Piano Sight Reading

Do you know that music sight reading skills and accompaniment skills are the two most important skills any pianist can possess? Becoming an efficient piano or music sight reader takes a lot of practice. There are a few rules that will help speed up and improve your sight reading abilities.

Rule #1- Eyes are always a step ahead of hands
When your hands are playing the first beat of a measure, the eyes are already glancing at the second beat of the same measure.

Rule #2 - Keeping a steady tempo
It's important to keep counting a steady tempo even if you miss a few notes here and there. It you're not used to counting rhythm out loud, you can start practicing by clapping. Watch for the smallest values of the piece. If the piece has eighth notes, then count 1& 2 &, etc. Keep the tempo really slow in the beginning.

Rule #3 - Watch for keys
Always start a piece by knowing the key signatures. Check for the beginning and the last notes and chords. They are usually the same chord. The chord of the last note will tell you what key it is. Once you know the key you can anticipate the black keys (sharps or flats of the key).

Rule #4 - Interval Observation
Once you master the first three steps, learning this last step is crucial for precise note playing. Remember there are five lines and four spaces in any sheet music. Notes are written within lines and spaces.


  • The distance between two notes is called an interval. For example: C to D is a 2nd; C to E is a third; C to F is a fourth.


  • When you have two notes that are on different lines, the interval is either 3rd, 5th, 7th or 9th. If the lines are next to each other, (from line 1 to line 2, from line 2 to line 3, etc.), the interval is a third. If the notes skip one lines (from line 1 to line 3, from line 2 to line 4, etc.), the interval is a fifth.
  • When you have two notes that are on different spaces, the interval is also 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. This is because they skip a line note. If the spaces are next to each other (from space 1 to space 2, from space 2 to space 3), the interval is a 3rd. If the notes skip one space (from space 1 to space 3, from space 2 to space 4), the interval is a fifth.
  • When you have two notes where one is a space note and the other one is a line note or vice versa, then the interval is 2nd, 4th, 6th or 8th.
  • When you have two notes where one note is a space note (1st space) and the other note is a line note right above the space note (2nd line), then it is a 2nd. When you have two notes where one note is a space note (1st space), and the other note is a line note (3rd line, skip the 2nd line), it's a 4th.

Take a look at the following interval exercises and determine whether you can tell the interval within 2 seconds.

Music Intervals Exercise

You may print the example of sight reading exercise sheet and answer keys sheet from our Sight Reading Lessons.

Develop the habit of reading sheet music by reading intervals.

Keep your eyes on the music. Use your peripheral vision to watch your fingers. Your fingers can learn to find the notes without your eyes. A good typist can type well without looking at the keyboard. A good pianist can read the music without looking at the piano keys.

If you combine the above steps and start paying attention to the intervals of any sheet music you come across, I can almost guarantee your sight reading skills will improve within a short period of time.

We highly recommend the piano lessons on Sight Reading exercises and techniques.

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