Sight-reading plays an important role in instrument playing. Sight-reading has been defined as ‘‘the ability to read and perform music in first sight, i.e., without preparatory study of the piece’’ (Apel, 1962, p. 679). Sight-reading could be considered one of the most important skills in piano playing. A pianist with good sight-reading ability learns his or her repertoire much faster in comparison to performers with poor sight-reading skills. Therefore, if pianists who sight read poorly spend too much time in learning a new piece, they might lose opportunities to play in an ensemble or to work with other instrumentalists.
The development of sight-reading ability still remains a mystery. Piano teachers often suggest the only way to improve sight-reading skill is to sight-read a piece of music daily and play a variety of music. However, playing an ample mass of repertoire may not necessarily develop sight-reading skill. ‘‘Improving one's sight-reading ability is not as simple as the anecdotal evidence suggests, preliminary evidence from prior studies supports the basic notion that sight-reading ability improves as experience with this type of music performance increases’’(Lehmann & Ericsson, 2011, p. 7).
Sight-reading is a complex process, which involves elements such as pattern recognition, fingering determination, eye movement, “prediction” ability, and inner hearing. ‘‘More efficient and effective procedures may be possible for teaching sight-reading to instrumentalists. Before such procedures can be devised, however, there is a need for a greater understanding of the sight-reading process’’ (Elliot, 1982, p. 3). This study initially had two primary purposes: to determine how good sight-readers read and to discover how sight-reading skills can be taught. These purposes were to uncover an effective way to teach sight-reading. With these research questions in mind, I video recorded a number of college level (graduate) piano majors to assess their sight-reading skills and interviewed them. However, as I collected my data, I found that none of the four pianists I interviewed had specific strategies for piano sight-reading. They had never worked on their sight-reading skills specifically. I concluded that sight-reading skill is not emphasized in piano teaching. Instead, I gained a better understanding of the difference in reading’s habits of outstanding, good, and average sight-readers. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was to examine the habits of piano sight-readers, and my analysis was guided by the following questions: What decisions do pianists make when they are sight-reading? What thoughts do pianists have when they are sight-reading? What helped them become outstanding sight-readers? What comparison can be made between outstanding, good, and poor sight-readers.