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Sight Reading

Nostalgie by Zygmunt Noskowski

In my experience, even the most competent of pianists can struggle with sight reading! I have taught many pupils over the past 30 plus years who have found it to be enormously challenging, potentially leading to a very stressful activity.

I have put together the following list of suggestions to help students tackle playing a piece of music for the very first time, either in an exam situation, or just on their own. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully enough to get pianists thinking!

Sight Reading Prompts

Be a detective!  Establish:

  • The key and tonality - check the key signature, the final lowest note and any accidentals. Is it major or minor?

  • The time signature

  • The clefs - are both hands playing in the same clef?

  • Which hand plays the melody?

  • The starting position for each hand

  • The lowest and highest notes for each hand

  • Any accidentals

  • Any hand position changes - make a note of where these are and be prepared for them

  • Any repetition in melody, rhythm etc

  • Any scalic passages/phrases - these can be scales or arpeggios/broken chords etc

  • Any rests - can these be used to prepare for the next bar/phrase etc?

  • Any tricky bars/sections - try tapping the rhythm first, imagine the sound in your head (internalise). Tap the RH rhythm on your right leg and the LH rhythm on your left

  • Where RH and LH play together

  • The shape of the phrases/melody eg rising, falling, notes in steps or gaps

  • The dynamics - what’s the dynamic journey?

  • Any articulation markings eg staccato, legato

  • Any other musical direction eg tempo etc

Why not print this list off and pin it to your music?

Are you able to imagine what the piece will sound like?

Relax! Take the time to find out as much information about the music as you can. Only when you have done this, start SLOWLY. In my experience, slow and accurate is far better than fast and inaccurate.

If you are sitting an exam, KEEP GOING!!

Little and often is SO important! Try sight reading every day, even just a bar is better than nothing at all. Set yourself an achievable target; it’s no good attempting a piece that is far too advanced for your ability, as you’ll be setting yourself up to fail.

Record yourself playing and listen back along with the written music. Ask yourself how it went, how it could have been improved. Where were the tricky parts and what could you do next time to make these easier?

Keep a record of what you have played and how it went. Hopefully, you will see some progress 🤞

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