Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Read Ahead in Music

Useful tips for any musician

In this video, Robert tells you the secret to speed up your music reading, but contrary to what you might think, not just by reading ahead while playing!

Released on January 7, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin, your host. Today's question, another viewer question . . . Such great questions coming in. I've got to thank all of you for them. The question is how to read ahead in music.

This is kind of a loaded question. It really is. I'm going to explain why in just a moment. You know that when you're reading music, it's almost impossible to grasp everything all at once. So you hear the idea of being able to read ahead. It sounds like a perfectly plausible, wonderful idea because if you're reading ahead, then if you have a tough spot, you can kind of grab what you need to and then catch up.

But is it really possible to do that? Well, yes and no. The reality is you don't exactly read ahead. The secret is this. Instead of trying to read ahead or read exactly where you are . . . Instead you read chunks of notes. That's exactly right.

Think about it when you're first learning how to read a language. At first, you're sounding out each letter of a word. Eventually you see words, and you get to a point where you read, and you see groups of words. This is the same thing with music.

So for example, if you were reading, and you were at an elementary level, trying to play note for note, let's say Mozart's Sonata in C-Major K545, a piece that most of you will know. If you try to do each note . . .

[piano playing]

Right now, I'm thinking each separate note, and it sounds it too. Doesn't it?

Well, instead imagine if you could look at a chunk, like a measure of music, like . . . [piano playing] . . . and the next measure. First of all, you'll notice that the left hand is broken chords anyway. So you have a C-Major triad that's broken for the whole first measure. So if you just look at that, you can kind of see that right on the page. You just got a broken C-Major chord. So then you look at the right hand.

So this is the secret to being able to not exactly read ahead, but by reading chunks, you essentially are reading ahead because it gives you the fluidity in your reading by being able to grasp a measure or a phrase at a time.

Now, it's not always exactly a measure. It depends upon the music and the complexity. This will help you enormously. Not only that. But if you're sight reading, you can't always grab all the notes, every single one. If you force yourself to look at chunks or phrases or measures, you will always be exactly in the right place, which is incredibly important to keep the continuity of the music. Plus, when playing with other musicians, you absolutely have to stay with it, or you won't be playing together anymore.

So this is the secret of reading ahead. Look at chunks of music. The larger the chunks you can absorb at a time with your eyes, the more fluid your reading will become. Try it with some music that you are somewhat familiar with but not intimately familiar with, so that you can get the sense of reading chunks of music instead of reading note by note. You, too, will essentially be reading ahead. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Chuck Weber * VSM MEMBER * on January 12, 2018 @9:09 am PST
I particularly appreciate your "reading ahead" treatise. It summarizes something that really helps ... if I can just remember to do it.

I play violin/fiddle, not piano, but the same principle applies. In almost every piece -- even the really easy ones -- there are what I call little "earmark" passages that give the tune its special character. I know they are coming, and that makes me nervous and it often makes me lose my place searching for them. But by finding, marking, and practicing them, I can develop special muscle-memory, and eventually memorize and look forward to them.

Many thanks.
Robert - host, on January 13, 2018 @1:54 pm PST
So glad you found a way to deal with handling key passages in music. Thanks for sharing.
Christine Rangsit-Cameron on May 13, 2017 @3:07 pm PST
How can I learn form you Mr. Estrin? I am struggling with reading and memorasing the notes.
Thank you,
Robert Estrin - host, on May 15, 2017 @11:32 am PST
Christine - learning to read music fluently takes time. If you spend time each day to reading music (and never write in the notes) you will be come more fluent over time just like reading a language.

There are hundreds of free music tutorials you can search by keywords here:
Jim Findlay on January 7, 2015 @10:27 am PST
Very useful, even for guitar players Smiley Face Thanks
John Beach * VSM MEMBER * on January 7, 2015 @7:49 am PST
Essentially, it is the degree of familiarity with a piece of music that determines the fluidity and contiguous consistency with which it is played. Familiarity determines confidence and logical anticipation of what can be "read ahead" when playing. A completely new piece of music will necessitate a deliberate sightreading which totally prevents reading ahead and which slows performance of the piece. There is no substitute for a thorough familiarity, by repeated practice, in the ability to "read ahead."
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