So, there are a number of tools and strategies to learn to sight-read pitch.

I mean, you just make flashcards and in a while you should be able to read comfortably all notes on all staves, right?

But rhythm is a different beast, isn't it?

If you make flashcards of rhythms, I suppose, you'll memorize those specific rhythms you have made flashcards for.

What is your strategy?

Thank you!

5 Answers 5


I would recommend getting a copy of Hindemith's book:

Elementary Training for Musicians

In the early chapters he has masses of exercises in sight-reading rhythmic patterns, both as single-line rhythms, and also more complex ones where you have to tap one rhythm while playing another rhythm (very useful for pianists).

The book is also extremely useful for lots of other aspects of musicianship. I have been delving into the book for years - and still not mastered all it contains (maybe I am just a slow learner!)


For jazz guitar there is a standard book by William G. Leavitt called Melodic Rhythms for Guitar. It has lots of examples of so-called "rhythm groups" of increasing complexity. Playing through this book greatly improves sight-reading of rhythms. And this is also the clue: there's no shortcut. You have to sight-read in order to learn it. In my opinion you shouldn't waste time on looking for some magic tools, just sit down with a piece of music and play. Of course, it's important to use material that is not beyond your level, but that should be easy to find.

  • Isn't a book with "rhythm groups" a magic tool in itself? :-) I'll look for it, thanks - but, I'm no guitarist, I hope it's still a valid suggestion. Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 11:03
  • @SomeDudeOnTheInterwebs: Yeah, you're right. I was more referring to flash cards etc., because I think they're not really to the point. This link might be helpful.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 11:08
  • I agree the best approach is to find a method book that focuses on progressively complex rhythms. The real 'trick' to learn is how to subdivide and to keep a consistent '2-Dimensional' internal metronome that operates in a cyclic motion (i.e. 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 . . . . round and round). Subdivision will allow you to calculate syncopation and some polyrithms, while the circular metronome will grant you awareness of where the downbeat is and how it lines up with the downbeat of musicians you're playing with. Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 18:48

It will depend a little on the instrument. For example, rhythm guitar with lots of strumming will be slightly different from picking out a melody on, say, a clarinet. Yes, the rhythmic pattern will be the same, but its execution is different, as is reading chord symbols as opposed to dots.

Tapping a foot is always good, as is internalizing the basic beat with a part of your body. My violin teacher used to sniff in place of rests, to keep them in time and place. (Christine Perfect's (McVee) dad, namedropping!) It worked well, but didn't sound too good.

Metronome will get a mention - sometimes it can be set for twice or thrice the speed to keep more accurate time.And of course, counting out loud. 1e&a 2e&a et al.

Put the radio etc on and tap along using different patterns, there are literally thousands to choose from, and visualise them as you tap. 'This is 4 quavers, a crotchet, 4 quavers and a crotchet' sort of approach.The good thing about this is you don't need an instrument - it could even happen as you drive along. Explaining to the law may be tricky!

  • The idea of taking rhythmic dictation from the radio never occurred to me - thanks. +1'ed Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 14:04

A good idea is to start with the note that is the shortest and make that one beat and count the other notes in relation to the smallest notes.

So for instance if you are in 4/4 time and the shortest notes in the piece is quavers you make the quavers one beat, the crotchets 2, minims 4 and semi breves 8.

It is not a perfect method. You run the risk of either having to count to 8 really fast if the tempo of the piece is brisk or playing the piece much too slow but for a means to teach the basics of rhythm to new players it has merit. When you get the rhythm down you can much easier learn to play the piece in time and faster later.


Just a different sort of flashcard. Get some blank postcards and a black marker pen and in your best musical handwriting, notate a rhythmic pattern lasting one crotchet on each card. Each single card could contain for instance (a non-exhaustive list):

  • crotchet
  • quaver quaver
  • crotchet rest
  • dotted quaver semiquaver
  • semiquaver semiquaver quaver rest
  • Triplet quavers
  • etc.

Create duplicates of each card.

Then shuffle and deal four cards in a row. Set your metronome and try to read the rhythm, looping around so you're playing the same bar over and over again.

Pick up the left-hand card and move it to the right hand end, or exchange two cards. Or replace a card with one from the pack. You get the idea.

  • This is a awesome idea I didn't think of (although needs devising a sorting algorithm, since existing ones work with one card a time). Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 18:08

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