Sight-Reading: An Acquired Taste

I may be able to pick up melodies quickly and compose my own piano/vocal music, but I sure don’t sight-read well. Even after many years of musical study, I still sometimes have to squint at the page and use the old sight-reading tricks, like “Every Good Boy Does Fine”, “F-A-C-E”, “All Cows Eat Grass”, etc., to remember which notes are which. And sight-reading a piano piece, trying to play both staffs together? Forget it. It’ll be a hot mess, especially if I’ve never heard the song before. Having to produce music based on something visual is definitely not natural for me.

But sight-reading doesn’t have to be a stumbling block forever, as I’ve found out! Scroll down to discover a few tricks I’ve picked up to help me play along a little faster (pun intended).

#1: Look at Sheet Music for Songs You Know Really Well

Don’t dismiss this as pointless before you try it! Since you already instinctively know how the melody “goes” and what the rhythm does, it’s much easier to read a known song’s sheet music. Sites like OnlinePianist and MusicNotes have sheet music for even very current popular music–find a song you know, and start putting the notes and rhythms in your head with the marks on the page.

#2: Memorize At Least One Note’s Position

quarternote If you can learn to at least recognize one note (like E, noted above), then you can build off that. Knowing that the first note on the bottom of the staff is E means that the next note, the one in the first space, is F; then the note on the second line is G, and so on. Use that one note as the key to the rest of the scale!

#3: Practice Notating The Chorus of Your Favorite Song

This works as both ear training and sight-reading training. First, sketch out a quick grand staff (you can use the one in the image above as a guideline), then listen to your favorite song, and mess around on an instrument of your choice until you find the starting note of the chorus. Mark the line or space where it belongs, and then move on to the next note and the next until you’ve noted the whole melody.

Once you have the pitches marked out, then you can go back and add in the correct rhythm value for the notes, such as quarter note, eighth note, etc. Here’s my example for a favorite song of mine:

I did this in Photoshop, which has no rests or ties available, but at least the basic melody is there for the chorus of “Somebody’s Watching Me.” See video below for comparison:


Sight-reading can be a huge pain, but these 3 tips have helped me inject a little fun into practicing this skill. Try any or all of them out for yourself, and let me know what has helped you the most!

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