5 Music Reading Exercises
by Andrew Payson
When I teach beginner piano students, my highest priority is helping them develop music reading skills. Once a student can read, a whole world of music becomes attainable for them to learn.
These are the 5 music reading exercises I use in the Payson Method Music Program. They are intended for beginner and intermediate level students. Once a student understands how to do each exercise, you can integrate all 5 into each lesson.
Sightseer is a sight reading game that makes note identification fun. Many beginner students will depend on memorizing music, but this game ensures they are actually reading.
How do you play Sightseer? Using any sheet music, point to a random note and ask the student to play it on the piano. If they play the correct note, fill in a bubble on the Sightseer scoresheet. If they play the wrong note, you cross out the bubble. A filled in bubble is worth 1 point and a crossed out bubble is note worth any points. Up to 20 points are possible in a game. Using my book New Classics, you can easily select a piece of music that is Beginner, Intermediate, or Challenge level.
Another benefit of this game is that parents can see how their child’s sight reading is progressing from week to week.
#2. Treble and Bass Clef Review
All students need to have the lines and spaces for treble and bass clef memorized. They also need to understand precisely where those notes are located on the piano. Ask your student the 4 questions below. For their answers, they should both say the notes out loud and play the exact notes on the piano.
What are the lines in treble clef?
What are the spaces in treble clef?
What are the lines in bass clef?
What are the spaces in bass clef?
#3. Rhythm Exercises
In music, we see the same rhythmic patterns appear in countless pieces of music. Understanding how common rhythms sound will help students read almost anything.
You can use rhythmic exercises, like the ones in my book Payson Method Piano, or you can use rhythms contained in a piece of music. For example, you can use the music you are working on with a student and say “Clap the rhythm in measure 2 for treble clef”. They should count out loud while they clap. You can also demonstrate how it should sound or clap along with them.
Select a rhythm and ask your student to clap it.
#4. Point and Follow Along
In order to sight read, you have to be able to follow along in the sheet music. Pointing a finger underneath the note or notes being played and following along as the music progresses is a great way to demonstrate where students should be looking as they read music.
Here are a few ways to use the “Point and Follow Along” technique:
While the student plays, the teacher points and follows along in the sheet music.
While the teacher plays, the student points and follows along in the sheet music.
The student plays one hand and uses their other hand to point and follow along in the sheet music.
#5. Feeling the Keys
The black keys not only look different from the white keys, they feel different. Because the black keys are raised, we can figure out what notes we are playing just by feeling them.
Developing this skill of feeling the keys to identify them allows students to focus their attention on the sheet music instead of their hands. This makes sight reading easier and more enjoyable.
If you feel a group of 2 black keys, the note between them will be D. If you Feel a group of 3 black keys, the white notes within that group are G and A. Using these notes as a reference, you can figure out all surrounding notes.
Here are the basics of doing this exercise:
Ask you student to find certain notes on the piano only be feeling. During this exercise they can either look away from the keyboard or close their eyes.
At first you might as them to find a note in any octave. For example, you might say “Find any D on the piano just by feeling the keys.”
As students get better, you can ask them to find specific notes or chords in their sheet music only by feeling, or have them play entire passages without looking at their hands.