at level1 and 50 books at level 2 etc.. so as not to catch up with older sister.   Generally thought that students are moved onto higher levels too quickly need time to consolidate.
  • A good sight-reader scoops up loads of information when looking at the score (clefs, key signature, know all their scales) etc.

Video stops mid-sentence at this point!

  • Poor sight-readers: main problem is being advanced too rapidly up the grades
  • Sight-reading like any skill takes practice


  • Correct level of difficulty
  • Hight quantity
  • Minimal repetition
  • Small pieces
  • Move forward always
  • “Feel” for keys, eyes on music
  • Small frequent practice sessions (split it up, don’t burn out)

How well you can play it the very first time you see a piece (notes and rhythm).

  • when reading two-note chords read the lower note (eg C) and if a second the D is next to it

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Elwynrees has posted a huge collection of sight reading tips. […]

  2. david said, on February 23, 2011 at 13:54

    how can i get all the dvds you have for training and how much are they?

    • elwynrees said, on February 23, 2011 at 20:34

      These are links to Youtube Videos and my summary notes. I have no training dvds …sorry!

  3. […] I found that WordPress seemed to have scrampled the html code embedding the Youtube videos in the sight-reading youtube videos and note. I’ve updated it and the YT vids seem to be showing again (they’d vanished). You can see here […]

  4. Tim said, on July 10, 2011 at 14:39

    Nice sightreading tips. Thanks for sharing them.
    I’ll definitely be referring to them during my practice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: