I started learning the piano a year ago but unfortunately back then I didn't have an excellent teacher; instead of working on reading notes which I'm really bad at, we focused on my playing skills I finished Hanon, and I was working on Beyer at the same time; I also learned a couple of other pieces.

But the thing is I memorized all of it, Even with Beyer I usually just memorized the lessons that I had for the next lesson and I played it from memory, I just looked at the sheet to know where I am and occasionally read the nuances.

So now I can play pieces like Chopin's Nocturne Op. 72 No. 1, and Mozart and Mendelssohn pieces and I also can read single lines of music, but I can't read both hands at the same time, not even on the really (really) easy sheets.

This month I changed my piano teacher and he is one of the best in my country; he is more than qualified to teach, He gave me some really easy sheets and told me to practice them and if I started memorizing just play random parts of the song of the sheet. I've been trying to do that but I haven't made much progress yet, so if you have any advice, like how you learned to read music sheets, or tips on getting better faster I would really appreciate it.

Also, if I'm not clear enough on this, when you want to play a relatively easy song, do you need to take time to read the notes and memorize them or can you simply play off the sheet? For me (when I was learning those couple pieces) it took a really long time to go through the sheet measure by measure, and playing really slow until I have the piece in my muscle memory, is that usual for learning a song or I'm doing it wrong?

  • If you can play the pieces mentioned after just one year, I think you must have had an EXCELLENT teacher! Even if sight reading was neglected in favour of actual playing (could it have been that YOU resisted reading?)
    – Laurence
    Nov 17, 2019 at 13:39

6 Answers 6


The short answer is, yes, a skilled pianist should be able to "sightread" a piece of music at some pretty high percentage of their skill level. Nobody can sightread a concerto, but if you put a piece of piano music in front of me, the determining factor in whether I can play it is the state of my technique, not my ability to read the notes.

I found that that best way to learn how to sightread is to do it. Get a book of pieces that are slightly below your skill level (I found sonatina albums good, as well as keyboard collections of Handel and J.C. Bach) and just sit down and try to play through them. Don't stop and go back, don't try to learn these pieces, just read through them like a book.

  • I have a music theory book that has hundreds of small songs on it. I use those songs to practice my reading skills. But I never took the "read-through-them-like-a-book" approach. Thanks for the idea. I'll try that out. Dec 29, 2014 at 10:43

Developing good sight reading skills involves:

  1. a high level of coordination
  2. a lot of time and patience
  3. reading lots of music
  4. the metronome

1. Coordination
You mentioned that you have trouble reading both hands at the same time. This is a skill that anybody would struggle in if you do not gradually progress through songs with increasing difficulty. You will want to begin with a Level 1 method book first. It will gradually start you off hands separately and then by the end of the book will gradually introduce songs that have hands together passages.

2. Time & Patience
Just like working out at the gym, you don't go from being a scrawny little guy to a massive hulk with 60 inch biceps. The same is true with sight-reading. You need to spend a lot of time and do so frequently.

3. Reading a lot of music
When I teach my students I constantly balance two opposing things; sight-reading skills and perfecting songs. They are at odds with each other. If you're simply working on sight-reading, then you want to make it your goal to sight-read as many songs at your level as you can as perfectly as possible. This involves my next point.

4. The metronome
This should be a tool that all musicians use constantly. If you're sight-reading, but you're making a ton of mistakes, then you actually won't progress very much. I always tell my students that they need to play as fast as they can in such a way that it is as PERFECT as possible as well. The metronome can be used to keep the time for you so you don't lose track of the beat.

Like the above poster said, "Good luck it is going to be hard"...he's right, but nothing worth while ever came easy :)

  • I have a question. When I use a metronome, I feel like I really need to set very slow tempo: 70 - 90. Is it correct to learn reading music starting from slow tempo or am I trying too high grade? Cheers!
    – Celdor
    Jan 2, 2015 at 3:59
  • You should start slow. You can start even slower, like between 40 to 60. My general rule for figuring out if a level is too high for a student is to see how long it takes them to put the song hands together and up to full speed. If it takes more than 2 months, then it's probably not a good grade for them (too high). You want to progress gradually so that you see progress. Anybody can play the hardest piano song in the world, but the question is how long will it take to learn? One of the biggest goals you should have is increasing your sight-reading abilities. Hope this helps :)
    – 02fentym
    Jan 2, 2015 at 4:02
  • @02fentym Cheers. It;s difficult to measure it this way meaning figuring out if I can put a piece together within a time because, unfortunately, or fortunately, it depends, I can quickly memorize any piece. Honestly, after 3 or 4 tries I can pretty much play without looking at notes. I need just another 10 to play without hesitating. I bough a book of exercises to learn reading music. I try to force myself to pick a random exercise not to know it and play it only once or two because then I can play it right from memory.
    – Celdor
    Jan 3, 2015 at 2:23
  • Yup, I know what you mean. In your case since your memory is quite good, you need to work with the metronome more. General rule: start at the fastest speed where you can play perfect. They say practice makes perfect, but they really should say practice makes permanent.
    – 02fentym
    Jan 3, 2015 at 2:26

Basically, since you cannot read both hands at the same time, I would suggest taking each measure and working it on its own. This way you can see what the right hand is playing, then what the left hand is playing (or vice versa) and then put them together.

This might sound time-consuming and boring, but it's the simplest way to do it!

when you want to play a relatively easy song, do you need to take time to read the notes and memorize them or can you simply play of the sheet?

That depends on the skill of the player. If you are fluent enough in sight reading, you can simply start reading the piece.

  • I don't want to do it measure by measure, it can get really dull, do you have any tips on improving my sight reading so I'll be able to play both hands at the same time and get "fluent" in reading music, also how long do you think it would take to get that fluency?
    – Ashkan
    Dec 27, 2014 at 18:22
  • 2
    @Ashkan you get better at sight reading music by doing it. It is typical for a beginner to need to carefully examine each measure before playing it, but it's how you get better.
    – Dom
    Dec 27, 2014 at 21:09
  • @Ashkan also, music at beginner levels can get pretty dull at a lot of points. You have to do the dull things in order to develop skills Dec 27, 2014 at 21:27
  • Taking each measure and working it on its own is more akin to learning the piece. Playing one bar at a time isn't sight-reading, where there needs to be a continuation of notes to make phrases etc.
    – Tim
    Jan 6, 2019 at 9:09

Music Theory will also help a lot. You count large amount of notes in both the bass and treble clef when you do theory. The amount of assistance theory lends to general sight reading skills should not be underestimated.

You have to train your eyes to read both clefs at the same time. This is one of the more hard things to learn on piano and is a skill that can take a while to master.

If I can offer some advice try going each part (or clef) separately a few bars at a time. When you got that down do the same for the other clef. When you have a few bars down in both clefs try focusing in the middle of the two clefs and using your peripheral vision to read the notes you now know somewhat.

Good Luck It is going to be hard.

  • As someone who has over a decade of practice reading single-staff music, it is very helpful to know that I should be using my peripheral vision rather than focusing on a single staff!
    – Andrew
    Dec 22, 2015 at 18:24

When sight reading on both clefs you do not read notes,you look at the ups and downs (intervals) between the adjacent notes. If you are trying to read notes on both clefs at the same time on whether it is a A or a B ,you will never be able to sight read and play with both hands together And one most important thing is NEVER LOOK at your hands when you are playing With time and practice you will gradually improve your sight reading with both hands


02fentym was a great answer imho. The only things I would add: Don't look at your hands !!!! (not even for large jumps maybe a non-head moving glance at first) That clue is huge ! If no one has taught you this "Know the keyboard"** fact, then they are not nearly as good a teacher as one may think. (There are some good guides out there to get started with this. Mainly use you black keys as your gentle sensing finger guides.) Then really work hands separate several times on a phrase. (I suspect you aren't that good with h.s. yet either.) Only then try together slowly with rhythm. Lastly if your new teacher is really good, he should be teaching you site reading and have all these hints for you. (Just because someone is a virtuoso does not make them a great teacher.) Oh yea, one more: Bach's 2 part inventions, then synfonias (3 part). Why not learn from another truly great teacher as that is what these works were meant to be; for his students ! **know which key you are on by the map in your head....not with your eyes. Go for it. It will take a couple of years, every day..... Gerr

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