4 Simple Steps to Learn How to Sight Read

be49cd3cdf512015a04321593bea9172_FotorSight reading is an essential technique in learning how to play piano and it will improve your piano playing skills by leaps and bounds. Learning to sight read piano pieces will help you start to understand music theory and will improve your ability to read notes and pieces just by playing it one time. All-in-all, it will make you a more well-rounded piano player.

However, what is sight reading? Sight reading is being able to look at a piece of music and play the notes and rhythms the whole way through, without ever playing it before. In order to learn how to sight read, you need to take it slow at first and then work your way up to more difficult songs. Here are a few pointers on how to become a better sight reader while playing the piano.

1. Learning the Clefs

Clefs are at the beginning of the staff and signify what notes to play and what octave they are to be played in. The most common clefs are bass clef and treble clef, otherwise known as H Clef and G Clef.   Treble clef, also known as G Clef, is often used for the higher octaves, and higher instruments such as: flute, piccolo, and violin, and typically for soprano and alto voices. Below is a picture of a treble clef on a staff.

It is nicknamed G Clef because it curls around the line that symbolizes G. On a staff with a treble clef, the lines from bottom to top are EGBDF, and the spaces from bottom to top are FACE. You can remember these acronyms by “Every Good Boy Eats Fudge”, and remembering the word “face”. Image Source: www.instructables.com

Bass clef, also known as H Clef, is typically used for the lower octaves, and is typical for the tenor and bass voice parts. Each line and space represents a different note just like a treble clef. It is called an H Clef because the line that represents H is in between the two dots of the bass clef (shown in picture below). The lines from bottom to top are GBDFA and the spaces are ACEG. You can remember these acronyms with “Good Boys Do Fine Always”, and “All Cows Eat Grass”. Image Source: www.musictheory.net

2. Learning Different Keys

Keys are important because it tells you what notes you should and should not be playing. Below is a diagram that shows you all the sharps and flats and what their key signatures are on both staves.



The easiest way to tell what key a piece is in, there is a little memory trick or the Circle of Fifths. The trick that you need to memorize is that if it’s a sharp (#), you take the last sharp written and go up a half step to find your key. If it’s a flat (b), you just find the second to last flat and that’s your key. Another important thing to note is if it’s a treble clef, it’s major, and if it’s minor, it’s a bass clef.

The Circle of Fifths is another tool that you can use to find what key you’re in. If you have no sharps or flats, it means you’re in C Major. To find the next key up, you count up 5 steps (with the order of ABCDEFG), which means one sharp would be G, and two sharps would be D, and so on.   To use the Circle of Fifths when you have flats, you actually count backwards by 4. So, if you have one flat on a treble clef staff, it would be F Major, so you count backwards (GFEDCBA) by four to find yourself with two flats and in B flat major, and then count back by four again to find three flats in E flat major.


  3. Learn Rhythm and Time Signature

Rhythm and time signatures are very important to a piece. A time signature has two numbers- the top number tells you the number of beats in a measure and the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets the beat. Below is a diagram to show you an example of what different notes look like and how many beats these specific notes get.

Image Source: musictheorysite.wordpress.com

A whole note is played for all of the beats in a measure, a half note gets only half of the beats in the measure, a quarter notes gets one fourth of the notes played in the measure, eighth notes only get an eighth of the notes in the measure, and sixteenth notes only get one sixteenth of the notes played in the measure. For example, if the time signature was four over four, then that means there are four beats in the measure and the quarter note gets the beat. So, a whole note gets all four beats, a half note gets two beats, a quarter note gets one beat, an eighth note gets half a beat, and a sixteenth note gets a one quarter of the beat. Depending on what the time signature is, it will tell you what note gets the beat and for how long.




Image Source: musictheorysite.wordpress.com

Above is also an example of rests and their values. If we’re in a four over four time signature, the whole rest gets all 4 beats of silence, a half note gets two beats of silence, a quarter note gets one beat of silence, an eighth note gets half a beat of silence, and the sixteenth note rest gets one quarter of a beat of silence.

Tip: before playing a piece, sit down and write in the rhythms of a piece to help you when sight reading.


4. Learn Melody

Finally, after you’ve learned everything above and basics of music theory, it is now time to start the melody.

According to Wikipedia, a melody is…

“a series of single notes that is played satisfyingly”.

Key signatures, clefs, and rhythms are all essential to the melody. The only part left is just playing the notes after figuring out what key a piece is in and the rhythm.

Tip: If you’re a beginner, write in the letter of the note to help you learn to identify notes without having to think about it.


With sight reading, you always want to start out very simple. After you feel that you’re getting better, begin to increase the difficulty of the pieces you’re playing to improve your sight reading skills. Also, don’t keep practicing one piece over and over. Always switch it up and feel free to try new pieces!

Some of the best and easiest songs to start out on are “Brave” and “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles. After you learn to sight read those two songs and do it pretty well, move on to pieces that are common to “Oh Happy Day”, by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Drops of Jupiter” by Train, and “Payphone” by Maroon 5. To switch it up, try a piece with a bass clef, such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel.   After a while, you’ll really get the hang of things, and if you practice enough, maybe someday you’ll start to be able to sight read sonatas by Beethoven and Liszt.

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