I need help with reading piano pieces with key signatures that have sharps or flats (other than C Major or A Minor). I learnt to sight read music using intervals (but do have a very good grasp on recognising note letter names at random as well, I use this when the intervals are too large). However, when I am going through a piece of music reading 2nds, 3rds, 4ths etc., I always miss playing the sharp or flat that should be played in that key (I play the natural instead).

I am tired of websites asking me to memorise the order of flats/ sharps and key signatures - I have done this already and am quite comfortable with it. I even practice scales and play them comfortably. The problem starts when I read music using intervals and miss playing accidentals of the key I am in.

I want to understand how does one develop a mental technique for this? I thought of the following:

1) Remember the lines and spaces while sight reading that need to be sharp or flat in a key : for e.g., for G Major, remember that the 4th line bass, 1st space treble and 5th line treble needs to be sharp. But this technique becomes very very very cumbersome even for two sharp/ two flat key signatures. Moreover, it interrupts sight reading by intervals a lot (you are constantly worried about the letter names).


2) Get familiar with the keys of the scale of the key signature in question on the piano, so that your hands "automatically" go to the black key when there is one. However, while sight reading, this would mean you still need to be "mentally aware" of where your fingers are on the piano and so you know that the moment you come near an F, you need to play F# instead. But doesn't this mean you are still focussing on the letter names while sight reading and not intervals?

I am unable to help the problem with either of the two approaches above. Any other suggestions? How did you guys do it and make playing accidentals in key signatures second nature as pianists say?! Please help !

  • Yes, but I couldn't figure out what would be the best approach to read in different keys. Many people answered but said many different things. It confused me a little more. Jun 28, 2018 at 21:46
  • David Bowling Do you know how can I send a message to the guy who posted the question and see what he found out after all these months? Jun 28, 2018 at 21:48
  • The best approach is probably a matter of opinion. You could try pinging the user by posting a comment on that post, but this site really isn't a discussion forum.
    – user39614
    Jun 28, 2018 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


I suggest something closer to your option 2. Meaning, you want to really understand the scales and how they work, so that if someone tells you the key something is in, you can just see it, and when you see the key signature, you just know what keys (major or relative minor) it could be in.

To learn this, I suggest two things. First, practice at least the major scales on the piano. This will train your fingers to play those patterns. You will want to pay attention to the fingering.

Second, study music theory from the beginning. This will train your brain to understand the scales and key signatures. After learning enough theory and technique, the two will connect together in your head and reading and playing will both benefit.

Finally, I'm sorry to say I can't see anyone becoming a professional musician on any instrument without lessons from a quality teacher. Some famous musicians have taught themselves, but usually they are guitarists and they are extremely lucky, and most famous self-taught musicians are not famous because of their playing ability, they are famous because they wrote songs that were hits.

If you want to be paid to play piano, then usually you will not get to pick what genre of music you are playing at any given time. You'll have to go where the gigs are or starve. You might end up playing country, jazz, or musical theatre. No matter what, you'll want to know how to play many different styles, sight read instantly, and have a solid knowledge of music theory.

Once you've found a teacher, that person will be able to help you reach your goals as quickly as possible. You have a lot to learn as quickly as possible if you're going to build a career before your fingers and your mind start to slow down, and they will slow down.

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