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Step by Step Guide to Practicing Sight Reading


Remember……. successful Sight Reading happens in your head


Your BEST Sight Reading practice is done with your instrument in your case!!


Remember the Chocolate Elephant……

You can eat an entire chocolate elephant, as long as you eat it a little at a time.

You do not eat the whole thing in one day!


The same is true for Sight Reading. Each day when you practice, do 3-5 excerpts.  Follow the plan below and within a few weeks you will be Sight Reading like a BEAST! 


Basic Exercise- this is what you will do each and every time you look at a Sight Reading excerpt

Quickly skim the music from beginning to end.

Repeat. Repeat over and over, each time thinking about one of the areas you are focusing on.

Think of it as speed reading…. each time you make a sweep left to right, you are noticing important things and sticking them in your short term memory.


1. Grab a Pen and Paper

For this, you do not need an instrument, and you are not timing yourself.


Down one side of the paper, write:


Key Signature

Time Signature/Tempo






Strange Things

(Pro tip- make a bunch of copies of this…. you will need them!)

If you have not already, look at the Sight Reading Basics for help with these


Open your Sight Reading Book and pick out an excerpt.


Using only your eyeballs….do not write anything…. study the music for as long as you like.


Close the book and write on your paper everything you can remember about the different topics.

Open the music and check your work.  Do not bother filling in the ones you missed…. leave them blank. But put a mark next to any of the ones that you got incorrect. This will help you soon.

Repeat this process several times until you get more comfortable with it.

2. Repeat Step One, but this time, write down the side of your paper:










The idea is that now you know what each of those letters stands for.


NOW- Go back and look at all the sheets of exercises you have done. Look at the ones that you got wrong. Do you see a pattern?

This is where you can tell what your strengths and weaknesses are! And this is invaluable!

If you always miss a particular topic, you know to put some extra work and effort into that one area.

How about blanks? Are you able to finish each line, every time?


If you are not finishing all the topics, give yourself more study time and continue doing exercises 1 and 2.


Once you are consistently getting everything filled out correctly, take away the Letters down the side of the page and just use a blank sheet of paper.


3. Move away from the paper and start timing yourself.


Repeat the above exercises without writing down anything. Instead, say it out loud.

This should sound something like this:


(skimming the excerpt repeatedly)

“Key…low first on the A string, all else naturals…..time/tempo…quarter note gets a beat, steady pace…..there is an F# at the beginning of the second line…… watch out for the shift on the second line in the middle….2nd finger F to 1st finger G on the D string….comes down the same way it went up….no weird rhythms but don’t rush the eighth notes….Starts forte and ends piano…make sure you get nice and soft….there are three note slurs on the last line… and the whole thing ends with a repeat sign so do it all again”

Can you see where this is starting to sound like someone who really knows the excerpt well?


Start to time yourself. Give yourself one minute to study the excerpt, turn the music over and go down your list out loud. Check yourself.

Did you miss some things? Adding the timer will increase the pressure to get all the information you need into your head as quickly as possible, and this will show you where you still have weaknesses. This is GREAT because once you know what they are, you can fix them!


4. Time all parts of your Sight Reading


Give yourself 60 seconds to study, and then 60 seconds to vocally go down the list.

Piece of cake? Start shortening the time.


Your Goal? 30 seconds of study……rattle off all the important stuff.


5. NOW you get out your instrument!


Often, when we are faced with a Sight Reading excerpt, we silently finger the notes, pretending to play from the beginning.



This wastes valuable time and does not allow you to ‘stick’ all the different information into your head that you need.


Trust your hands. Trust your arms. They will know what to do once your brain does!


Keep your hands at your side and force yourself to do exactly what you have done before.

Except this time, after your time to study the excerpt is up, play it.


If you can notice what you missed, that is great. However, at this point, it is all about practicing these skills together.


Over and over.


And over.


(and over….)

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