I practice sight reading for an hour everyday from the Paul Harris Piano series and I currently am at Level 1 of sight reading. I find it hard to recognize notes, so I pause till I get the note right and then play the piece from the top. I try do not to remember that 4 bar piece and I never do.

My aim is to become a very very very good sight reader. I know it takes years of practice to get there. But is my approach correct at level1? Because I hear people saying "don't stop" and "pulse is important" but what's the use of sight reading if I don't get the notes correct?

Also is one hour practice enough? Moreover, can you please suggest me good books for sight reading, because Paul Harris is running short of pieces. Faber is kind of child-like approach which I hate. I need sight reading exercises. A lot of them.

  • just to add- I am Trinity Grade 3. And i play by ears. I can even play grade 6 piece by watching people play.
    – Yuvraj
    Feb 25, 2016 at 7:04
  • Just a note about good places to find sight reading. There is an app called Sight Reading Factory, and if you would like to lessen the amount of practice you spend in your books this is a great tool. I payed for the app, but I believe it offers you 20 free sections of music each day. Some people find the app more useful than a book, while some prefer a book to an app.
    – Abi1507
    Apr 8, 2018 at 20:31

7 Answers 7


I find it hard to recognize notes

This means that, at this point, you should probably not be sight-reading actual pieces. Instead you should get flash cards or something similar with single notes, and work on identifying them quickly. Once you are doing it correctly and quickly, work on playing the note instead of just identifying.

Once you can do that quickly, you should progress to sight-reading pieces to work on timing and coordination. And you should go as slowly as you need to in order to get things correct without adding extra pauses; a slow tempo is better than a choppy one.

  • I feel that this concept of learning to recognise note names then finding them on the instrument to play is quite complicated, and isn't actually the way we play once we can play. Yes, it's sort of necessary in the initial stages, but it's a 3 stage operation. Look at dot, name note, find named note on instrument. Can be short circuited by looking at interval from the note being played to next note. At this point, letter names aren't so important - more academic. And this is music, not a brain test!
    – Tim
    Mar 1, 2016 at 14:01
  • @Tim Personally I believe music involves the brain :P. Jokes aside, I don't advocate figuring out the name and then using the name to figure out the position. Rather, I think he should work on identification separately to avoid any issues of coordination at the start, and to separate out learning the keyboard. He'll see more progress improving each skill independently IMO. At the end he should see a note and just know where it is, no intermediate step required. I hope also that this will be useful if the reader wishes to delve more into theory.
    – user28
    Mar 1, 2016 at 18:20
  • You are absolutely correct that learning intervals would be an integral next step, though!
    – user28
    Mar 1, 2016 at 18:21

To want to learn to sightread is laudable. Sightreading is an incredibly important skill. BUT - there are two facets to it. Correct notes and timing. Think about it. If you played Frere Jaques in time, but with several wrong notes, it would still probably be recognisable. If you played all the correct notes (in the right order!) but changed the timing, it would not be easy to recognise. SO - timing is just as important as correct notes. THEREFORE - do not stop before deciding if the note you're about to play is correct, just play what you think it ought to be- and it may not have been wrong anyway. And keep the rhythm and tempo going. Of course it won't sound, or be, correct. But it wouldn't have if you paused, either.

Knowing scales- sometimes thought of as 'notes that all fit nicely together'- will help tremendously as most pieces contain notes from a particular scale, so you should be thinking along the lines of 'this is in Bb, so I need my Bb hat on, with Bb and Eb highlighted'.

Learning to sightread never sounded pretty, but that's the nature of it. Keep ploughing through, and it will pay off in the end. Just think, as a great sightreader, you may never actually have to LEARN another piece. That's so true!

Also part of sightreading is not actually recognising notes, but more importantly, recognising the relationship between the note you just played and the next note to play. Is it next door, is it a fifth above, a third below, etc. The staff is a great help here, as a note on a line followed by a note on the line above will always be a third interval. When you know intervals, you're on the way.


There are a few schools of thought. Things I personally think are important:

let's be making the connection from sight to sound, as well as from sight to fingers moving. These are not necessarily the same. I would strongly encourage you to do sighsinging and learn solfege as well. Ultimately, you want to have a very good "inner ear" and this is a part of developing that.

As for the sightreading, I would do both things. Once you're a little more advanced, you can work on flow... a good sightreader will learn to drop what she cannot play as simplify the score to keep the flow. This is one type of sightreading. The other is to play everything with note for note precision... and this may require slower tempo.

Do not worry too much about only seeing it once or memorizing. You're still developing sightreading skills on other read throughs.

Important: when learning repertoire, do not make mistakes. I think that might sound silly, but every note you play is a learning experience. Learning to stop before making a mistake is a valid skill... note that this goes against the skill of sightreading flow... both are important, in their own time and place.

Eventually, all of this comes together. A beginner is struggling with so many things... I would not put too much emphasis on sightreading at your level... some is good, but developing technique, theory, and sightsinging skills is probably a better way to spend time at this point. Eventually, all of this is so much easier... everything in its own time.

  • 1
    'Do not make mistakes'. Anything one does repeatedly gets towards being learned. If one stops before a potential mistake (how do you know it'll be one?) then that pause in itself is subconsciously being learned. Not a good practice regime either.
    – Tim
    Feb 24, 2016 at 22:47
  • Perhaps your experience is different than mine. Mistakes in classical literature can often be anticipated and it's not hard to avoid making the error. If you've never had that experience then I don't know what to tell you. Of course we are not talking about learning the pause... that's silliness... and with reasonable attention to flow and overall structure this is not a huge concern. Feb 25, 2016 at 19:11
  • I'm talking from experience - both as an erstwhile learner who learned the pauses in a couple of advanced pieces, and also as a teacher who sees this sort of thing far too often. I stand by 'when sight-reading, repeating several times is tantamount to learning, and therefore cannot be regarded as sight-reading subsequently'.
    – Tim
    Mar 1, 2016 at 13:50

The only way to get better at sight reading is to play as many new and different pieces as you can get. Have around 3-4 pieces on the go at once - spend a week or less playing the easier pieces until you're happy with them, and spend as long as you need on the harder pieces.

Exercises can be good, but you only start being able to read pieces fluently when the common finger sequences and hand shapes become ingrained in muscle memory. Soon, you don't need to read the notes - your hands just find them, because you've played the same progression in ten other pieces before. Think about how you talk and make words - your mouth and tongue array themselves into the correct shape to create sounds instinctively, before you even have a chance to think about it.

Combine this serial repertoire-devouring with regular scale and arpeggio practice. Most music, especially Western Classical music, is strongly based on scalic and arpeggiated patterns. You'll learn most of the possible finger combinations and hand shapes by becoming intimately familiar with every scale. Try to get hold of a scale manual from your local music shop.


I have found a great help and a good improvement using sight reading apps on a smartphone or tablet. There are plenty of them, free ones as well on the android platform (for example SolfaRead,etc). In general in these apps the notes appear and you need to press the correct name as fast as you can. In a game like manner one steadily improves his/her sigh-treading skills. You can also practice when in commute etc. Of course this is just one part of the work, you still need to build your fast body response and actually play the music on the real instrument but being able to instantly and automatically recognize the notes on the staff is quite important in the whole sight reading equation so your brain can concentrate on the kinetic part of it.


You have to learn two different skills. First, reading the music in "real time". Second, actually playing what you are reading.

"Playing by ear" has its uses, but if you spend most of your time playing by ear, you will never learn to read, and therefore you will never learn to sightread.

If you can't manage a complete 4-bar reading exercise, split it into smaller pieces, like one bar at a time. Start by just reading one bar music "silently", until you have figured out all the notes and the rhythm. Try to "hear" it in your head. Don't play anything till you are confident you have figured out the complete bar. Then try to play the complete bar with the right notes, and in time. If you think you made a mistake, repeat the "silent reading" exercise before you try to play it again.

This might seem incredibly slow, tedious, and boring, and it will be hard work. But you will probably learn faster if you work really hard at it for 10 or 15 minutes, rather than "having fun" for an hour playing by ear and avoiding the problem.

As you get to the point where the time it takes you to read the music is shorter than the time it takes to play it, increase the length of the passages you are sightreading. When you reach the stage where you can read the music in "real time", it won't make much difference whether the piece you are sightreading is 4 bars or 4 pages long.

I find it hard to recognize notes, so I pause till I get the note right and then play the piece from the top.

You'll find your knowledge of the beginning of the piece to be better than that of its ending. To a degree where your start is already becoming sloppy and half-learnt-by-heart while the end is still to be mastered.

Restarting from the top seems more like a punishment scheme rather than a learning strategy. To practice sightreading, it seems more prudent to focus on levels of redoing that are still effective at changing your learning pace.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.