Entry Into Music—Sight Reading

Sight Reading is one of three Entries Into Music. All three are equally important, but some people rely on just one, neglecting the other two. To be a really good musician, work on all three skills.

So, I’ve mentioned Sight Reading, but what are the other two Entries Into Music?

One is Playing By Ear. The other is Composing And Improvising. You can find out more about these two important skills in other articles.

For now, back to Sight Reading! Do you practise your Sight Reading? You should.

Sight Reading is being able to play from a music chart. Clearly, you need to be able to read music. If you’re a pianist, that means being fluent in reading both the treble clef and the bass clef. If you can’t read and identify the notes as quickly and fluently as you’re reading this article—then stop reading this article and go and practise reading music.

So now you can read music fast and fluently. You think that’s it, now you can sight read! But no, there’s more to it than that. You know you can identify the notes on the chart. Here’s an F, the next one’s an A, then there’s a B flat, and so on. That’s about a quarter of the process. We need three more things:

  1. Translate (at lightning speed) from reading the note to playing the note. And do this with both hands, in two different clefs, at the same time!
  2. Hold the note(s) for the right length. If all notes are held for the right length (this is properly called the “duration” of the note), you will end up with all the rhythms correct. This is so important, it supersedes even playing the right notes!
  3. Even with correct notes and immaculate rhythms, the music won’t make sense unless you give it meaning. This could be as simple as accenting the first beat of each bar. Almost certainly it means tempo, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, balance, pedalling..

Not so easy, huh? You thought you had it nailed when you learned to say “Every Good Boy Deserves Football”. Well, that was a start. But how will you master all the things I’ve listed? How will you ever be able to sight read a Beethoven sonata so it sounds amazing, or an Elton John song so that everyone joins in?

The answer is, don’t start with either Ludwig or Elton. Start with a good sight reading tuition book at the most basic level. Whatever your playing standard – you may even be at Grade 8 or beyond! – start at rock bottom.

There’s a series of books called “Improve Your Sight Reading”, written by Paul Harris. Buy them or borrow them. All of them.

Start with the first one (“Initial”). Do every single exercise. Read all the text. Colour in the dog pictures. Play each exercise once only, but when you get to the end of the book, start again from the beginning. Do not move on to the next book (“Grade 1”) until you can play every single exercise in the first book Accurately, Fluently and Confidently. I call this kind of playing AFC, and it’s what you are aiming for with everything you play.

You will notice a gradual improvement. Perhaps even a rapid improvement, at least at first. Stick with it. Doggedly. I promised you dogs to colour in. They’re there for a reason. When you have completed a book, not once but twice, draw your own unique dog at the back and colour it in. It’s like getting a badge, or a certificate.

Then move on to the next book, and do it all over again! If you get to draw your own dog at the back of the Grade 8 book, you can consider yourself a good Sight Reader.


Did you only focus on Sight Reading? Or were you working on the other two Entries Into Music at the same time? Have a look at the articles on Playing By Ear; and Composing And Improvising. They are just as important as Sight Reading!