Sight reading is a skill that is as important as note reading and rhythm training. However, unlike note reading and rhythm training (which usually are a regular part of every piano lesson), sight reading can often be ignored or treated as an afterthought.
The reason it gets passed over is that it is unpredictable… and anything unpredictable terrifies piano players. It’s human nature to avoid that which is unfamiliar.
You’d be hard pressed to find a piano teacher that doesn’t harbor ill feelings toward their childhood sight reading experiences. I certainly do! And it is these same feelings that can cause piano teachers to then overlook regular sight reading practice with their own students. It’s time to stop the circle of fear that surrounds sight reading. And to do this, piano teachers need to present sight reading as a fun challenge; not an arduous chore.
On this page, we’re sharing “Pick-A-Path Sight Reading” activities and articles of advice that make sight reading something to enjoy, not fear. Click here to jump to our sight-reading printables.
1. Why Is Sight Reading Important For Piano Students?
Sight reading often does not have a regular place in piano lessons, but when it does, it’s usually because students have upcoming exams that will test their sight-reading skills.
If it were up to me, I would remove sight reading from piano exams. The exam environment promotes the fear that follows sight reading… playing a never-before-seen piece for someone with pencil-poised, waiting to deduct marks as soon as they detect a mistake is a nerve-inducing experience! But sight reading shouldn’t be feared; it should be embraced as a learning tool.
Kids who embrace sight reading will stick with piano lessons longer and get more enjoyment as they grow with the instrument. Here’s why:
Sight Reading Increases Skill Acquisition
Kids will progress faster when sight reading is incorporated into lessons because their brains must always be actively engaged in the process. Many piano students rely on muscle memory to make progress. When they play their piece, their fingers are hitting the right keys but their brains have taken a back seat.
Sight reading keeps a student’s brain actively engaged. It removes memory from the equation and requires a student to read notes, look for intervals, and identify patterns in music; important skills that create capable players.
Sight Reading Improves Home Practice
More often than not, the parents of piano students are not piano players. For this reason, when students practice at home, they are on their own. If they forget something learned in a lesson or meet an unfamiliar challenge, kids are likely to give up on their practice. And, as we all know, kids who don’t practice are kids who quit piano lessons.
Teaching sight-reading skills can, therefore, improve home practice. When students have the ability and the tools to work independently, they do not require as much adult intervention to solve their musical problems. This ability to work through unfamiliar music makes daily home practice achievable.
Sight Reading Builds Confident Piano Performers
When it comes to piano performances and exams, most students are relying on their memories for musical success. If their nerves get the better of them, their memories will become cloudy and things can take a turn for the worse… fast!
Kids who are capable sight-readers have a toolbox of skills to fall back on if their memories fail. If their minds get foggy and muscle memory is lost, good sight readers will be able to recognize familiar intervals, patterns, and guide notes on their page and quickly recover.
2. How To Teach Sight Reading To Piano Students
We have written many articles that will help you get started with how to teach sight reading to your piano students. But, in short, sight reading is all about identification and time management.
The first essential element of sight reading is time management. When faced with unfamiliar music, piano students must react fast. This means they must categorize what is familiar and what is unfamiliar. Students must learn to quickly identify and then solve the “tricky bits” in their music while ignoring the easy elements that they already understand.
The second essential element of sight reading is identification. Students must put on their detective hats and search their music for elements of prior knowledge, learning to quickly identify guide notes, intervals, and familiar left-hand patterns.
For more sight-reading guidance, check out the following articles:
3. Printable Sight-Reading Piano Activities
The sight-reading activities below correspond with our books, WunderKeys Rock Repertoire For Teen Beginners and The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo While these printables work wonders as standalone activities, when paired with our exciting piano books, they will make your studio the talk of the town! This page is new and the resources will continue to grow, so check back regularly.