Sight reading is the ability to play a piece you’ve never seen before well the first time. It is a separate skill from learning pieces for your lesson. Sight reading is all about thinking on your feet. It is not unusual for there to be a large gap between your lesson level and your sight reading level. So, how can you find your sight reading level? First, you need a whole lot of music you’ve never seen before. A good place to find this is your local music store. You will want a book in each level starting at primer or 1A, and moving on until your lesson level. Alfred and Faber both have extensive selections of supplementary music clearly labeled by level. Ask the sales clerk if you can play on one of the showroom pianos. Then have a friend listen to you play. They will be listening for wrong or sour notes, pauses, and re-hitting (a place where you go back and correct a wrong note.) They will also be watching for places where you are unsure of fingering. Each time they hear something, they will make a tally mark. Play 5 songs in each level. There will be a point, where sight reading becomes too hard, or it is impossible to play without many errors. Your sight reading level is the level just before this point.
How to improve your sight reading
Now that you know what your sight reading level is, it is time to improve it. Our goal should be to sight read at 1 level below your lesson book. Start by buying or borrowing several books at your current sight reading level. Take a week or two enjoying the music that this level has to offer. Next, buy or borrow the next level up. Just try it, start slowly. Keep working in this level until it is comfortable. Repeat this process on each level until you are one level below your lesson level. An added bonus to good sight reading is that your lesson material will be easier to learn, meaning you will progress more rapidly.