Sight Reading 101: Support for Home Practice

To wrap up this month's blog series all about sight reading, I'm sharing some easy-to-implement ways to support your piano kid in building this essential musicianship skill during home practice time.

The best thing you can do is to simply make sight reading a regular part of home practice. This doesn't have to take more than a minute or two each practice, and is as simple as getting your student to look at notes in a new order and play them. Doing this regularly will build into a confident sight reading ability.

 Daily Sight Reading Exercises
  • Apps are my personal favorite because they gamify the sight reading process for students. And the best part about all of the examples below is that they use the mic on your phone or tablet so your student can practice sight reading on your piano, not just a screen.
    • Piano Maestro - this one is the star of the piano lab at the studio! A very robust app that introduces new notes & technics with tutorial videos, then students play pieces along with a backing track. This encourages good rhythm & flow while sight reading, as well as visual tracking, and builds some of the skills needed for audiation (I can't tell you how many times students have spontaneously started singing along while at the piano lab in lessons!).
    • Flash Note Derby - This one is great because your teacher can set up sight reading presets based on what we're working on in lessons & email them to you. All you have to do is click the link in the email from your tablet & the app will open with your customized presets! For my students, if you start using this app at home, just let me know & I'll start sending you customized sight reading assignments. 
    • Sight Read MTA - Another app that encourages consistent tempo while sight reading notes with a built-in metronome. This one has TONS of exercises ranging from the very beginning to advanced, and systematically working through all key & time signatures.
    • NoteRush - A flashcard app that motivates students to play the notes quickly! This one takes less than a minute, and students are often self-motivated to try it a few times to increase their star rating. 
    • etc. . . there are a TON of sight reading apps out there, so don't feel limited to the few mentioned here. The trick is to find the one that is engaging for your student, and easy to implement at home. 
But what if you're not a techie house, or maybe you want to limit your child's screen time? The good news is that people learned to sight read before tablets existed, so here's a few no-tech-needed ideas:
  • Sight Reading Books
    •  Most piano methods have progressive sight reading books, like these from the Faber method. Grab the one that is the appropriate level for your piano kid, and do one or two lines each practice, while thinking about note accuracy & timing. 
    • Alternatively, try reviewing a piece or reading ahead in your method book. This doesn't have to be an entire some, maybe it's just a line or a handful of measures that you try each day.
  • Flashcards
    • Sight Reading Cards - These cards from Piano Safari are a terrific way to bring sight reading into home practice. All you have to do is choose a card from the appropriate level to try each day. I like these because instead of adding one more book to the pile, pulling out a single card to try each day feels pretty minimal.
    • Note Name Flashcards - sometimes the old ways are the best ways! Something like these that are free to download, then print & cut at home would work beautifully.
  • Play fun music 
    • choose some pieces your student really likes, maybe a popular piece, something from a movie or a classical theme, and find the first page of the sheet music online. Can they play the melody line? Or if they're more advanced, can they take a stab at reading the full arrangement? Playing music we love can really engage us in the learning process!
Sight-Sing your pieces 
  •  One of the best ways to build audiation skills is to sight sing or clap through pieces before playing them. This really strengthens the understanding of the relationship between what's on the paper & the sounds they represent. If doing this for every piece seems a bit much, choose one piece, or segment of a piece, each practice session to try this for.
  • Another way to reinforce this skill is to play a measure or two of the piece, and then see if you can sing what comes next. Are you able to sight-sing or anticipate the upcoming melody? 
Improvise & Compose 
  • Improvising is another great way to understand the relationship between what we're learning and how it becomes music. 
    • If you're not sure where to start, choose the position of a piece that's on the assignment list for that week, and create an original melody within that position. 
    • For intermediate/advanced students, try harmonizing with your melody using some of the primary chords. 
  • Write down original music - especially if something really interesting comes out of an improv session. Writing down our music continues to strengthen that relationship between notes on the paper & the sounds they represent. Composing also invests students in their own learning process by engaging their creativity and giving them some ownership. You can use printable staff paper to write it or for a digital score try
And that concludes the Sight Reading 101 blog series. Thank you so much for following along, I do hope you found some new & helpful information along the way, or perhaps found some renewed motivation to bring more sight reading back into practice time. If you give any of these tips a try, or have questions while trying something suggested above, I'd love to hear about it!