The Most Important Thing to Improve Sight-Reading

If you could develop a habit of being able to sit at the piano for only 5 minutes a day, this will greatly help your sight-reading abilities more than ANYTHING ELSE. What good are all the tricks and tactics if you’re not regularly sitting down to use them? The most important thing you can do to improve your sight-reading and nearly anything else in piano playing would be to develop a habit of regularity.

But before you can successfully apply these tactics, we must establish a steady, daily habit of sitting on that piano bench.


How to form a daily piano practice habit:

1. Start SMALL. You don’t want to do a new year’s resolution type deal. Nothing like, “I will practice for two hours a day starting TOMORROW!” It just doesn’t happen. Experts say if you want to start a habit, like flossing your teeth, you start by flossing one tooth. One!

The piano playing version of flossing “one tooth” would be to practice only one minute or read one short piece a day. Set a timer, and just read that ONE piece.

2. Aim for a measurable goal (not time) for each practice session.

So don’t choose something like, “I will practice 10 minutes a day.” Choose something along the lines of, “I will read 5 pieces a day in X book.” For starters, let’s have you read one piece a day.

3. Do it everyday. Set an alarm on your phone. Remember, it’s like vitamins. The doctor doesn’t say take 3 doses of your vitamins or medicine on one day, skip a few days, then take another batch of doses. The doctor says take your daily dose for an optimal state of health, right? So why would piano playing for optimal growth as a musician be different? Shorter practice sessions done more frequently is far more beneficial. It is better to practice 5 minutes a day, twice a day, then it is to practice two days a week for 30 minutes each.

4. Habit stacking. Stack your new habit of piano practice on top of something you already do every day. If you brush your teeth everyday, (which I hope you do!), try starting your one-piece practice session either before or after you brush your teeth.

5. Mental state. If you notice practice is tough, find out what is getting in the way. We usually can’t fix a problem if we are not aware of it. Sit quietly and think, journal, or discuss your thoughts with a friend. Are you afraid of never reaching your big dream goal with piano/music? Are you afraid you won’t have time to do something else you might consider more important throughout the day? Are you afraid of what friends or family might think if you took up your passion and actually went after music? Keep asking the question, “What is in the way of my piano practice?” and you should eventually come up with an answer that can guide you. Also, what do you think you need to get you to practice daily?

6. Good teaching. If you’re trying to learn how to read music, whatever you do, do not read the same music over and over and over again. You can do that if you’re trying to learn that ONE song/piece, but if you’re trying to learn how to actually read music you cannot read the same things over and over. The key is to read each new piece of music only once or twice and use the simple guidelines outlined here (Sight-Reading Guidelines PDF).

If you sit down at the piano for just 5 minutes a day and begin practicing sight-reading with the tactics and tricks that I share regularly, I promise that will improve your sight-reading more than anything else could.

Have fun!

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