Look For the Patterns

Sight reading can seem mysterious, a skill you either have or you don’t.

And certainly, when you’ve mastered a number of pieces, sight reading becomes fluent. But in the meantime, one strategy I encourage is to look for the patterns.

As I sat with my son sight reading a piano piece the other day, we noticed the first motive in the right hand – it repeated every two bars for the entire first eight bars. Two more identical or similar chunks and he was able to play the section almost perfectly on his next try.

All good music is a dance between novelty and familiarity. The familiarity means that you will always find patterns in pieces that repeat, if you know how to look for them.

As you get more proficient, you’ll start to recognize external patterns: patterns you’ve sung or played before in other pieces. If you can master patterns and continue to learn new music, sight reading quickly becomes a snap.

Young sight readers typically can’t see past the note they’re on; it’s incredibly important and useful for them to see that if they take a step back, patterns will come into focus that they can use to get better.