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:

Summer Piano Projects & Reading Ideas

Summer is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and can be a great opportunity to embark upon some piano projects! If you are looking forward to some quality practice time, we’ve compiled some ideas to inspire you and help get you on your way. Otherwise, if you’re not going to have a piano at hand, we’ve also included some reading suggestions for the beach or wherever you might be!

Summer Piano Projects

Add to your repertoire

It’s always exciting learning new pieces and if you’re looking to build solid foundations from the outset, why not try our free email course on starting a new piece (click here to sign-up) or click here for some suggestions on choosing new pieces. You might also want to join our Learning New Piano Pieces group where we post various materials relating to learning pieces and give you the opportunity to discuss and share your progress.

If you’re looking for ideas for repertoire or for guidance then do visit our growing library of resources for the piano repertoire. These resources aim to help you learn and master over 250 pieces across all levels and include videos focussing on specific aspects of a piece through to detailed video walk-throughs of complete works and annotated study editions.

As a further suggestion to broaden your repertoire, why not try a few pieces that are earlier than your current level as quick studies? Examination syllabuses can be useful for obtaining an indication of difficulty and we’ve also added many new video lessons to our resources for the ABRSM 2023 & 2024 syllabus.

Hone your technique

Although it’s a means to an end, a refined technique is important for being able to realise our artistic aspirations at the piano. Why not take a refresher course on technical fundamentals or focus on your left hand if you feel that it sometimes holds you back?

For those who find exercises and studies useful, remember it’s not what you do but how you do them. Our technique library has an extensive collection of guides to using popular exercises and studies in the most effective and engaging ways, including a series by Fred Karpoff on Czerny’s Op. 821 and Graham Fitch’s “Jailbreaking Hanon”.

Brush up on your theory knowledge

Understanding music theory gives us a wonderful insight into how music works and can also enable you to learn repertoire faster, interpret it more authentically and explore new worlds of improvisation and composition. Our online course There’s more to Playing the Piano provides a concise, interactive explanation of the basics of music theory (click here to view the introduction).

Develop your general musical skills

With the emphasis so often being on developing technical skills and learning new repertoire, many pianists neglect the development of general musical skills. Why not use the summer break as an opportunity to train your ear or improve your sight-reading?  

Learn to improvise

As a follow-on from the above suggestion, how about unleashing your creativity and giving improvisation a try? The first two modules of our new course on improvisation by Dave Hall show you how to train your ear and create basic melodies and accompaniments. Lucinda Mackworth-Young’s video series, Anyone Can Improvise also offers a step-by-step guide to playing by ear and improvising.

Catch-up on workshops & reading

We will be taking a break from our online events programme over the summer and resuming in September (be sure to sign-up to our mailing list to be notified of upcoming events!). In the meantime, if you haven’t yet watched the recordings for workshops that you signed-up for, head over to the events tab in your library to view them. You can also purchase access to recordings and resources for any workshop that you missed from our store or find links to watch the recordings of our monthly practice clinics here.

For some piano-themed holiday reading, how about reading Penelope Roskell’s highly acclaimed book, The Complete Pianist (now available in eBook format with video links!) or Neil Rutman’s fascinating and inspiring Stories, Images and Magic from the Piano Literature?

Lastly, we’ll also be celebrating the summer with specials on a selection of our digital resources. Click here to sign-up to our mailing list to avoid missing out!


My Sight Reading Story – Practising the Piano

In this week’s guest post, Lona Kozik shares her story of how she went from being hopeless at sight reading to earning a living as an accompanist and working in theatre. Lona discovered that it is possible to learn to be a good sight reader and has packaged what she learnt on her journey as a unique, mini-course which is now available on the Online Academy.


I was 11 when I started piano lessons. I loved learning the piano, and I practised a LOT! But I wasn’t a very good sight reader.

My mother, on the other hand, was an excellent sight reader. If she heard me struggling to learn a new piece, she would come to the piano and sight read it with total ease. She did this to help me, but I was usually totally crushed. I thought – there are some people who can sight read, like my mother, and there are some who just can’t, like me.

It turns out this isn’t true. When I studied piano at university, I found you can actually learn to be a good sight reader. And I made this discovery moments before an important piano exam. I was about to take my fourth piano exam at university, the result of which would determine whether or not I could continue with my programme of study. If the jury failed me on any aspect, I was out.

I had a new piano teacher that semester, and I had learnt a great deal from him. I had really improved my playing, and I was eager to show the examiners my progress. But I hadn’t really had time to work on my sight reading.

Just before the exam, my teacher gave me a quick piece of advice, which I’ll never forget – “If you play all the rhythms correctly without stopping, you will pass the sight reading. Even if every single pitch is incorrect, if you play the rhythm correctly and do not stop, you will pass.”

Lona Kozic shares her sight reading story

He was right! I played the rhythm correctly, and I didn’t stop. I’ll never forget it was a piece by Schubert, and my sight reading rendition sounded more like Schoenberg. But I passed!

Having discovered that I CAN learn to be a good sight reader – that there are skills I could build to make sight reading accessible to me, I jumped in with abandon. I had help from my piano teacher, who picked up from our first sight reading lesson – play the right rhythm and never stop! I had help from my pedagogy teacher, who exposed me to different methodologies for learning to read music. I was taking a lot of music theory and ear training classes. I was learning to sight sing. I was learning about voice-leading and how harmony works.

One day, I was in a practice room, looking at a Beethoven sonata I was assigned to learn. All of the theory studies and sight singing practice and pedagogy studies suddenly flipped a switch. It was like someone had turned the lights on. Instead of seeing one note after another, I could see patterns! I could see landmarks! I could see musical structures jumping off the page – like musical architecture! I had learned this harmonic language so well that I could even predict where and what the next cadence would be.

I learned that sonata in one week.

I graduated with dual degrees in piano performance and music theory. I’d passed four more piano juries, all of them with a sight reading component. I had slain the sight reading dragon!

For me this was just the beginning. I took a job in graduate school as an accompanist in an opera studio. I stepped in at the last minute to deputise for a staff accompanist for college auditions. I began to teach sight reading. A friend of mine, an amateur singer who owned a local pub, got me to play the piano parts for the whole of Schubert’s Winterreise after hours in the pub. This time, my Schubert sounded just like Schubert! And we had immense fun playing through Winterreise! Yes – FUN sight reading! My 11-year old self would have never believed it.

Schubert winterreise

I’ve taken all of the lessons and tips I picked up along my way and put them into my mini-course, Music at Sight. Becoming a good sight reader is a process of layering technical skills and theoretical knowledge. If you struggle with sight reading – if it takes you a long time to learn a new piece of music – or if you feel held back by being a slow reader, then Music at Sight is for you!


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.