Top 10 Facts About Learning How to Sight Read Music Notes and Rhythms

Hi One Minute Music Lesson fans,

Learning how to sight read music can be a very mystifying process for the beginning or amateur musician. But there are 10 facts about about learning how to sight read music notes and rhythms that you must know in order to develop your sight reading skills.

It took me over 20 years to learn an effecient system of sight reading because, in truth, most teachers do not know how to teach this aspect of music properly. Many teachers can teach you how to read music on a basic level and even how to play complicated pieces, but usually this is done through a tremendous amount of repetition and reliance on listening to recordings or playing standard pieces from the literature that your teacher learned many years ago.

If you are learning how to sight read music on your own I recommend that you adjust your sight reading habits to incorporate the 10 facts below. I guarantee you will experience a major shift in your sight reading ability and mindset.

1. You must maintain the motivation to improve your sight-reading skills.

In order to get better at sight reading you need to stay motivated to practice the skill. If you need a little motivation begin by reading my article on finding your inner motivation to grow as a musician.

2. You will need good quality sight reading practice materials.

To really sight read you need a lot of fresh music materials to read. There are many places you can get music for sight reading. One of my favorites is a tool called PianoMarvel. This program has thousands of  interactive sight reading exercises and tons of real music repertoire pieces. You can read more about this program on my in-depth review of Piano Marvel, as well as get a 20% discount code.

Also, another quality tool in your sight reading arsenal should include great sheet music. Here is a list of my favorite top 10 free sheet music websites. Also you can find just about any piece at SheetMusicPlus in their catalog of over 800,000+ titles.

3. You must have a frequent practice schedule to improve your sight reading ability.

To get better at sight reading you will need to practice the skill frequently. A great way to do this is to keep a practice journal. To start a practice journal download a free copy of my practice journal template and use it daily.

4. You must make markings on your sheet music BEFORE you sight read.

Sight reading does not all have to be in-your-head. Use a pencil to make markings that will help you as you read through the sheet music. Also using highlighters or colored pencils is a great way to mark your music for visual clarity. When I sight read I mark all the accidentals (sharps, flats and naturals) before I ever play a single note. This marking technique is an invaluable lesson I have learned over the years. I teach this score marking method and many more in my book "How to Read Music Easily in 30 Days".

5. You must practice sight reading slowly.

Practicing almost any skill on an instrument works better if you do it slowly. When you practice piano you begin playing with both hands slowly. When you begin playing guitar you learn to place the fingers on the fret board to form chords slowly. Sight reading slowly will lead to fast progress.

When practicing sight reading you want to read the music at a very slow tempo while also being very steady. This will require a metronome. Do not trust your mind's inner time-keeping when sight reading. I suggest you should practice sight reading around four times slower than a piece should be performed at tempo.

6. You must learn and memorize the note locations on the staff.

If you have not learned the locations of the notes on the treble and bass clef by memory you must do this to get better at sight reading. I have developed two exercises that will help with this task. Download the treble clef exercise here and the bass clef exercise here.

7. You must learn how to count rhythm properly and accurately.

Rhythm is the main culprit in most student's sight reading problems. I recommend all my students learn how to count rhythms properly by learning and using the Eastman counting system. I have two free videos on this counting system, one for simple meter and one for compound meter.

8. You need to understand at least some basic music theory concepts.

To sight read more easily you will need to understand scales and chords. These two fundamental music theory concepts exist in almost all music. You can learn beginning music theory online with my free video lesson series here or take a look at my top 10 free music theory websites.

9. Learning sight-singing will drastically improve your sight reading ability.

What is sight-singing? Sight-singing is a vital part of ear training. Sight singing is the ability to see printed music and sing it without any help from an instrument.

This crucial skill will take time to develop, but once you do, you will be able to sight read much more easily because you will be able to see the structure of the music, not just the notes on the page.

A two great tools for beginning to learn how to sight sing are the ear training tools at and the Ear Master program (Read my review of Ear Master here).

10. You must strive for efficiency in making progress.

My motto for the One Minute Music lesson is Practice smart, not hard.

This is my philosophy in teaching music. I feel the same way about sight reading. Practice smart by using these tips to save time and maximize the effectiveness of your practice. Don't practice hard! Practice that does not include mentally engaging activities such as journaling, marking music and incorporating music theory knowledge is not as productive as a practice regimen that does.

Get started improving your sight reading today

Get motivated to practice sight reading today: Try a free 30-day trial of the famous PianoMarvel software or join in the discussion in the Sight Reading Discussion Forum to find inspiration and more tips to help you in your sight reading journey.

That's it for today, Until next time ...

Practice Smart, Not Hard.

- Leon Harrell