How To Read Music Faster

Lisa Witt  /  Sight Reading / Sep 6

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Sight-reading is HARD. I wish I could tell you that there was ONE TRICK you could learn in minutes to make you instantly better — but I can’t.

There is no quick fix. There is no magic trick.

Learning to sight-read is a lifelong pursuit that even I am still developing after decades of playing the piano.

But – while there is no quick fix, there are things you can do to make sight-reading EASIER.

And most of them happen before you even play a note.

These are some of MY tips, there are certainly others out there. If you have any of your own, please comment!

<<Download the music I’m using here>> 

Tip #1: The Pre-Tip

Before you even put your fingers on the keys, get to know your music. 

Look it over, figure out what key signature it’s in, then get a pen and circle all the notes that will have sharps or flats that you might forget. 

Tip #2: Look for patterns

This has been the most helpful tip for my sight-reading. Once you’ve marked up your page, start looking for patterns in the music.

When you find patterns in notes or phrases, you can read one note in that pattern and kind of guess the rest.

If you see notes moving up from a line to a space to a line, you know they are just stepping up one note at a time. You don’t have to read every single note — just the first and last.

Tip #3: Use proper fingering

Many pieces of music will write suggested fingering patterns. But if it doesn’t, take a moment to look at the starting note, and then the note that comes immediately after it.

If the next note is higher, you’ll know not to start with your pinky finger. If it’s lower, you’ll know not to start with your thumb. Figure out where you should start — and again make sure to write it on your page!

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Tip #4: Find anchor notes

Very often, pieces of music will have notes that repeat themselves throughout the measures. These are great to use as anchor notes.

That means as soon as you see them you’ll instantly know what they are. You don’t need to read each note every time – because you know it’s the same note.

Tip #5: Turn your sheet music into a chord chart

This one is optional and is more for those of you who play better by ear than by reading.

That’s me for sure. I can read chord charts much easier than I can read music scores. By going through each measure and identifying the underlying chord, it helps me to figure out what notes I can expect to be in the melody.

You might be surprised to find that even classical composers used chords in their music!

Bonus Tip: Write on your music

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I do a LOT of writing on my music, and you shouldn’t be afraid to write on yours either. My sheet music is often filled with notes and different colors, but that’s what helps me play better.

Don’t think of your music as a work of art, that you can’t touch. It’s there to be learned, played and dissected!

Good luck with all of these tips, and if you have any questions please comment. I read them all.

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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