“Why Isn’t My Sight Reading Improving?”

You Asked:

I chose a few pieces for my next piano exam (RCM), but they seemed too difficult for me to sight read–so I’ve been practicing with pieces from some of the lower levels, which proved to be challenging for me to sight read.

I understand everything on the music scores but I can’t read and play at the same time– I have to keep looking at my hands to find the correct notes. Three weeks later, I am still below par. Why isn’t my sight reading improving?

— Suzanne T.

You’re not alone!

Sight reading is typically a challenge for pianists.

Read on to see why you’re not improving.

It takes time for your brain to learn how to quickly turn the notes on paper into movements on the piano.

Make sure you know how to read notes properly and find the corresponding keys to the notes quickly.

Your eyes need to concentrate on the score– your fingers play the piano– only allow fleeting glances away from the music so that your playing is fluent and you don’t lose your spot in the music.

If keeping your eyes on the music while your fingers are playing is very hard, then practice piano in the dark with pieces that you know– your fingers will learn the feel of the keys and become independant from your eyes.

Above all, try these quick fixes to improve sight reading for common mistakes you might be making.

A quick note: RCM examinations test your sight reading for pieces two levels below your actual level– to prepare for the sight reading portion in RCM exams, practice sight reading with material one or two levels below.

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  • Quick Tips for Accurate Sightreading | Artiden January 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    […] How can you sightread accurately? Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way. (Also read How to Practice Sight Reading) […]

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    • Sonia March 4, 2012 at 7:12 am

      Considering i started less than a year ago and i essapd my grade 3 exam with distinction, id say im doing something right. And i mean decent as in like grade 5 or above, my playing is currently nearly grade 8 ( i can easily play grade 8 pieces) but my music knowledge and sight reading isnt up to scratch.

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      • Dick May 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm

        As a piano teacher, I have to tell you, DO NOT get just a cheap litlte keyboard to begin to learn piano if you can afford more. You can rent pianos, buy used pianos (make sure you get it tuned by a professional), or there are nice digital pianos. A nice digital piano should include weighted keys and a sustain pedal. Also- make sure it has a full size keyboard (88 keys). If you can’t afford to invest that kind of money right now, then go ahead and get the inexpensive keyboard. Just realize that as your skills increase, you will soon outgrow the keyboard (usually within the first year or two)- and in order to continue your education, you must have access to an accoustic piano or a digital piano. I’ve heard of some piano students working out an arrangement w/ local churches or community colleges that have pianos so that they may practice the piano. I always encourage anyone with a desire to learn piano- or music in general- go for it! It is well worth it. As for websites, I’m not really sure. I personally don’t like websites that teach you how to play- nothing compares to the one-on-one with a person. Not only do you have someone there to show you everything step-by-step, use different teaching approaches if need be, there’s also a special friendship that usually develops between teacher and student. I still keep in touch and look up to my former piano teacher. I took from her from age 6 to age 17. Check your local colleges/music schools/music stores- some of them may have student teachers that offer discount tuition rates for piano lessons. Good luck!!!!

        • Nicole December 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

          I absolutely agree about starting on a full-size, fully-weighted keyboard, and I will not accept new students who don’t have regular access to acoustic pianos or full-size digital pianos. (Nor should any teacher) In fact, I believe that my inability to play accurately without looking down at my hands stems from the fact that, for my first 3 years of studies, I was on a 5-octave, unweighted keyboard whose keys were (now I realize) slightly narrower than standard. Because I probably practiced more in those 3 years than in the 10 years following (due to my teacher moving away, etc), my spatial memory has not adjusted, and when I work on accompaniments or anything else that involves my having to play from a score, I’ll first rewrite the part to eliminate large leaps/gestures that span more than an 8ve in each hand. (I’m quite a good sightreader as long as my hands aren’t moving around at all…small hands don’t help either) I’ve also found that my sightreading immediately improves when I’m on a harpsichord, small forepiano, or other old instrument with smaller keys (measured by my ability to reach a 10th on those instruments only).

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