Robert Estrin - piano expert

Sight Reading - Part 1

The importance of sight reading in music, from concert pianist Robert Estrin

In this video, Robert gives you a first glance into the secrets of music sight reading.

Released on April 30, 2013

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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

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin here at with a video for you today, the importance of sight-reading. Sight-reading; being able to take a musical composition you've never seen before and read it, play it at sight. Boy, what a great thing that is to be able to do. I remember as a child, growing up, I developed my piano playing but my sight-reading was quite miserable for a long time until much later. I thought, "Wouldn't it be great?" I'd see people who could sight-read well like my father who could seemingly sight-read anything beautifully the first time."

Well, why is sight reading so important? You know, there are a number of reasons. Number one, as you study an instrument, you get to study certain pieces which you will work on very hard on a performance level, perhaps you'll memorize them. These are very limited number of pieces you can learn in the course of a year or even over a lifetime. Yet, you want to be able to play a lot of music to familiarize yourself to even know what you want to learn.

Instead of just listening to recordings, wouldn't it be great if you could just sit down and get a sense of a piece? Well that's exactly what sight-reading enables you to do. The good news is the more of it you do, the better you get at it. So I strongly encourage you to sight-read through as much music as you can so you develop your reading. If you start with music on a more elementary level and do it every day, you'll find that your reading level will grow over time.

Now there are other benefits to sight-reading. Sight-reading is absolutely essential for playing with other musicians. You might want to get together informally. Perhaps if you get together informally reading with other musicians, it not only is enjoyable to explore new music. But if you like what you're doing, maybe you'll decide to do a venture, a concert together, things like that. There are endless possibilities for collaborative music in all sorts of groups from duos, trios, quartets, and up to orchestras and choirs and all the rest of it. Sight-reading is great for that as well.

Now, what else is sight-reading important for? Well, when you're learning a piece of music, if you can sight-read through the piece a few times, you can get familiar enough with it that you know the trouble spots or spots that you really need to pay attention to so you can earmark your practice to certain key areas, maximizing your effectiveness in your practice. So there are many benefits to sight-reading; to reiterate, to familiarize yourself with a large amount of music. You couldn't possibly learn all of those pieces. Secondly, to play with other musicians informally so you can develop a relationship and see what it's like playing with other musicians. Lastly, to optimize your practice so that you know what's ahead in the piece you're currently learning.

Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Rocky Avila * VSM MEMBER * on February 25, 2015 @3:24 pm PST
How do you read and memorize a piano piece if you are away from your instrument? Do you use the solfege method? Thanks.
Robert - host, on February 26, 2015 @3:04 pm PST
It is best to learn the piece at the piano. Then, challenge yourself by playing mentally. This is a great way to reinforce the memory referencing the score to clarify any uncertainty you may have. Here is a video on the subject:
Tim Goebel on February 25, 2015 @12:39 pm PST
Robert, thanks for this very inspirational video! I really love your Amadeus outfit, you Rock it! I'm a music producer and I'd Like to get your opinion on this band I finished producing:
I think you have great insight and I'd like to tap into it. Thanks Robert for your time and your inspiring videos!
Teo on June 7, 2014 @10:44 am PST
Thanks googols Robert! I saw you on LinkedIn and am glad I followed you here! Keep up the great work buddy! Wishing you the best, Teo
Humberto Cruz on May 6, 2013 @1:45 pm PST
Robert, I very much appreciate your suggestions and advice
Humberto Cruz
Humberto Cruz on May 5, 2013 @9:06 am PST
Robert, continue to enjoy and benefit from your videos.
For the past several days I have begun to tackle Chopin's Etude Op. No. 10 No. 3 which is the most challenging piece I have ever attempted (one year ago I would consider it "impossible" to play). Up to measure 21 I have followed the techniques you showed earlier for emphasizing the melody note in the right hand.
For measures 22-33 I would appreciate any practice suggestions, including tempo (how do I exactly interpret poco piu animato? In the Virtual Sheet Music score there are also marking I do not understand, including the notations I C. and 3 C. in some measures (below the bass clef).
Finally, the most difficult part of the piece are the series of augmented fourths with rapid hand movements before reverting to the soft melodic endings. Practice suggestions for this part would be extremely appreciated! Thanks
Robert - host, on May 5, 2013 @12:09 pm PST
The writing starting around measure 22 is more complex because the right hand melody is in 6ths. On top of that, there are mostly 16th notes, so this section is much more difficult to control than the slower, simpler preceding section. However, bringing out the top line is still important. I suggest practicing first right hand alone. To clarify the melody in your hand, practice playing the lower notes staccato from the fingers and the upper notes legato. This is very difficult but will provide you with the control necessary to balance the voices within one hand. Then you can add the left hand and eventually the pedal and you should be good to go.

Poco piu animato simply means a little animated. So, you can let it move a bit more. Allow an uneasy tension to develop.

The 1C. and 3C. indications are a mystery to me!

As for the complex series of broken diminished 7th chords, you must establish good fingering. Practice each slurred group as a chord (even if they are beyond your reach and you have to break them). Then you can play as written. Do not use the pedal until you have mastered this section so you can hear the legato connection of notes from the fingers.
Jerry on May 2, 2013 @3:52 pm PST
"The imPROtance of sight reading....?" Might want to fix the typo.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 2, 2013 @4:18 pm PST
Wow, thank you so much! We have just fixed it
Nancy Forbes on May 2, 2013 @11:24 am PST
Keep the videos coming, please. They are so helpful and interesting
Robert - host, on May 2, 2013 @3:55 pm PST
Thank you - there is much more to come!
Kathryn Bowman * VSM MEMBER * on May 1, 2013 @8:52 am PST
I love the videos! They are wonderfully helpful. Thank you!
Marget on May 1, 2013 @7:19 am PST
What is the cost to go to Estrin's Livng Piano ?
Robert - host, on May 1, 2013 @4:54 pm PST
The price is $22. However, there are a limited number of complimentary tickets available. Please email me your request.
barbara * VSM MEMBER * on May 1, 2013 @6:05 am PST
why is it when u learn a piano piece and go back to play it the next day u can't play it u have to start slow again...
Robert - host, on May 1, 2013 @4:56 pm PST
It takes time to assimilate music. Pieces I have played for many years are indelibly etched into me. I can play them anytime. Other pieces learned recently are forgotten quickly until they have been performed multiple times. So, give yourself ample opportunities to perform your music and it will become solidified.
barbara * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2013 @6:26 am PST
ive been taking lessons for 12 years and I feel like I am getting no where thanks
Robert - host, on May 2, 2013 @11:00 am PST
It might be wise to try another teacher at this time. If you have a good relationship with your current teacher, you could explain that you would like to gain additional perspective. That way if things don't work out, you can leave the door open to return to your teacher. However, sometimes you may have to try several teachers to find one with whom you connect and make the kind of progress you desire.
barbara * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2013 @5:52 pm PST
right now I do not have a teacher,,trying to learn on my own,do I need to find a teacher?i feel like giving up.
paul plak * VSM MEMBER * on February 25, 2015 @12:37 pm PST
Hi Barbara, there are moments / periods with slow or no progress, and there are periods of quick progress. When I see my progress over a period of 10 years, it's quite impressive, but I can't say that I feel like that every year. Some things take time to acquire, like sight reading, I was very bad at it as a child, and now I find a can open a partition and discover at while playing it. I'm still dead slow in most pieces, but I enjoy what I'm doing. I think the key is to relax, and enjoy what you are playing, make it sound pleasant to your ears. I wish I could progress 10 times as fast, buts that's just not a realistic goal with the time I can / want to devote to piano playing. And I've quit following lessons with a teacher nearly 20 years ago, because I cannot find the time. It's also a matter of methodology, playing things over and over again is no use if you repeat the mistakes. On all mistakes when practising, stop, correct them slowly, and restart. So you won't acquire the mistakes. And once in a while allow yourself just to play the piece with no regard for mistakes, so you can have the pleasure yo hear and perform it in its full form.
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