a book of sheet music

Sight-Reading: Finding Music

Sight-reading is an extremely useful skill for musicians. Being able to play any piece of music that’s set in front of you gives you endless options for repertoire and performance opportunities.

On top of that, once you get to a certain level, sight-reading, like regular reading, becomes less work and more enjoyable.

This article is for musicians who already understand the basics of how to read music notes, and how to read rhythm, but need material to practice with. If that’s you, read on!

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive monetary compensation. However, I only ever include links to products I truly believe in and recommend!

What to Sight-Read

Obviously if you’re going to sight-read you need to have access to music you haven’t played before. I tend to hoard music books just for this purpose.

When I go to a used book store, I always check to see if they have a section for music scores and have made some pretty great finds. I love having them in my studio where any time I can just pick one up and play through it to see what wonderful music it holds inside.

For sight-reading it can be nice to have a collection of short pieces. That way you get the satisfaction of reading through a complete piece in one sitting and can then decide if you’d like to continue on to the next one.

Method Book Collections

If you’re working out of a method book, the easiest choice may be to buy one of the many collections of pieces method book publishers make that matches the level you’re currently working on.

One of my favorite method book publishers is Faber. They make not just a regular lesson book, but also a performance book, which is a collection of extra pieces of the same level as the lesson book. Additionally, they have collections, still organized by level, for various other categories and genres of music. See a few of my favorites below:

Note: The above examples are all at a level that will still be interesting for a somewhat experienced pianist while being simple enough to be a fun sight-read. Depending on your experience you may need a higher or lower level, which is one reason why using the method books is so easy; Once you know your level, you have many more books to choose from!

Other Books to Consider

Some people just don’t like the music in method books, or they want to stick to the classics, composed by composers for the sake of composing.

Here’s a list of some piano books by famous composers I’ve found are particularly good for sight-reading:

Pop, Rock, and Movie Music

You could also buy a book of music by a pop or rock artist you enjoy. Sometimes these can be tricky, as pop and rock rhythmic notation can be complicated and difficult to read, but if you already know the piece you can just focus on the notes and play the rhythm by ear.

Do you remember the movie Amélie? It had a lot of beautiful piano music in it, by the composer Yann Tiersen. His music is super fun and satisfying to sight-read.

There are plenty of other options in the category of movie music, and even video game music. Sometimes you can find them online, but quite often the free, and even sometimes the not free, arrangements aren’t quite right. Still, for purely sight-reading purposes it can be ok, and cheaper, to download an imperfect version.

In case you’d rather play it safe with some books, here are a few recommendations:

Holiday Music

Piano and Christmas tree

Any holiday music can be a perfect sight-reading opportunity. This is because the music is often familiar, and usually there are enough different versions of the tunes that you can find something that’s right for your level.

This is true for any traditional or religious music that interests you. I grew up with Christmas music, and have always enjoyed playing it at that time of the year. In case this you’re interested in this, check out my article on 4 Ways to Find Holiday Music to Play This Season.

Finding Music Online

Although it can be nice to have books just waiting for you to open them up and play them, the books do take up space, and of course they cost money.

If space and money are short, you can always find plenty of music to play online. One of my favorite resources for this is imslp.org. There you can download anything that’s public domain, and there’s a lot to choose from!

If you’re not sure what to look for, I always enjoy reading piano transcriptions of famous symphonic works.

For example, last year around Valentine’s Day I downloaded a piano transcription of the theme from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. I probably won’t decide to fully learn all 19 pages of the piece any time soon, but it was fun to read through some of it, and I will probably do so again in the future.

If something like that’s too much of a challenge, there’s plenty of easier music you can look up, including music from all of the classical books I listed above under “Other Books to Consider”. Note that they will be older publications as they must be public domain.

One More Thing

Now before you go out and collect all of your sight-reading materials, I want to emphasize one point: If you have a good ear, you won’t really be sight-reading if it’s music you’ve already heard before.

This can be ok, especially if you’re sight-reading for fun and relaxation. However, if you’re also trying to improve your sight-reading skills, it may be better to find music you’ve never heard before.

Case and point: When I was a kid I was very reluctant to read notes. I had a great ear, and when my piano teacher gave me a new piece of music, I would get home and immediately ask my mom to play it. Once I knew what it sounded like, it was easy for me to learn the piece without really reading the notes at all.

This was fun for me, and fooled my piano teacher for awhile. However, it greatly stunted my sight-reading progress. Eventually my piano teacher figured out what was going on and told my mom not to play my music for me anymore. That’s when my sight-reading skills finally began to improve!

Sight-reading is a truly joyful activity and is so great for your brain and musicianship! I hope that the ideas above have inspired you to make sight-reading a bigger part of your practice.

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Do you have any sight-reading recommendations you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy practicing!

Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

Related Articles:

Learn Piano: 5 Simple Steps to Get Started
How to Practice Piano Efficiently

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How to Read Music Notes

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