Sight-reading: need help for Suzuki student

September 9, 2023, 11:02 AM · Dear group --

I read the post below about sight-reading and I was wondering if anyone have any thought/suggestions, or would kindly share their experience about how a younger student learn to sight-read in a more systematic manner.

My son (12) is learning from the Suzuki-method so he relied a lot on listening. Even for pieces that are beyond Suzuki books, he always relies on listening before attempting to play the piece. His teacher rarely taught music theory, just "enough" to play the piece. For sight-reading, or reading notes in general, he did the "I Can Read Music" book volume 1 & 2 when he was in book 5, and that was it.

Recently my son tried to audition for a local orchestra and needless to say he found the excerpt and the sight-reading part challenging. In particular, if the key signature is not something he has played before.

If you would be willing to share how you/your students learn to sight-read, from the very basic, I would appreciate it. Also, what are they looking for on the sight-reading portion of the audition? (e.g. at the very least, the student should do ... is it intonation, or rhythm that is the most important? or else?)

Many thanks in advance.


Replies (12)

September 9, 2023, 1:01 PM · Playing by ear makes the neural connections between the heard/memorized music connections. Sight reading is an eye to seen/memorized music.

These are two totally different neural pathways.

Reading takes more concentration and focus. That requires filtering out the natural distractions.

It is easier to concentrate and not be distracted in your home studio/practice room where the musician has a high degree of control.

Settings like an audition are filled with both distractions and anxiety producing factors all over the place.

Being new to reading versus playing by ear makes the task much more difficult. Learning how to be calm and have inner focus is difficult for adults. Children, tweens and teens find it harder.

It is all about being calm in the midst of a storm. I'm in my mid 70's and can still get distracted.

Edited: September 9, 2023, 1:14 PM · A number of my grades 4-12 school orchestra students found Sight Reading Factory to be a very helpful app to train the reading skills necessary to sight-read for ensemble playing.

My private students who went through their elementary ensemble training start at grade four using Essential Elements or Sound Innovations method books also developed strong fundamental reading skills using the included exercises and play-along tracks, but I was very actively involved with them doing the reading practice and their string class met 3-4 times a week.

It's also helpful to use something like the apps from, especially their Tenuto app for practicing recognition of the essential music symbols. My kids both use this app for 5-10 minutes a day to practice their reading skills, and it's made a big difference over the past couple years in their rate of symbol processing.

For me, sight-reading is less about note recognition (which most kids pick up pretty quickly) and more about decoding rhythmic patterns. In that case, I use Robert Starer's book Rhythmic Training, which has been effective even all the way up through college!

Edited: September 9, 2023, 4:22 PM · I know it seems like your son is at a disadvantage now. But in the long run he will be grateful that he trained his ear well. Sight reading is easier to learn than ear training when you get older.

There are SO many books of studies out there, really, you just download them from IMSLP and do a new study every day.

Also get Musescore on your computer and get a membership to Musescore. Then you can download violin tunes from there, transpose them into weird keys, and your son can sight read those. To test this, I went to, logged in, type "bach allemande" into the search box, clicked on the BWV 1007 movement (from the Cello Suite), selected "download," opened it in musescore, pressed CTRL-A to select the whole piece, went to "tools|transpose," moved it up a minor third to B-flat major, then on the editing palette at the left, I selected "Clefs" and dragged a treble clef over to the first measure. Now of course the notes are too low. (Come on, Paul, it's a cello piece!) So again I pressed CTRL-A to select the whole tune, and transposed it up an octave. For an additional level of challenge you can transpose it up an additional octave, or up a fourth to E flat major.

Edited: September 10, 2023, 10:41 AM · I believe I had music scores in front of me from my very first lessons at age 4-1/2. So, when I taught many years later I did the same thing with my violin and cello students, even after I switched to using the Suzuki books. They seemed to have learned to read music without any problems ---- except for one adult (30-ish) who, because of previous experience, viewed the score as "guitar tablature," a hurdle she never quite cleared in the few months we worked together.

Going the other way, my granddaughter who had 10 years of lessons with me (starting at age 6-1/2), through the complete Suzuki series in 8 years and then 2 more years of chamber music associated with her high school ensemble took a one-semester violin improve course as a university elective in her junior year and used that background to accompany some vocal groups later.

I think that if your son can associate listening to certain music that he wants to play while following the score and carry that to actually playing from the score he may learn to do it. Consider it may take a full semester as did my granddaughter's university course going the other way.

People approach this in different ways. However what I did, back in the bowels of history, led to my mind instantly translating the music on the pages to finger positions on the instrument(s) and associated bowings (etc.). So when I look at a score without my instrument I can translate what I see in the music and know immediately if I every heard or played it before. One can also practice that.

September 9, 2023, 7:14 PM · Thanks so much everyone, we receive so many good ideas already!

@George -- I didn't think of sight-reading that way, now that you mentioned it, it makes sense. I appreciate this insight.

@Gene -- you are on to something, we have some hand-me-downs "Theory Time" books that are collecting dust, and I think apps are more appealing to my son. I think what we need is basic, step-by-step program for sight-reading that is progressively getting harder, so maybe some of these apps are useful. Thank you for your suggestions!!

@Paul -- thank you for your words of encouragement! I will pass it on to my son. He was quite disappointed with his audition but he'd like to try again. And we'll look into Musescore as well.

@Andrew -- thank you for sharing your experience and that of your granddaughter's. I've gleaned some ideas already from what you mentioned, I appreciate you chiming in.

If anyone else have any other suggestions, please kindly share below.


September 9, 2023, 9:04 PM · I am not sure there is a quick and easy way to learn to sight read. Your son is quite behind in theory if he can encounter key signatures that are "not something he has played before". (I am sure they don't give something in F# major or e flat minor for sight reading auditions. It would be sadistic). It also implies he has not done much scales (among other things scales can be used to teach part of theory as they exist in all 24 keys).

My teacher made me read music without the instrument, especially for learning new positions (in 3rd position I would read out loud: d first finger - e second finger and so on). Something like this might work for him too (just use fingers in first position to start). Alternatively just read note names but read them in the correct rhythm. I remember reading notes like this and making conductor's gestures along the way for the rhythm (before even touching an instrument, just as a "pre-school" kind of thing).

Other than that sight reading is a learning by doing: Sight read a lot and you will be good at it. Unfortunately it takes time.

September 10, 2023, 8:46 AM · Sight reading is one of the easiest things to improve, actually. You just have to make a practice of doing it. One of my kids really struggled with it. In her case, it was mostly a developmental vision issue (she couldn't distinguish the lines) which disappeared through normal aging. But once we figured that out and how to deal with it (large print), all we needed to do was offer daily sight reading practice. She's still not amazing at it, but is much better.

Theory practice also helps a lot. If they can visually recognize keys, cadences, intervals, and scales/arpeggios, they will be able to sight read much better. For some kids, clapping rhythms or sight singing can help develop the skills without having to worry about technical limitations.

September 11, 2023, 1:57 PM · Thank you again, all, for your suggestions!

@Albrecht -- we are not looking for quick or easy way to sight-read, but I'm looking for specific ideas on the systematic way that we can concretely do daily, namely books, apps, practice ideas, etc. We understand everything takes time.

You are on to something about scales: my son does scales, but they are, as I implied, limited to the songs that he is doing, namely if the song he is currently doing is in G minor, then he'll do that (arpeggios, double stops, etc.), so something like F major or C major he very rarely came across. Think of most intermediate-level student songs for violin, specifically (A, G, D, Bflat). The audition key wasn't much harder than that, they only require D, G, C, F, A, Bflat and Eflat (major/minor), so perhaps we'll make a point on doing scales that are not covered within his current rep. Thank you for this idea.

@Susan, what did your children use to practice sight-reading and theory? I agree about clapping/tapping rhythms, my son's teacher rarely taught this. Thanks for your ideas.

September 11, 2023, 2:31 PM · For my daughter, we started with the Avsharian books because they are very large print, but she was more around Suzuki Book 1-2 at the time (and 5 years old), so that likely will be too easy for your son. After that, we just used any books we could find that had short little pieces. This included the I Can Read series you mentioned, as well as Adventures in Music Reading (several volumes). After that we got some intermediate collections of music. I don't recall all of them, but I know one was Music by Black Composers and also Gingold's Solos book. Also Sitt etudes and the Delightful Duets book. Basically any collection of easy, short pieces. If your kid likes popular music or folk music, it can even be those. I think one of my kids sightread through a fiddle book one summer.

For theory, I would start with learning scales. By Book 5 he really should be doing three octave scales in all keys (major and minor) with all the arpeggios. You can start with the Barbara Barber scale book or go right to Flesch. Explanation should be given with each scales to make sure he understands the patterns of major and the three types of minor, and where the arpeggios came from. He should learn the key signatures along with the scales. These should be practiced DAILY. We always did one key every week or two, but there are other ways to do it as well.

Mine started with formal theory classes and college-level theory textbooks at age 13, though my son had done some piano theory books prior to that. My daughter has used the app versions of this site as well:

Edited: September 12, 2023, 2:48 PM · Here are 2 "books" available free at IMSLP that I like because they resemble the music I was using about 75 years ago to improve my sight reading:

The first of the collections is pretty reasonable the second, probably aspirational. I'm not proposing that a youngster try to read everything, but start with what seems reasonable in collections like these to gain experience and confidence.

I started to really work on my sight reading about 75 years ago with the Handel violin/piano sonatas. I moved on to the Mozart violin concertos and then found two albums at my local music store that I purchased new for about $1 each. These books, in the order I purchased them, were:

1. Everybody's Favorite Album of Violin Pieces, edited by Chas E. Wilkinson.

2. Standard Violin Concertos the Whole World Plays, selected and edited by Albert E. Wier

The 1st album goes as far as Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate, which is certainly aspirational, but it has far less difficult music as well.

The 2nd of these albums starts with the Bach A minor concerto and follows with the Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Lalo, Mendelssohn, Paganini D major, Saint-Saens B minor, Tchaikowsky and Wieniawski D minor. Being able to even try to read through these in my teens was so encouraging.

Both of these publications are long out of print. They sometimes show up for sale on ebay, but be warned, it is most likely that only the piano parts are available and that will not likely be stated in the description. I tried to purchase these for students some years ago and ended up with extra piano parts but no violin parts.

My own experience being dropped into an orchestra and trying to sightread the music at performance tempos before my 10th birthday was the last time I recall crying. It was 4 years later that I was able to begin getting my "revenge." But it was less than 10 years ago that I finally realized that the orchestra I was dropped into in my childhood was probably replaying their Spring concert that September afternoon in 1944.

September 14, 2023, 1:52 PM · Hello all -- I thought I'd circle back here and report some of the things that has been helpful to my son, in case there are anyone else out there who are in the same situation as we are.

After trying out a few suggestions above, we find out that what my son needs the most is RHYTHM practice -- just as some of you have suggested above!! His note recognition is... ok (not perfect, but not the worst either), and once he played the scale, he has a good sense of relative intervals, but the rhythm bothered him the most, and anticipating when to play the note was hard for him. So, thanks to the many resources shared above, we just pulled a random song, and I have him tap and count the rhythm without actually playing the notes, and after that, the notes came so much easier for him.

We also found the "Sight Reading Factory" to be most helpful/fun(?)/engaging, thank you Gene! The passages don't seem to resemble real song, of course, but we can slowly and systematically change the complexity rhythm as he is ready (not to mention the key signature, tempo, range, etc.). I'll also look into getting that book "Rhythmic Training."

Thank you all again for sharing your suggestions and experiences -- had I not venture here, we probably would have been trying to sight-read sight unseen, with no meaningful progress. I didn't realize how important rhythm is in the fluency of sight-reading. We'll keep up with playing those scales as well.

September 14, 2023, 8:08 PM · Pattern Recognition!

I started having some problems with sight reading about 2 years ago. It felt as though the speed of light from the page to my eyes had slowed down, really. (Of course that was impossible.) But sure enough at my annual eye exam my vision had dropped from 20/20 in one eye to 20/50 and to 20/60 in the other. It was not my eye lensens nor my eye glasses, not cataracts (prescriptions and operations solved those problems over 10 years ago). It was deeper - beginning macular degeneration.

My problem has become a problem seeing some note positions (and accidentals) clearly enough to interpret them fast enough. I've puzzled over this and in the past few days have concluded that I can no longer see the pattern of the notes fast enough to sight read very fast music.

When you have learned your scales and arpeggios (etc.) and have been sight reading music of the 18th - early 20th century long enough you should get to spot the pattern of the notes in a flash. If you can't quite see it, the pattern might as well not be there.

There are patterns of notes characteristic of certain composers and eras of music composition. Sight reading music of different cultures might be difficult because there are different patterns (same for more modern compositions).

Just saying.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine