If you are at the start of your quest to learn how to play piano, then you are probably not ready for sight reading at this stage. It is more appropriate that you learn basic piano chords as sight reading is a more advanced topic that you will learn later. Sight reading written sheet music is playing music as you see it printed on paper for the first time. When you first look at an unfamiliar piece of music it will all be unfamiliar and possibly quite overwhelming. While you may be one of the lucky few that can learn it quickly and easily (usually after years of practice), here are a few tips for the rest of us learning the art of reading sheet music:
- Examine the key signature. Get into the habit of always checking the key of any piece of music you are intending to play. Pay close attention to whichever sharps or flats are listed in the signature as you’ll want to commit these to memory in advance if possible.
- Examine the time signature. This is another important habit you should get into as measures will note make any sense if you are not sure how many beats are contained within them. You will be lost if you make a mistake here.
- Make sure you are aware of any changes in key and time signature. More complicated songs often features changes of either or both of these. You can save a lot of trouble if you’re aware of them ahead of time and before you begin to play the piece.
- It is useful to make a mental note of which note or chord the piece begins on and which it ends on. This can often help you to predict changes in the song which will help to guide you through it.
- Make note of the rhythm of the left hand staff. The bass line you usually play with your left hand usually defines the rhythm of the song (although not always). Ensure you know which notes are on the left hand before you start playing so you’ll have a better picture of what the song involves.
- Before you begin, do a “once-over” of the melody section. The melody usually defines the “vibe” of the song and so getting it into your head will give you the general idea of how the song should be played. Once you “get” the meaning of how the song is intended to be played, you’ll have unlocked it’s “charm” and “character” and how it is unique from other songs. Having the melody stand out in your mind before you start playing can help a great deal.
- Finally, go over any other “quirks” and “markings” associated with the piece. Or more of the advanced music symbols that indicate how long or short to play each note and the loudness or softess of notes at various places within the score. Get an idea for the overall speed of the music as well.
- At last, take a deep breath, concentrate and then start playing. Try your best to play the song to the end if you can the first time. You will have time later to break it down into sections (measures) and practice any particular part you find difficult, but at first simply trying to make it to the end will help you pick up the piece a lot more completely.
Being able to sight read music is undoubtedly a valuable skill for skilled pianists to know. By sight-reading you are forced to concentrate and focus until you reach the end of the song which can help you overcome bad habits such as spending too much time looking at each note before you attempt to play it. Starting and stopping whenever you get a part wrong is always a bad habbit that will stall your ability to learn new music quickly.
This being said, very few piano players have the ability to play a piece perfectly on first sighting of a song. Perfection is not the goal here, learning to read music as quickly and efficiently is what you’re aiming for.