Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum Launched! – Practising the Piano

This week’s guest blog post announces the launch of a unique new online sight-reading curriculum for advanced pianists by Ken Johansen, associate professor at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and Online Academy contributor.

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Introducing the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum to readers of this blog. The curriculum is derived from my experience in teaching my class for piano majors at the Peabody Conservatory. It has been nearly twenty years in the making, and I believe that there is at present nothing else quite like it, in print or online.

Virtually all piano teachers agree that sight-reading is an extremely important skill, perhaps even the most important. At the same time, it is a difficult skill to teach. It requires a vast quantity of carefully-chosen music, and the gradual, but concurrent, development of multiple aural, analytical, technical, and cognitive abilities. In this curriculum, we work on each of these component abilities – twenty of them altogether – individually, tackling the complex multi-tasking activity of sight-reading from twenty different angles, as it were.

Improvement in sight-reading comes not simply from playing lots of pieces, but from acquiring new habits, and learning to think in new ways. Each of these new habits of mind needs first to be isolated, worked on with deliberate attention, and repeated in enough musical examples to become second nature. Whether we are learning how to read ahead, mastering dotted rhythms, or practicing the simplification of complex textures, we first need ways to think about these things, then lots of musical excerpts to practice them on, without too many other difficulties to distract or confuse us.

Each of the twenty modules in the curriculum therefore begins with an introduction that describes the particular skill to be learned, suggests ways to think about it, and gives practical methods to practice it. Then follows a collection of scores, twenty to thirty pieces in most modules, which provide ample practice in the skill. Each piece is annotated with specific instructions and suggestions, to help students practice in a deliberate way, with clear goals. The curriculum can therefore be worked through individually, unsupervised by a teacher, or used in the context of a class, as I do at Peabody.

The great joy of sight-reading comes from musical discovery, and this curriculum opens countless paths to explore. It contains hundreds of pieces by dozens of composers, in many different genres, from solo piano pieces to chamber music, song, and opera. This sense of discovery, not only of the music itself, but also of our own interaction with it, through sight-reading, makes this curriculum not only instructive, but highly enjoyable to work through, as countless students have told me through the years. I hope that you will find it equally helpful and pleasurable!

Ken Johansen


All four parts of the Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum are available with an Online Academy subscription or for once-off purchase from our store via the following links:

Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or click here to find out more about subscription options.

Further Reading & Resources

  • Introduction to the Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum – Click here to view a general introduction to the curriculum
  • Eye Training – Click here to view the introduction to the first part of the Advanced Sight-Reading curriculum
  • The Joy of Sight-Reading – Click here to read a collection of free articles by Read Ahead developers Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen on the Online Academy
  • Read Ahead – Sight-reading exercises for elementary to intermediate levels on the Online Academy – Click here for level 1, click here for level 2, click here for Level 3 or click here for Level 4 (recently added)

Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum Complete! – Practising the Piano

After a few years in the making, we’re delighted to announce the completion of our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum! Created by Ken Johansen and derived from his experience in teaching the subject to piano majors at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the curriculum provides a unique, structured approach to developing the key skills that underpin a good sight-reading ability.

It consists of an extensive collection of annotated scores dealing with every aspect of sight-reading, together with detailed suggestions on how to practise, covering everything from training the eyes to read more efficiently, to recognising patterns, simplifying complex textures and mastering difficult rhythms.

advanced sight-reading curriculum part 3

Playing by Ear

The last instalment in the curriculum explores the subject of playing by ear. Playing by ear might seem to be the opposite of sight-reading, the very name of which emphasises the visual aspect of decoding musical scores. But in reality, we read with our ears as much as with our eyes. The inner ear, allied to our musical experience and memory, helps us to navigate a new score, to predict what is coming, and to improvise when the eyes haven’t had enough time to absorb everything.

Content & Features

The four modules of Part III provide opportunities of different kinds to become aware of, and strengthen, this intuitive role of the ear in sight-reading:

  • Missing Melodies – A collection of famous pieces in which the melodies have been removed provides a starting point for giving more attention to the left-hand accompaniment and playing the right-hand by ear.
  • Missing Inner Notes – Using pieces where only the outer parts are given requires use of our ears and harmonic instinct to fill in the middle voices. At the end of the module this technique is extended to study full open scores of vocal and instrumental music.
  • Missing Accompaniments – A series of well-known Classical pieces in “lead sheet format” i.e. the melody written out but with only harmonic symbols provided for the accompaniment encourages playing harmony by ear to keep the line going and improvising details where necessary.
  • Improvisation – The last module brings together several activities enabling you to spontaneously invent parts of the musical texture within a given harmonic or rhythmic framework.

These four modules can be studied consecutively, as a self-contained course in playing by ear or combined with related modules from other parts of the curriculum. In addition to improving your sight-reading ability, they will help you develop your overall musicianship, enabling you to feel feel less bound to the details of musical notation and more free to rely on your ears and musical instincts.

Other Parts

The previously published parts of the curriculum are as follows (a full index of all parts and their respective modules is available here):

  • Part 1 Eye Training – Sight-reading begins with sight. Before the inner ear can begin to imagine the sound of a score, before the mind can start to decode the patterns it detects, and before the body can translate these sounds and patterns into physical gestures that transform written notes into music, the eyes must take in all the information that is presented to them. We therefore begin our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum with several modules that help train the eyes to move more efficiently and consciously as we play music at sight. Click here to view.
  • Part 2 Flexibility – To give an interpretation of a piece we have never seen before requires flexibility and demands a willingness to accept wrong notes, technical stumbles, and botched details, in the greater interest of maintaining rhythmic cohesion, following the broad outlines of the score. The second part of our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum is comprised of a set of modules to help you recognise patterns, see harmonic progressions, improvise where necessary and keep going in difficult passages. Click here to view.
  • Part 4 Rhythm – Rhythm is perhaps the most important element in sight-reading and is the subject of the fourth (next) part of our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum. Using simple, effective practice methods and carefully-selected pieces with annotations and guidelines, we work on keeping a regular pulse while tackling challenges such as recognising underlying rhythmic structures, subdividing the pulse accurately, handling polyrhythms and negotiating the sometimes confusing visual impression given by different kinds of meters. Click here to view.

How to Access?

All four parts of the Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum are available with an Online Academy subscription or for once-off purchase from our store via the following links:

  • Part 1 (Eye Training) – Click here to purchase for £7.99
  • Part 2 (Flexibility) – Click here to purchase for £7.99
  • Part 3 (Playing by Ear) – Click here to purchase for £7.99
  • Part 4 (Rhythm) – Click here to purchase for £7.99
  • Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum (Complete) – Click here to purchase all four parts for £24.99.

Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or click here to find out more about subscription options.

Other Sight-Reading Resources

  • Read Ahead – A curated collection of carefully ordered sight reading examples and exercises from the elementary to intermediate levels. Click on one of the following links to view on the Online Academy:
  • Teaching & Developing Sight Reading Skills – A collection of free articles by Read Ahead developers Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen on the Online Academy
  • Preparing for an Exam (Sight Reading) – In these new videos from our collection of piano examination resources, Graham Fitch gives some tips and ideas for incorporating sight-reading into lessons and daily practising.
  • Online Workshops – Our online events programme has also featured several sight-reading workshops. Access to recordings, presentations and other resources from these events is available via the following links: