Key Skills for Excellent Sight Reading

There is so much great music to play, but often pianists struggle to learn music quickly. Many would love to be able to open a book and just play or be confident enough to play new music with others.

Despite its many benefits, sight reading is rarely taught and is often thought of as something you either have or you don’t. However, it is possible to develop sight reading skills, but you need to know how to go about doing this.

In this article, Lona Kozik shares a few skills she discovered which helped her go from being hopeless at sight reading to earning a living as an accompanist and working in theatre!


1. Rhythm first and keep going!

The first rule of sight reading is to keep a steady pulse and play accurate rhythms. It is worth developing this skill as a foundation for good sight reading.

2. Take a snapshot

Have you ever been advised to “look ahead” when sight reading and wondered – how, when I can just about read one note to the next to the next? The answer – don’t read from one note to another. Rather imagine taking a snapshot and take in as much as you can. In order to do that effectively, you must…

3. Read musical structures, not notes

Sight reading and note naming are two different things. Learn to read musical structures – identify intervals, chords, cadences and melodic patterns. If you were taught a mnemonic to identify notes on the staff, learn to locate landmark notes on the staff using clefs. If you can do this, you can take in much more of the music quickly.

4. Read from the bottom up

When reading two lines of music, train your eye to look from the bottom (bass clef in piano music) up (treble clef in piano music) in a continuous sweep. This prioritises the bass and helps you to read and think harmonically, which helps to…

sight read from the bottom up

5. Think in a key

To become a fluent sight reader at the piano, you need good keyboard harmony skills – a knowledge of how keyboard harmony works, how to think in a key and an ability to apply this in practice.

Ending Your Sight Reading Struggles

Although some of these skills will deliver some immediate improvements, it takes time to be able to put them into practice and realise the full benefits, especially the last one.

If you’d like a more in depth demonstration of these skills then please do join me on Thursday 25th January  for an online workshop in which I’ll be exploring these skills and showing you how to apply them. This workshop serves as a complement to my Music at Sight course on the Online Academy which provides daily exercises for developing each of these skills. Click here to find out more about my workshop and to book your place!


The Music as Sight mini course is available with an Online Academy subscription as part of our library of 1000+ articles and videos on piano playing. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the course introduction if you are already a subscriber.