I get a lot of questions about how to improve sight reading. Teachers don’t seem to find the time to cover it in lessons, meaning students have little incentive to practise it at home. And yet the ability to read and process information readily from the printed score is surely one of the most important skills they should be acquiring?

Players with weak reading skills often have good muscle memory, they are able to look away from the printed page quite early on in the note learning process – little wonder their reading skills suffer when their eyes are permanently focussed on the fingers. Sight reading involves assimilating information from the page and decoding it on the spot. The ability to do this presupposes a certain amount of theoretical knowledge (another area that is sorely neglected), but the single most important factor in getting good at it is to be doing it regularly.

With Other Musicians

Sitting at home ploughing through dreary sight reading tests just doesn’t seem to cut it. Even though you know you’re not supposed to stop for mistakes, you just hate getting it wrong. You’re not inspired and you can’t wait to move on to more interesting things – such as your pieces.

A great way to develop sight reading skills is to play with other musicians. Duets or music for two pianos, collaborating with singers, instrumentalists or choirs – I suggest finding any situation where you cannot stop under any circumstances (or you’ll be letting the side down). Singing teachers, instrumental teachers and choir directors who don’t have a pianist would be grateful for your efforts, no matter how rudimentary they may be to begin with. You will get better as you go on, I promise, but at the start you will play many more wrong notes than right ones. Swallow your pride, laugh it off and just get in there and do it.

Quick Studies

One of my diploma candidates, an advanced player with a high level of pianistic aplomb and polish, produced Tchaikovky’s January (from The Seasons) in her last lesson as a quick study. The plan is to bring one piece per month from the set, which will certainly beef up reading and comprehension skills by forcing the eye onto the printed page.

A quick study is a proper piece of music a couple of grades lower than the level of the player, assigned with no prior instruction and to be played in full at a predetermined date. If you are a teacher who gives out regular assignments through the year, you might consider a quick study once a month – your student will know when you expect to hear it, and their results can even be marked (if you’re into that sort of thing). Perfection and refinement are not priorities here, they get through the piece as best they can by themselves with no help from you. You might choose to spend a small part of that week’s lesson on one or two matters arising from the piece before signing it off and moving on to other things. In addition to helping the reading  your student will build up a repertoire of worthwhile music that is always being added to.

It adds value to have the results of your labour witnessed. After the allotted time, no matter what shape the piece is in, either play it for your teacher, at a piano group or record it for yourself. You might even think of your recordings as first drafts, laying down the foundations for future study when you might polish and finesse what you started.

List of Suitable Pieces

With the help of my friends on social media (thanks everyone!), I have compiled a list of pieces as a starting point. I have included slightly unusual works that are manageable for this purpose that you might not immediately think of. Of course, advanced players can take a book of Bach’s 48 and learn one or two Preludes a month (perhaps leaving out the Fugues). The same applies to the Shostakovich. How about taking a Mendelssohn Song without Words per month until you have built up a repertoire?

I will add to this list regularly, so please do send me your suggestions. I have tried to keep it to compilations of twelve (for those who want just one a month), but this is not so important.


Tchaikovksy: The Seasons

Fanny Mendelssohn: Das Jahr

Ginastera: Twelve American Preludes

MacDowell: 12 Etudes, op. 39

Granados: 12 Spanish Dances

Henselt: 12 Etudes Caractéristiques, op. 2

Szymanowski: 12 Etudes, op. 33

Liszt: Christmas Tree Suite

Bizet: Jeux d’enfants (four hands)

Sibelius: 10 Pieces for Piano, op. 58


Bach: 12 Little Preludes and Fugues

Beethoven: 12 German Dances (very short!)

Schubert: 12 German Dances, D.790

Schubert: 12 German Dances, D.420

Schubert: 12 Grazer Waltzes, D.924

Tchaikovsky: 12 Pieces, op.40

Arensky: 12 Pieces, op. 66  (four hands)

Barbara Arens: Rendezvous with Midnight

Alan Hovhanes: Twelve Armenian Folk Songs, op.43

Rami Bar-Niv: Traditional Hebrew Songs

Adrian Vernon Fish: O’Donoghue’s Dozen (contact the composer via his site)

Richard Rodney Bennett: Partridge Pie

Sibelius: 10 Pieces for Piano, op. 24

Sibelius: 13 Pieces for Piano, op. 76


Gurlitt: Little Flowers, op. 205

Prokoviev: Music for Children, op. 65

Mozart: 12 Little Pieces (Book 1)

Mozart: 12 Little Pieces (Book 2)

***   ***   ***

If you enjoyed this article then please click here if you’d like to sign-up to our mailing list to receive future articles, content updates and special offers. You may also be interested in the following resources:

Practising the Piano eBook Series 

There are surprisingly few books that deal with the art of practising. This multimedia eBook series contains hundreds of videos, audio clips, music examples and downloadable worksheets to show you exactly what need to do in order to get the most out of your practice time. Click here for more information.

Practising the Piano Online Academy

Building on my blog posts and eBook series, the Online Academy takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, it will transform the way you approach playing or teaching the piano!

Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

  • Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £9.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
  • Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £99.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)