Sight-Reading Written Music
Sight-reading written music is when you play music as you see it for the first time. When you first get a
piece of sheet music or a new songbook, all the music will be unfamiliar to you. You can get overwhelmed if you try
to play perfectly from the very first glance. There are a few tricks you can learn to make it easier.
1. Look at the key signature. This could possibly be the most important piece of preliminary information you can
have. Think very hard about which sharps or flats are listed in the key signature. You will want to remember to use
those notes whenever they occur throughout the piece.
2. Look at the time signature. The measures will not make much sense to you if you do not know how many beats
there are in each one of them. If you do not know what kind of note makes up a beat, you will be lost.
3. Look over the piece for any changes in key signature and time signature. You may be playing along and come
across a change out of the blue. If you are not prepared for it, you might end up playing the song incorrectly from
that point on.
4. Notice what note you will start on and what note or chord you will end on. It helps to know the starting
point and the ending point of any song before you start to play it. This will guide you towards the finish of the
5. Glance at the type of rhythm that is used in the left hand. The left hand is usually the rhythm hand, though
not always. If you count out the notes of the left hand before you begin, you will have a better idea of how the
song is going to go.
6. Do a one-handed once-over of the melody. Just play the melody line by itself to get the sound of it into your
mind. Once you know that sound, you have unlocked the uniqueness of the song. When you begin to play the song all
together, the melody will stand out in your mind as a significant thread.
7. Look at any other markings that are on the piece. Some of these markings will be covered in Music
Terminology. They include the loudness or softness of a piece, how short or long you hold the notes, and the
overall speed of the music.
8. Take a deep breath, focus, and begin to play. You should try to play the song all the way through when you
sight read it for the first time. There will be time later to break it down into measures and work on each one if
that is what you want to do. For the time being, however, just do your best and keep going.
You might wonder why it is important to know how to sight-read in the first place. After all, you could learn
the song a little at a time. Sight-reading forces you to keep trying until you reach the end of the song.
When you sight-read properly, you avoid some bad habits. You avoid the habit of looking at each note slowly
before you play it. You also avoid the habit of starting and stopping every time something goes the least little
If you want to play perfectly from the very first sight of a song, you might as well forget it unless you are
very experienced or talented. Sight-reading gets you started on the road to learning to play better.