Tips for Improving Your Sight-Reading

Improving your sight-reading is not just about getting a good score in an examination. It enables you to derive more pleasure from your playing through discovering new music and broadening your repertoire. It also opens up more possibilities for enjoying making music with others.

improving your sight-reading

As with any skill, it requires practice and can be challenging to develop. The following are some tips to help make sight-reading less daunting and practising it more enjoyable!

  1. Use pieces you like – Instead of playing through numerous dry exercises, find pieces you want to play and treat your sight-reading as a journey of discovery. There are many collections of varying styles on sites like the Petrucci Music Library which are suitable for sight-reading. Examples at an intermediate to advanced level include Bach Chorales, Czerny Studies, Schumann’s Album for the Young and Bartok’s For Children.
  2. Keep your eyes on the score – Avoid looking at your hands and focus on the score. You can test your ability to do this with this diagnostic test and this simple, but effective device can also be useful for training your eyes.
  3. Read ahead – Our natural tendency is to look at the notes we are currently playing, but this leaves no time to prepare the next move. Reading ahead is one of the most important skills in sight-reading. A good place to start is to use natural resting places e.g. long chords, phrase endings, fermatas as opportunities to look ahead. You can also use this app which provides an interactive way to develop this skill.
  4. Keep going – Sight-reading is different to practising because it requires us to play a piece straight through, without stopping to correct errors. A more flexible attitude is required to keep going no matter what, even if this means accepting wrong notes and botched details in favour of maintaining rhythmic cohesion!
  5. Identify and simplify – There’s usually not enough time to read every note when sight-reading. Instead, try to recognise harmonic figures and patterns and simplify where necessary. The best sight-readers are not the ones who play all the notes accurately, but those who know which notes to leave out in order to play in time!

If you’d like to learn more about how to go about practising sight-reading, then you may be interested in our upcoming online workshop – please see further details below!

How to Practise Sight-Reading on Your Own

Online Workshop – Wednesday 19th @ 15:00 BST

In this online workshop, Ken Johansen shows how to choose repertoire you enjoy and use it to develop your sight-reading skills. The workshop will include demonstrations of fundamental techniques using examples of varying styles and difficulty. Click here to book your place or click here to find out more about how our online workshops work.

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

Improving Your Left Hand Technique

Do you feel that your left hand is weaker than your right hand and is holding you back in your piano playing? We all have a dominant hand, and for most of us it is the right hand. However, research has shown that even in left-handed players, the right hand still shows a higher level of motor control!

The left hand is often neglected in our practising for various reasons. Our ear can be so focussed on the right hand that we don’t always listen attentively to what is going on in the left. Even if we do try to listen, we cannot be sure we are able to hear whether our left hand is playing in a controlled way. Perhaps we are playing unevenly, or missing some notes – we can’t quite figure out what’s wrong, but know something is amiss. 

Focussing on the left hand

Practising the left hand by itself is of course an option, and something I recommend doing regularly anyway. However, this won’t show us what is actually going on when we add our right hand. I have another solution for addressing this problem which involves playing a passage with the left hand on the keyboard as normal but with the right hand mining its notes on the surface of the keys.

By miming the right hand in this way, we are effectively playing both hands together still, but since we won’t hear any of the sounds the right hand would be making, we are able to really hear what the left hand is actually getting up to (rather than what we think it is doing). The process can be very revealing!

Miming to develop left hand technique

Exercises and studies

A secure left hand technique is essential for pianistic development, and special exercises and studies can be very beneficial. We listen only to our left hand, which is now responsible all by itself for maintaining the pulse, and playing rhythmically and expressively with nuances. 

On my shelves I have an ancient copy of Herman Berens’ The Training of the Left HandI have never really given it much attention before, but decided to take a closer look after being commissioned to write an article on the left hand for Pianist Magazine.

The subject of whether pianists need to practise technical exercises at all is a contentious one, but doing specific exercises in particular ways for a good reason can be excellent groundwork for technical development alongside studies and repertoire. However, doing exercises without such a focus, or in ways that create tension not only waste time but can also be positively harmful. As with any exercise or indeed any practice activity, it’s how you do it that counts!

Video Series on the Online Academy

Because the left hand is so often a weak link for many pianists, I am in the process of creating a video series on the Online Academy on the the left hand. This will start with videos on a selection of the Berens exercises and studies and include ideas on using symmetrical inversion to build up left hand technique by calling on the strengths of the right hand for assistance.

The series will also feature some of Paul Wittgenstein’s exercises and some of his transcriptions for the left hand of well-known repertoire. Who would have thought Bach’s first prelude from the ’48 could be played by the left hand alone!?

Practising this is not only a terrific test of memory but if we can play the left-hand transcription sensitively, with expression and full rhythmical control, we can be sure we are developing our left hand technique in ways that are perhaps even better than dry, mechanical exercises.

left hand transcription of Bach's Well Tempered Klavier

Further Links & Resources

  • Berens Training of the Left Hand (Op. 89) – Click here to view video walk-throughs of selected exercises and studies by Berens showing how to use the studies effectively to develop left hand technique.
  • Online workshop – In this online workshop, Graham Fitch presented a range of exercises, studies, repertoire and practice techniques designed to improve left hand skills. Click here to purchase access to recordings and workshop resources.
  • A Cello Suite for the Left Hand – Click here to find out more about our study edition featuring an arrangement of JS Bach’s Cello suite No. 1 in G major for the left hand.

Resources for Improving Sight-reading – Practising the Piano

Improving your sight-reading has many benefits beyond simply getting a better mark in an examination. It allows you to play a wider range of music and gives you more opportunities to make music with others. Sight-reading also develops many other skills essential for overall musical development.

Despite being such an important skill, sight-reading is often not taught directly and therefore it’s difficult to know how to go about practising it. With this in mind, we have built an extensive collection of sight-reading resources on the Online Academy to help you and your students practice sight-reading.

Advanced Sight-reading Curriculum

Created by Ken Johansen and derived from his experience teaching sight-reading to piano majors at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, our Advanced Sight-Reading 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 resources

We’ve recently added a new instalment which teaches how to keep 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 on one of the following links to find out more:

Read Ahead

This sight-reading curriculum comprises a curated collection of carefully ordered sight-reading examples from the elementary to intermediate levels. The examples feature related exercises and quizzes to help students develop the mental and tactile skills necessary for fluent sight-reading. Click here to view level 1, click here for level 2, click here for Level 3 or click here for Level 4 (recently added) on the Online Academy.

elementary and intermediate sight-reading resources

Other resources

  • 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:

A Sight Reading Tour – Resources for Improving Sight Reading

In this week’s post, Online Academy co-founder, Ryan Morison, gives an account of his early encounters with sight reading as a music student. Ryan also introduces a series of videos in which he shares his first-hand experience using our Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum in a later attempt to improve his skills!


Sight reading was definitely the weakest link for me as a young musician. With the main focus of lesson and practice time being learning new repertoire and improving technique, developing sight reading skills was largely neglected. I recall in my Grade 8 exam I lost almost as many  marks on the sight-reading tests than the four prepared repertoire pieces combined!

You Have It or You Don’t?

By the time I was at university studying music, I was well aware of my deficiencies having encountered many musicians who were incredible sight readers. One of them was a professor who could literally play just about anything put in front of him at sight. I asked him how one goes about developing this ability and his answer was, “You either have it or you don’t!”.

Less defeatist was another lecturer who said it just takes lots of practice and also advised doing some accompanying. The latter is an excellent way to improve, but requires a certain base level of ability in order to avoid making a fool of oneself. I simply wasn’t good enough to make this a viable path to improvement and to be fair, many other instrumentalists were blissfully unaware of how difficult the piano parts for their repertoire often were!

Realising that this was holding me back, I did try incorporate sight reading into my daily practice for a few months. However, without a systematic approach, this yielded little progress and was quickly dropped in favour of other activities likely to yield more immediate results such as refining repertoire for a performance and learning new pieces.

A Structured Approach to Sight Reading

I was delighted when many years later I was approached in my capacity as an online publisher by two professors Peabody Institute, Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen. They were developing an app called Read Ahead which aimed to make it easier to incorporate sight reading into lessons and daily practising.

After adding a selection of content from the Read Ahead curriculum to the Online Academy, we then went on to publish a curriculum for the advanced level based on the materials Ken uses to teach the subject to piano majors at the Peabody. Given my failed attempts to address my deficiencies, the Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum was of personal interest as it represented a much more structured, methodical approach than simply practising and hoping for an improvement.

A structured approach to sight reading

Unfinished Business with Sight Reading

Although I have no intention on signing up for any piano exams, being adept at sight reading offers many benefits. In addition to being exposed to a greater variety of repertoire, it also enables one to learn new pieces faster and opens up more opportunities for making music with others.

Earlier this year I embarked upon a project to broaden my active repertoire. Working on this new curriculum represented a fantastic opportunity to revisit my unfinished business with sight reading while also supporting the ambitions of my repertoire project. Therefore I decided to give it a try for myself and share my experiences in using it.

A Guided Tour

In this introductory video I share a bit more background regarding my sight reading experiences and give a brief overview of the curriculum:

Following on from the above video, I will be publishing a series of videos offering a guided tour of the curriculum, module by module. In each of these videos I will share what I learnt along with general tips and ideas for practising sight reading which will hopefully be useful regardless of whether you give the curriculum a try yourself. I will also provide a few suggestions on how the curriculum and some of its ideas at a less advanced or intermediate level.

These videos will be posted via  my website, blog and social accounts. You can also sign-up to my mailing list for notifications of new videos here.

Further Resources & Links

  • Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum
  • 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:

Resources for Improving Piano Technique

Although it’s a means to an end, a refined piano technique is important for being able to realise our artistic aspirations at the piano. If you’re looking to work on your technique, our technique library has a vast array of resources to help you develop many aspects of your technique at all levels.

We’ve also compiled a selection of our most popular modules and video lessons on improving your piano technique for beginners, teachers and pianists seeking a technical “refresher”! This collection comprises the following modules:

Elementary Piano Technique – Introduction & Basics

Based on motions that are natural to the body, this introductory module explores the basics of piano technique, through a series of videos demonstrating how to move in ways that are natural the body to achieve physical freedom for playing that feels and sounds good. It serves as a starting point for beginners and will also be useful to teachers or those seeking a refresher on the basics. Click here for more information.

Graham Fitch teaches fundamentals of piano technique

Elementary Piano Technique – Fundamentals of Scales & Arpeggios

This module follows on from the introductory module to explore the fundamentals of scale and arpeggio playing, featuring close-up video demonstrations of the movements involved. It provides suggestions and exercises for mastering technical challenges such as thumb passage and gaining speed, with further tips on how to structure scale and using finger groupings and families. Click here for more information.

The Art of Piano Fingering

A thorough understanding of the principles of good fingering is a vital basis for good piano playing. Without comfortable, musically appropriate fingerings, we can waste hours of practice time trying to remedy a problem which could have been averted much earlier. In this series of articles and videos based on her book by the same title, Penelope Roskell looks at the fundamental principles which lie at the heart of good fingering. Click here for more information.

Foundations of Good Technique

In these video lectures Ilga shares her experience on how to teach good pianistic habits and ease of movements from the start, and how to tackle problems in piano playing caused by lack of flexibility. Ease of movement helps not only to avoid tension and unnecessary rigidness in piano playing, but it has a direct effect on building up speed and precision in piano technique. Click here for more information.

Healthy Piano Playing

It’s all very well spending hours honing your technique, but injury can prove to be a major set-back to your progress. In this guide, specialist in healthy piano playing and pianist’s injuries Penelope Roskell provides a comprehensive guide to developing a healthy technique with detailed information and numerous video demonstrations on how to prevent and recover from the most common piano-related injuries. Click here to read the introduction.

Penelope Roskell on healthy piano technique

A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation

Forearm rotation is a way of coordinating the arm with the fingers in very specific and controlled ways and can yield significant benefits, including improved coordination, reduced tension and a feeling of greater strength in your playing. This step-by-step guide equips you with the basic theory as you experience and install the movements, with videos and musical examples demonstrating each stage. Click here to read the module introduction.

Forearm rotation to improve piano technique

Jailbreaking Hanon

In this newly completed lecture series, Graham Fitch shows many applications for Hanon’s exercises, including how they can be used as a blank canvas to experience and develop movements encountered in real music, such as lateral wrist adjustments, wrist circles, rotational movements and more! Click here to view the introductory video.

Special Offer!

Get access to all of the resources listed above when purchasing our Ultimate Technique Bundle and save an additional 20% with our summer promotion! This offer gives you access to over 50 articles and videos for only £36 (full price £45) as a once-off purchase. Click here to take advantage of this special offer.

Other Technique Resources

Click on any of the following links for more information on additional resources for piano technique: