Many aspiring and current pianists dream of being able to sit down at the piano, open a new music book or print some sheet music of their favorite songs and play through it, creating a beautiful and accurate sounding piano version of their favorite music. But there’s one big problem that gets in the way—very few pianists are actually able to sight-read well. So, trying to play just one song ends up taking hours, days, weeks, months…. even years.
This was my story for years despite the fact that I had taken private lessons for over a decade. I am writing this today for the main purpose of giving you hope that this dream IS actually possible with the right instruction.
First, let’s take a look at why you’re here. If reading music is completely new to you, great! You’re starting at the right place. But if you’ve been playing for a time and have major sight-reading issues, here are likely some of the reasons why:
1. You never had a teacher.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you never had a teacher, chances are you have not been exposed to a structured way of learning how to read and play music. Getting weekly insight from a professional in a private lesson setting cannot be compared to trying to teach yourself.
2. Your teacher never taught you how to sight-read.
If you have had a teacher, this is likely the number one reason why you never learned to properly sight-read. Even if you were taught a little bit of sight-reading, it was probably very minimal and usually only for the purpose of passing an annual exam.
3. Your practice time mostly consists of repetition instead of playing new music.
Repetition leads to memorization. This is great when you are preparing for a performance, but not when you’re trying to learn how to sight-read better. If it’s been three years and you’re only playing the same three songs you’ve ever played, you’re probably not working on any sight-reading at all.
4. Sight-reading is unintentionally and unknowingly disguised as “reading music.”
If you ask any piano student if they know how to read music, the answer is usually yes (unless they are learning with the play-by-ear method). But there often comes a time when the student gets frustrated at the amount of time it takes to learn a new piece of music and they realize something’s wrong. As if that’s not bad enough, students get frustrated at the number of mistakes they make and how little they can accomplish with a new piece of music without the teacher being by their side. This is precisely because there is a difference between reading music and sight-reading. You can know how to read music without knowing how to sight-read.
Music is like a language. You might know how to say some words or phrases in another language, but not actually know how to speak that language.
Reading music is like only knowing the letters of an alphabet. If you only know the letters, it will take you a significant amount of time to try and read new words, sentences and paragraphs, let alone a full page. Sure, you can “read” in the new language, but it takes a long time and you might not even understand what you’re reading. You’ll need a language teacher to help you greatly throughout this process. You’ll also need to go through the page over and over until you’re able to read it fluently. Memorization becomes necessary.
Sight-reading is like being able to read the whole page in one try. Memorization is not necessary because you understand the language. You know the letters and the sounds they create very, very well, so you’re able to read and form any and every new word on the page without having to go over it more than once.
Now, let’s look at what you can do to advance your sight-reading level.
1. A simple option is to find a teacher who teaches sight-reading. These teachers are unfortunately quite rare, but they’re out there so make sure you ask your questions and communicate your sight-reading goals clearly before hiring. There are many places you can find great instructors including Thumbtack, Yelp, Google, and Yellow Pages.
2. Learn how to practice actual sight-reading—not just learning two measures at a time by reading the music over and over. Use these steps:
o Find EASY music. Don’t skim over this point. If the music you’re reading is too difficult for you, you are setting yourself up for rhythmic difficulties and frequent stops. Choose music that’s very easy for you to read at first, so that you can practice these principles. Once you learn these principles and start to see improvement, you can then move on to a slightly more difficult level. Note that each method book composer can rate level of difficulty a bit differently. For example, Michael Aaron’s Level 1 is quite different from John Thompson’s Level 1. Make sure you actually look through the book to make sure it suits you before purchasing and practicing.
o Briefly study each piece before beginning. Notice patterns, time signatures, key signatures, hand placement, etc.
o If the piece seems rhythmically challenging, tap through the piece on a surface where you’d be able to hear the rhythm (table, piano bench or your thighs). Use the right hand to tap for treble clef and the left hand for the bass clef. Make sure you keep your hand down anytime you’re holding (half, dotted half, whole notes, etc.), and lift your hand up for rests.
o Play slowly and count out loud if needed. Keeping steady rhythm is more important than playing correct notes. Go as slow as you need to and use the tool of counting out loud when rhythm issues arise.
o Don’t stop! If you do stop, you’re either playing too fast, or the piece is too difficult. Begin the piece again slower or find easier music to use.
o Play each piece twice at the most, even if you made mistakes the second time. If you find you are making too many mistakes, find easier music.
o Do not memorize! The only thing you should be repeating when sight-reading is the action of turning the page to read a new piece while following these guidelines. During a good sight-reading session, you should read anywhere from 5-35 new pages of music. In other words, don’t stay too long on any one page!
3. Make a DAILY habit of sight-reading practice. Just like any other skill that needs practice to improve, sight-reading must be practiced regularly. Carve out at least 5 minutes a day to work on sight-reading. Ideally, try to aim for 20-30 minutes a day. The most important thing is to actually do it everyday.
Introducing The Sight-Reading Solution
The Sight-Reading Solution is a full-length, online course specifically designed to teach you how to begin reading music while teaching you the most important element: how to practice reading music. All of the bullet points I mentioned above are addressed in this program continuously so that you can actually learn how to sight-read and practice with me right by your side.
Having difficulty with sight-reading is an extremely common problem, but it doesn’t have to be for you anymore. I’ve heard countless stories similar to mine of students playing piano for years who are still unable to sight-read the simplest music. Your dream of being able to sit down and sight-read through your favorite tunes is a possibility with proper guidance and practice. The great news is that much of succeeding at anything has to do with following a formula as opposed to being touched by the talent fairy. Here is your formula—your golden key. Now, it’s only a matter of time before you’re able to sight-read whatever you like.
This method has helped tons of piano students learn how to sight-read music, so if you are unsatisfied with it for any reason, just email me for a 100% refund.
P.S. What would you sight-read right now if you had the ability? Comment below and I’ll show you how The Sight-Reading Solution can help you get there.