Sight-reading music

What’s the point?!

  • To show you can apply musical awareness- giving a short demo. of what you (should) know.
  • The skill of playing unseen music to advance instrument fluency and develop accurate reading.
  • For an assessor to quickly evaluate your music reading ability and theory application. (That you can actually play music well -albeit at a lower level than you are currently working on).

Which aspects are crucial to sight-reading?

*Get these 6 right and you are on the road to sight-reading brilliance!*

  1. Shape. The notes should clearly go somewhere! You are on a short music journey. Don’t bore the listener by making pit stops at every second note. If the melody rises or falls, let the listener feel it.
  2. Rhythm and pulse. Ensure you consider the time signature and speed. Often tempo markings are given or implied. ‘Moderato’ means the music should neither drag nor rush but should maintain a moderate pace throughout (85-95 bpm).
  3. Note values and rests. Like sign posts on a road, do not ignore time allotted to resting and long and short note values. If every note is given equal measure there will be zero sense of drive. Each bar should flow into the next without hesitation. Bar lines are not bar signs. Do not stop for a sip (or a pint) at each measure!
  4. Mood. It should sound like something. And by something, ideally not cast-off as a torturous audio-visual loop in a modern art gallery. A jolly march and sullen lullaby should not be played identically. Mood matters.
  5. If playing a tuned instrument, note the key signature. Sharps and flats are not mere whimsical decorations. Is the piece major, minor or dissonant? Decide before you play and reflect this suitably.
  6. Articulation. Take note of any specific articulations such as staccato/pizzicato, accents, legato, pauses, ornamentation and other gradations. These have been written in for a reason. Don’t throw away final marks ignoring the elaborations of the piece.

Checklist for the 6?   

If you like mnemonics… ‘A Keen Musician Remembers Valuable Stuff!


Key signature





Finally, remember it is okay if it does not sound perfect! You have never seen this music before. Sight-reading, other wise known as ‘Prima vista,’ simply means ‘first time to see this music!’

Use all your allotted time in the exam space for sight-reading. Speed read twice through if possible. Practise sight-reading as much as any other music skill. It is something you can practise despite what people may have you believe. Make a game of it in your practise sessions. Do ask if you would like some coaching to develop your sight-reading, I am happy to help! 🙂

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