I've identified three main problems holding me back from better sight reading on the piano, and this is the biggest one: I need to look away to find the keys for my hands. On a computer I can type perfectly without looking, but my hands are mostly in one place...on a piano my hands are moving over several feet of space and it's very hard to predict exactly where each centimeter-wide key is.

How can I get better at this? Are there any specifically helpful ways to practice it other than just generically "keep practicing" ?

I mostly play classical/romantic music like Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Liszt, and Scriabin, as well as transcriptions of modern songs and movie themes.

  • 1
    You're apparently playing advanced repertoire, but it's hard to tell how good your keyboard geometry is already and whether your goal is realistic. For what it's worth, the works Richter considered the most difficult all had one feature in common: fast leaps. The notorious few bars near the end of the first Mephisto Waltz; the Scriabin 5th. Everyone looks at the keys sometime. Liszt issued the challenge not to do so, and practising blind helps, but it isn't necessary.
    – user48353
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 8:12
  • Perhaps it would help readers 'get quantitative' if you gave an example or two of something you feel you should be able to do blind but can't. Experienced pianists could then respond with whether you really should be able to do it, or you're being unrealistic.
    – user48353
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 8:13
  • Rachmaninoff op 23 no 5 is the one I’m working on now where I have this problem, but it occurs with many songs from those composers, really. Op 3 no 2 and op 32 no 10 present a similar challenge for me in this respect. Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 10:09
  • Rach's Op. 23, No. 5 (that Prelude in G minor) and his Op. 3, No. 2 (that Prelude in C sharp minor) have pretty wide leaps, so I don't think I can blame anyone for needing to consult the keyboard with them. Op. 3, No. 2 is probably kinder in that regard, though, as it's a slower piece with slower leaps. (Use plenty of pedal for that piece, and get off the low half notes immediately.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 16:18
  • Computers' keyboards aren't as wide (one doesn't need to extend their arms that much), so it's a bit different. Most also provide the additional advantage of having tiny notches on F and J that can be quickly found and help determine the placement of the other keys without looking. I'm not a pianist, but if I were dealing with your problem, I would try to solve it by creating some DIY notches at the start of each octave (maybe just small, Braille-like dots corresponding with the octave's number).
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 4:56

3 Answers 3


First of all, as a general rule, it's a good idea to minimize the amount of looking at the keyboard while sight reading, but you have to realise that there is no taboo on looking at the keyboard. All pianists, even while playing from a score, have peeks at the keyboard, but they know how to do this without losing their place on the score.

This question elaborates on that: Is there any evidence that suggest not looking at your hands increases ability to sight read on the piano?

Having said that, having a good idea of the topography of the keyboard and being able to blindly find your way is an essential skill for being able to sight read. The secret for this is that good sight readers feel their way on the keyboard. There are two principles to this:

  1. Good sight readers use their proprioception, their sense of space. They have a generally good sense of how far they have to reach to get to the keys they need. It's essential for this to work that you sit always at the same place with your belly button in line with middle C.
  2. Good sight readers use the protruding black keys as signposts. They only need a (very) slight brushing with the black keys and, together with their general sense of space, they know where they are.

So you have to practice that. You begin by finding the groups of two and three black keys with your eyes closed. Holding your hands in your lap and finding them in one smooth movement is what builds your proprioception of the keyboard. You have to be able to do this with your left and right hand.

When you can do this without hesitation you build on that. First, try finding the group of black keys in the neighbourhood of the note you need and then playing the note, all by feel. Repeat this until you can do it automatically. The longer you do this the less time it requires and the less you have to feel from the keyboard to know where you are.

And then you practice it hands together.

Howard Richman wrote a book 'Super Sight-Reading Secrets' that elaborates this method. It's very short and it has the title of a bad self-help book, but don't be mistaken--it's actually quite sensible. I think it misses a lot of aspects to be a real guide to learning sight reading but for what you are asking here it's a really good method.

One more thing: this takes a lot of time. So be patient!

  • 1
    +1 For your point two, a simple exercise: try to play triads (both major and minor) blindfolded. Sit in front of the piano, close your eyes and think of a triad --- whatever, Bb minor Bb Db F for instance. Then try to find it with both hands. No time limit, the primary goal is to get it right without a mistake. Just try it in various ottavas. This simple exercise really helps with the sense of orientation.
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 13:44

@TimH provides a very good answer. I would add three personal observations. These are things I have been trying in my own practice, and I believe they are helping me develop the ability to play without looking at the keyboard.

  1. The first is a little counter-intuitive. Deliberately looking at the keyboard can help develop a topographical/geometrical sense of the keyboard that will reinforce finding your place on the keyboard without looking.

The idea isn't to just glace at the keyboard to check where your going, but to look with concentration - with special attention to peripheral vision - as you play to build a mental visual map of the keyboard. Rather than focusing on your hands, focus on the keyboard. On thing I try is to lock my gaze onto the keyboard without shifting my gaze as my hands move. This is where I refer to peripheral vision to see my hands positioned on the keys.

Sometimes I briefly close my eyes and try to maintain the mental picture of where my hands are moving then re-open my eyes to confirm my hands are where I have mental pictured them.

  1. Shift position of the hand by focusing on repeated note finger changes.

I've developed an attitude that piano fingering is mainly a combination of fixed fingerings (like 5 finger position or L.H. 5321 for a full octave etc.) in combination with techniques to change the hand position on the keyboard. One position change technique is to focus on the changing of fingers and a note that is repeated from one position to the next. A simple example: changing position of a C major chord, CEG fingered 135 changes to GCE fingered 123, the G is repeated, common to both positions, so the focus is switching finger 5 on G to finger 1. The strategy being you already have a spatial reference for G for finger 5 so just put finger 1 where finger 5 is to get into the next position. The position change involves lifting the entire hand but leverages the common point between the two positions to maintain spatial awareness.

  1. Repeat patterns at various octaves.

When I play practice patterns - a typical thing might be based on some cadential harmony like I6 ii6/5 I6/4 V - I will repeat it moving up and down the keyboard at three different octave positions. Then I do the typical shifting of the pattern up or down chromatically to play in all keys.

Obviously there is a spatial awareness challenge doing this octave shift, because I have to lift my hands entirely off the keyboard. But the other thing I'm trying to develop with this is an ability to immediately drop my hands down anywhere on the keyboard and accurately strike any chord. In terms of sight reading my hope is that only the slightest glace to the keyboard or only peripheral vision of the keyboard is enough to orient spatially and then my hand can confidently strike the chord. I feel like it relies more on a mental visual map of the keyboard.

Again these are things I'm trying on my own. I don't have a teacher. I feel like I'm making progress with these practice techniques. Maybe it can help you in some way.


The piano pieces you’re mentioning tell me that you are on a much higher level than I. Eventhough I try to give you some cues that will be fitting for other users too.

  1. Play pentatonic tunes with the right hand in F#-major to the chord pattern I - vi - vi - V inprovising like e.g. miredoremiredola-remiredoladoremiredo.

    1. The same with 8vas in the right hand. We will find the black keys by touching and notice this is quite easy.

    2. Practice the same in F- and G-major, also in C.

another approach is B-major

  1. Practice the scale up and down with bouth hands (parallel and opposite movement, starting in the middle of the piano)

  2. the same in E- and A-, D- and G-major. (The finger sett stays the same: 1231234)

  3. Play arpeggios of the triades tetrades in B - try out any fingersettings (You will realize your improvement to play with closed eyes.

Repertoire and prima vista:

  1. Play the pieces of your repertoire blind. Chopin, Debussy or all preludes by Bach will be good.

  2. Try to play every day some unkown pieces without looking down at the keys, don’t mind the perfection or the tempo, focus only sight reading and playing blindly.

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