Archives for category: interval reading

For most people the easiest way to describe what level they’re at is to refer to what grade they’ve passed. But often having passed a certain grade doesn’t necessarily tell you everything about what piano skill they have.

Some may have intermediate playing skill cultivated through exploring music that they enjoy (often not classical music, in my piano studio!), hence reading skill may need a little catching up to do. Hence, in taking a music exam, they may go for a lower grade to be able to prepare everything properly. But this will help them progress further and acquire extra skills that weren’t focused before.

So, in my teaching I tend not to use grade levels to define playing skill levels that my students are at. Having said that, those who haven’t done the music exam before often ask me what grade they are at because they’re surrounded by friends who have done the grade.

To be able to give them some reference, I put together a table to describe their playing skill levels in relation to grade levels.

Early elementary Beginner
Elementary Late beginner
Late elementary Grade 1
Early intermediate Grade 2
Intermediate Grade 3-4
Late intermediate Grade 5-6
Early advanced Grade 7-8
Advanced Diploma onwards

There’re various skills coming together to be able to play music:

  • Listening skill
  • Technical skill
  • Playing (musically) skill
  • Reading skill (if your practice requires it)

Depending on each individual’s ability, how they progress is all different but the order of learning how to play music should be a natural one just like how you learned to speak your own language to communicate with people; attentive listening to the sound around you and learn to play tunes by ear/rote, followed by reading to gain further knowledge, internalising the music you play with attentive listening and analysing for better understanding and communicating, followed by writing to tell stories.

In my view, the most important skill in music learning is to cultivate the sensitive ear to listen for the details to be expressed in your playing; be it, a steady pulse, dynamic shaping, phrasing, balance between the hands (for pianists), etc. At appropriate point, reading and also technical study should be introduced. I normally introduce finger exercises as soon as learners can play a couple of tunes with ease. I’ve put together some finger exercises I give to my students before introducing Hanon exercises, which are, to my surprise, quite popular amongst all age groups. You can read more about above mentioned finger exercises here.

Technical development plays a great part in progressing as musicians to be able to reflect what they wish to express in their musical performances. Maintaining the balance between technical development and musical development isn’t always an easy one. But with a focused mind and paying attention to the details, you can achieve quite a bit!

Happy playing!


However Hanon exercises are perceived, I believe it’s still an important staple of the piano learning curriculum for developing healthy strong and dexterous fingers. But how to introduce is a tricky one especially for young players because Hanon can be quite uninspiring to maintain student’s interest and it requires a bit more stamina than playing just a few bars..

So, I came up with an introduction version of Hanon exercises with a modern twist which I use with my beginner students of all age groups. As soon as they can play a couple of tunes with ease, I introduce these exercises and to my surprise, they’re quite popular amongst my students! The reason being the way they get to use most of their fingers and the exercise patterns are easy to learn seems to work the magic, and also after a while, they experience that their fingers feel stronger and more controllable. Four of these exercises are included in my Fun with Morse Code Rhythms for piano book but due to its popularity, I’ve decided to publish them (6 exercises in total and their variants) separately as well for digital download. It’s available from my website.

Here’s the smple page of my Finger Exercises Before Hanon for piano.

Finger exercise before Hanon_sample page

Once my students move on to Hanon exercises, I try to keep this study as fun and rewarding as possible by adding extra activities to it such as:

Rhythm practice (to learn various ways of articulating notes and phrases)

Example 1: Use Morse code rhythms that fit with exercise pattern

1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2 can be practised with;
1. dah-di-di-dah twice (X in Morse code)
2. di-di-di-dah twice (V in Morse code)
3. dah-di-dah-dah/di-di-di-di (Y-H in Morse code)

Example 2: Play with different articulations between the hands

1. RH plays legato whilst LH play staccato —> try different dynamics between the hands
2. LH plays legato whilst RH plays staccato —>try different dynamics between the hands
3. RH plays legato whilst LH play 2-note legato-staccto phrase –>try different dynamics between the hands

Transposing (to cultivate key sense and tonality)

Example 1: Choose one exercise from Nos.1-3 and transpose to a different key of your choice (one of my pupils chose B major, so all black keys are used and it’s easier, so he said!)

Example 2: Transpose to a enharmonic key (e.g. C major played in C harmonic minor;
D major played in D harmonic minor, etc.)

Counterpoint practice (to cultivate ear-eye-hand coordination)

Example 1: Hands playing 10th apart (e.g. LH starting on C; RH starting on E)

Example 2: Left hand plays twice as slower than right hand (in this, the right hand plays the patterns twice until the left hand catches up)

It’s also worth noting that there exists Hanon book geared towards younger learners, callled Junior Hanon edited by Alan Small and Morton Munus. In this edition, the hands are two octaves apart and exercises cover only one octave, so it’s more suitable for young learners aged above 8 years old. Having said that, for some of my teenage students still use this book rather the original. It all depends on their interests and mind setting.

Keep your fingers moving!



In addition to a numerous already existing piano solo versions of Walking in the Air by Howard Blake, I’m adding another one here; a simple yet fulfilling version suited for piano players at their late elementary to early intermediate level.  One of my students heard it and she wanted to play a version which sounds like an original but not too tricky.  I tried by my best to maintain the flowing effect created by the arpeggio in the background without it being too difficult to play.  The sheet music is available from



Other newly added piano arrangements requested by my students include:


Happy playing!


One of my transfer piano students once told me a story about her first experience of learning how to read musical notation. She said ‘my teacher told me to memorise the notes (i.e. letter names and position on the stave) but it’s not reading though, is it.’  She was making a good point there, I thought. How to get better at reading music is not focused on being able to identify each individual note in the music. It’s the ability to be able to see a series of notes as a pattern (scalic or chordal), and hear how it should sound like in your head before playing it. Although, knowing some notes by name and their positions on the stave and keyboard is essential to begin with. As soon as students learn a few notes’ position on the stave and keyboard and are able to play a couple of simple tunes, they should start exercising reading/playing melodic/chordal patterns, along with singing them whilst playing; you’ll be surprised how much ‘singing’ can contribute towards the control your finger movements.

Keeping the above thought in mind, I’ve tried many ways of exercising reading skill over the past years. Some approaches turned out be time consuming than the others. When I realised that most of my students rather spend their time focusing on playing music they enjoy (although they wish to improve their reading skill!), I wondered if I could use a Flashcard drill idea for melodic/chordal reading exercise. So that students won’t feel it’s a task, but it’s more like a reading game at the end of each lesson. And if I can make it to be something simple but musically and harmonically pleasing yet at the same time exercises their coordination skills required for reading/playing…

Note Reading Drills for piano_cover

Out came this note reading exercises for piano. Exercises are based around 5 set of landmarks notes grouped into 5 sections.  Some of the exercises have an accompaniment to show how a simple exercise can turn into something more, which I hope gives students some space to explore dynamic shaping and tone control or use it as a motif for composition.

Metre is not set on the exercises but the black notes are to be played steadily and slowly with even note value.  So that they can focus purely on reading a series of notes without worrying about rhythmic values. Students also have a chance to create their own exercises.

The idea of this booklet is to help students learn some notes as a guide note to find other notes around them and also to gain a skill to be able to read a series of notes as a pattern (scalic, chordal or mix), which is an essential skill to be become better at reading music.

The booklet is in an A6 landscape format, and is plastic coil-bound. There’re 75 melodic (some chordal) patterns plus 10 little pieces at the end. It’s a small book but the note sizes are much bigger than those in beginner’s piano books. I’d say it’s a pocket size so you can carry it about anywhere. You can even practise reading away from the piano, should you wish too! Another useful skill to exercise; being able to sing the melodic pattern without playing it; visualising the finger movements according to the melodic (chordal) patterns.

I’ve been testing the drills with my students aged 9 and above.  It’s helping me identify the weaknesses in their reading skill, whether reading across the two staves, melodic intervals, etc.  They seem to enjoy doing it as a fun game.  Particularly when I play the accompaniment and use sustain pedal for a sound effect!

The booklet is available from my website shop.

Happy reading!

As I explained here, the basic idea of this book is to help young piano beginners (aged 4 to 6) to explore ‘sound’ through singing, listening, decoding, writing, etc.  I thought I’d share one example way of using this booklet in the lessons.

s_Creature Booklet

I took a minimalist approach for the layout of this booklet so that the learners can focus on the important information that requires their full attention.  And also this gives teachers and students some room to experiment/explore elements that make music ‘musical’, such as dynamics, articulation, tempo, phrasing, creative thinking, etc.

Page 2-3

The original idea on these two pages has been explored in a form of puzzle game, which I DIY’d.  Using two of 45cm x 45cm Velcro boards, I stuck the cutout images of these creatures, black-key houses and other features.  A teachers can ‘mess up the order’ so that a student can put them in the right order.  Multi-sensory approach such as this can help learning much more meaningful. To facilitate the memorisation of the order, I associate the images with a story, for example:

Two Black-Key House
1. Who sleeps in the kennel? A dog!

2. Elephant loves eating tree leaves, so let it sit by the tree.
3. Cats and dogs often hate each other but in this house, they’re best friends!  So, they sit  next to each other.

Three Black-Key House
1. Which ones are hopping creatures? Frog and grasshopper!

2. Frog loves swimming in the pond, so it sits by the pond.
3. Bee collects nectar for honey from the flowers, so he stays next to the flowers.
4. The smallest creatures sit inside the three black-key house.  Ant and grasshopper sits next to each other.

Creature Puzzle Board_small

As a follow-up reinforcement, I often use flashcards with images, so that the learners gradually get used to identifying a single (white) key name on the piano with the letter name. Here’re some examples:

Creature Puzzle Flashcard_small

Repeated reinforcement via visual and verbal involvement is quite important for young learners. This game exercises their brain efficiently and they usually memorise all the white key names in a couple of lessons and they can identify a single white key name on the piano without counting up from A to G!

This is one example of showing what’s provided in a couple of pages in the book (or any tutor book!) is often not enough and it usually requires supplemental work to get the most benefit.  Hence, teachers would need to use their imagination to help their young students internalise what they have just learned.

Page 8
Keyboard orientation & rhythm practice by singing rhythmic syllables. Although the fingering is suggested, it can be other finger such as 3. Notes can be played any part across the keyboard; have students decide which part of the keyboard they want to play on.  Encourage students to sing rhythmic syllables (green line: long, yellow line: short), not the creature names. Processing the images, Moving fingers, singing rhythms is a multi-tasking experience, which is a very much needed coordination skill for piano playing! Always draw students attention to a steady pulse as they sing and play.

Teacher can play the first bar followed by the student playing the second bar to see if they can keep a steady pulse throughout.  Or teacher can play a simple accompaniment to go with the meloly to help the student establish a steady pulse.  Be creative!

Creature Booklet page8_small

Page 14
Note writing. Regular practice of transcribing rhythmic notation is a good way of having the learners aware of a note value that is attached to each note.  Also it’s a good way of getting used to ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ the meaning of the notes before students start learning to read musical notation later on. As shown on this page, above each creature you see a note, of which value is set according to the rhythmic syllable line (long or short) written under each creature. From this page onwards, ask the student to write rhythmic notation above each creature as a regular writing practice.

Page 16
. When the learners are getting comfortable with singing and playing from the creature notation, it’s a good time to introduce another element of music, dynamics. Start with simple two contrasting loudness: forte (loud) and piano (soft or quiet). On this page shows the two identical melodic patterns. Ask to suggest a way to make an echo effect, etc.  It may be a good time to explain why we call this keyboard instrument ‘piano’!  For those who doesn’t know, try googling ‘Cristofori’s pianoforte’.

Creature Booklet page16_small

Page 21
Articulation & melodic shape recognition
. When the learners get used to singing and playing creature notation, it’s time to start introducing another element of music; articulation (slur and staccato), which can add a flavour to the sound. Slur can be explained as ‘walky’ and staccato as ‘jumpy’. Teach how to write slur and staccato sign over or under the notes.

Creature Booklet page21_smallSome pages can be played as one piece, a good example is page 20 & 21. Melodic shapes are very similar. Ask students to see if they can spot the difference and explain how different.  Using colour pencils to mark each shape as a reminder is another good idea:


Page 22
Composition/improvisation. When the learners feel comfortable learning pieces from this book, try encouraging them to create something or their own; perhaps in a ‘call & response’ style, or in a duet setting playing a counter-melody, etc. I’d like to share one example that occurred during the lesson with one of my 6 year-old students, although I didn’t’ intentionally set out to experiment with composing/improvisation!:

ne of my 6 year old students wanted to write her own song using creature notation, so I gave her cut-out creatures so that she can paste them on a A4 paper to create her song. The only rule I gave her was ‘not to use all the creatures, just 2 or 3 to make a simple tune’. Here is what she came up with:

6yo's tune_small

And I played an accompaniment to her song like this:

accompaniment example_6yo's tune

As we played together the melody shown below, my 6 year-old student couldn’t keep the pulse, so we practised tapping the pulse as we sang the melody, then asked her to tap the beat on a single note as I played the melody. As we continued doing so, she started to responding to my playing, and than playing a counter melody to it; B– B– | CBC– |. By then she established a steady pulse in her playing. This can idea can be extended to composition exercise within a frame set by the teacher.

Creature Booklet page22_small

Introducing notes on the standard stave
With most of my students, I introduce note writing exercises as soon as they are exercised to recognise line/space notes and can understand basic rhythmic values (short & long) and . Notes are written on a single stave without a clef just to practise writing space notes and line notes, including ledge line notes so that they understand how the notes can move up and down on the stave. I wrote a blog post about it some time ago if you’re interested in reading.

By the time they get to half way through the Creature Booklet, they’re ready to start doing some transcribing exercises:

Creature Booklet transcription example_small

Having done a few exercises like this, my students could transcribe their own creature-notated songs into standard notation.

Have fun with creatures on the keys and always look out for what the student is captivated by on the moment and turn it into some creative activities. Be intuitive and spontaneous!


Alphabet Song Book_1

As I explained here, the basic idea of this book is to help piano beginners (aged 7 and above) to get started with learning how to read musical notation.  I thought I’d share how I’m using this book in the lessons.

The contents are simply laid out so that students can get on with work on a need-to-know basis. The intention of this book is to help the piano beginners grasp how learning to read musical notation works, by repetition, writing and creative activities. The book also leaves enough space for students and teachers to explore other details of piano study when ready, such as experimenting with dynamics, articulations, phrasing, tempi, technique, etc.  Teachers can add a simple accompaniment to help students establish a steady pulse and also cultivate a listening ear.

Page 4
The use of four-colour strip for the piano keys is inspired by the Colourstrings. I find it the most useful tool to make the ocean of black keys and white keys on the piano looks somehow manageable. Here’s a template to create a four-colour strip, which should fit on any standard key-sized piano. Make sure to open the file in Acrobat Reader and print it out as an ‘actual size’, not ‘fit to page’).  I use self-adhesive book cover vinyl (cut to 2cm square) to paste four strips together (much stronger than standard cellotape, I find).


Page 2 & 3
Keyboard orientation.
I’d usually introduce BAG only for young children. The reason being that the first half of the book is focused on learning the melodies based on BAG.


Page 5
An example of rhythmic patterns appeared throughout the book is introduced here in a 4-bar rhythm tune. Students can experiment with it by creating a tune using these rhythms, starting with one-note playing (any note or position across the keyboard!). Then, with two notes, then three, etc. Teacher and student can try a ‘call & response’ improvisation game; for example, the first 2 bars played by the teacher, followed by the  the student playing the next 2 bars.

Alphabet Song Book page5_small

The key thing to remember here is to sing the rhythmic syllables (e.g. shortshortlong) whilst playing the notes, with a steady pulse. Each heart shown on the page represents one pulse (beat).

Pulse in music is like our hearbeat; you can’t hear it but it’s always there ticking and you can feel it. Ask your student to tap each pulse as they sing the rhythms. This is the first ear-eye-hand coordination exercise!; tapping one thing and singing another at the same time.


Page 7 (the first BAG tune!)
Start with one-hand playing, right or left hand. Find the hand position using the keyboard guide.   Remember to sing the rhythmic syllables (NOT the letter names!), this exercises the skill to be able to follow two different information at the same time. Complete writing the rhythmic notation above each letter name. From the next page on, dotted guide line for the rhythmic notation disappears. It’s students’ job to remember to write in rhythmic notation above each letter name from page 8 onwards. It encourages students to be constantly aware of the note value attached to each note.

Students also could play the tune with both hands to develop the coordination.


Page 13
Practise writing
B note on a single F (bass) clef stave. Learn to write the same note in various note values here. Keyboard guide now has the Middle C position marked in. Have students try finding the B note below Middle C on page 12. Make sure which clef stave students should be looking at, top or bottom.

Alphabet Song Book page13_small

As a practice of being aware of rhythmic value for each note, trace over each rhythm line under each letter name with a colour explained on page 5.


Page 14
From this page onwards, students can write rhythmic notation with the stem pointing downwards if they wish to. Why is the note upside down? The answer is on page 11 where students practised writing notes on the great stave. Refer to it again and have them explain why!

Also from this page onwards, students have a chance to remind themselves of the new note they’ve just learned, by spotting it amongst other notes.

For one bar on this tune, the letter names disappears and are replace by the B notes written on the F (bass) clef stave. Ask students what notes they are; they would know what to play there. Make sure students are still singing rhythmic syllables whilst playing the notes. Finally, ask students how many B note they can find in this tune.

Also I’d experiment with dynamics at this point when students are getting used to playing some tunes. Loud (forte) and soft (piano). Let students decide which bars (measures) they wish to play loud and soft and add dynamics markings accordingly.


Pattern recognition
. Can students find repeated melodic patterns in this tune? Once they recognise them, they can be aware of playing the same thing twice. Economical reading skill!

A new note, A, to practise writing on the F (bass) clef stave. I’d have students compare it with the B note and explain the difference (line note, space note, where on the stave, etc.)

Alphabet Song Book page16_small

Page 17
Time to experiment with articulation here. Legato playing. What’s legato playing? Basically, imagine your fingers are your legs doing a walking action on the keyboard; one finger presses the key, and then the next finger presses but the link between the two fingers slightly overlaps before the first finger releases the key, so that the two notes sound connected rather than disjointed. The arch marking to indicate legato playing is called slur. Write a slur marking over the first three notes to be played legato. Ask students to write some more slurs in!

Alphabet Song Book page17_small

Page 19
All the letter names now disappear! But students know which note is B, A, G note by now. Although it’s important recognise each note in letter name, it’s equally important to be able to see a group of notes as a pattern. B-A-G looks like a smooth downward slope. B-G-A is more ragged. It’s a useful exercise to drawn students’ attention to the patterns in each tune. I’d also challenge them to find BAG in the tune; circle the B-A-G pattern and sqaure the backwards BAG, G-A-B pattern), not only within a bar (measure) but also across the barline!


Page 22
page! The first 8-bar tune is to consist of two 4-bar tunes that students have learned in the previous pages. Choose 2 pages to copy or transcribe. If students choose from page 7 to 13, the notes are all in letter names, so they have to trascribe the letter names into notation, which is an exercise itself to test their knowledge on these three notes, BAG. The second 8-bar tune is to be composed by students.  This is a creative test to see how imaginative students can be to come up with yet another tune consisting of 3 notes only. Be prepare to be surprised!


Page 23
Appearance of the D note on the G (treble) clef stave. From this page on, the tunes will be laid out on the double staves (great stave). Usually, the top stave is for the right hand, the bottom stave is for the left hand. Warning here!: G (treble) clef doesn’t mean ‘right hand’ and F (bass) clef doesn’t mean ‘left hand’! G (treble) clef simply refers to the area above the Middle C. In some music, the left hand does play the notes above the Middle C on the keyboard. In that case, you’ll see G (treble) clef on the bottom stave as well as on the top stave.

Up to the previous page, students could play the tune with both hands in unison but from this page on, the both hands’ positions are set specifically as indicated.

It’s another good point to experiment further with dynamics; Soft (piano), medium soft (mezzo piano), medium loud (mezzo forte), loud (forte), gradually getting louder (crescendo) and getting gradually softer (diminuendo). Perhaps in the faster speed when ready.

It’s also a good time to introduce the real names of note values for short, long, twice as long, etc.  In my piano studio, I use American name rather than British, simply because it makes more sense and it helps students understand the concept of time signature when they get to it.

The second half of the book covers more BAG tunes with two added notes, E & D (ED). Go over (again) page 3 to get familiar with all FEDs across the keyboard. Work through the pages to the end likewise as suggested for the first half of the book.

Alphabet Song Book 2 (for piano) will explore triple time (3/8 time rather than 3/4 time), and more words, FED, EGG, Cs and A-B-C in addition to BAG, and delve into the concept of basic time signatures. 2/4 and 3/8. It’ll be available soon.

Happy reading!

I’ve been using this book with my piano beginners for some time now; some started with no interests in reading musical notation; some had some knowledge of musical notation but haven’t quite got the hang of it; some can play pop songs by rote but never tried reading musical notation, some had just started the piano but keen to learn how to read music, etc.

When they get to about page 29, I started giving them a couple of longer pieces as a challenge from various beginner’s piano books, such as Jibbidy-F and A-C-E by Hoover Ward, Music Lessons Have Begun by Fletcher, various primer level pieces from Faber & Faber’s Piano Adventures series, Hal Leonard’s Broadway and Movie Hits Level 1 (piano duet), etc.  My students’ reaction to this challenge has been quite a positive one and when they realise they can read music to play a proper tune, it certainly boosts their confidence and motivation to carry on with the rest of Alphabet Song Book 1 and beyond!

My students’ favourite part of the book is composition pages .  By the time they reach composition pages, they usually have some knowledge on flats and sharps which are covered in pieces such as Pink Panther, which I usually teach them by rote.  Although the suggested notes and rhythms for the composition work are from the book, they often tend to experiment using the knowledge they have learned outside the book as well.

This is the part I do enjoy too as a teacher; getting a glimpse of my students’ creative world that I haven’t seen before.  Some use similar patterns from the book but in a different order or their repetition; some create mysterious sounding music using suggested notes but with sharps and flats;  some show a skill of creating symmetrical patterns; some show natural sense of 2-bar phrases; some adds other musical details such as dynamics and articulations themselves without me reminding them; some play around and explore before writing anything in, etc.

So far, my students are finishing the book 1 at the pace of 6-7 months along with other assignments they’re working on.  They’ve learned how to read and write a simple music, along with the importance of dynamics and articulations.  They’ve acquired a skill to recognise melodic/rhythmic patterns and their repetitions in music.

I look forward to reporting on Alphabet Book 2 soon!

Alphabet Song Book 3 is now available from my website shop!

For the past months, I’ve been experimenting with a new way of improving sight-reading for my students preparing for the ABRSM piano exam (Grade 1 to 5 levels in particular). Some have an innate ability to sight-read without so much difficulties (except in tricky keys and rhythms) and some have a tendency of freezing up as soon as there comes a point where they have to play the two lines simultaneously. To overcome common problems associated with sight-reading, I’ve decided to give it a completely new approach where it doesn’t involve note reading but it involves understanding of keys, metres, rhythmic patterns & melodic composition and harmony. I call it an “improvisation” approach. This approach seems to stimulate the parts of the brain, which tends to be less exercised in other approaches I’ve tried and improve the overall eye-ear-hand coordination required to become better at sight-reading.

Here’s my new improvisation approach I’ve been testing with my students using Paul Harris’ Improving Your Sight-Reading (for piano) series:

  1. Pick a rhythmic exercise to use as a base for improvisation

[Excerpt from Improve Your Sight-Reading Grade 2, Stage 4 Rhythmic Exercises]

Rhythmic Exercise from Paul Harris' book

  1. Let the student decide which key they wish to practise in; some will choose the easiest key; some will choose the one that they feel they need to practise the most. Have the student play one octave scale in the chosen key to check all the scale notes (hands separately). Now, set the right hand position for 5-finger pattern (scale note: 1 to 5).


  1. Now, look at the chosen rhythmic exercise, and create a random melody following the given rhythms. The right hand plays the top rhythm using 5 notes whilst the left hand plays the tonic note of the chosen key on every beat. It’s likely that those who are new to improvisation exercise tend to play lots of repeated notes and change the note here and there or play too many wide intervals, which usually result in an unmusical tune.


Ways to experiment in your improvisation exercise:
Make sure your eyes are always following the rhythms on the staves throughout the exercises!

Idea-1. Try playing a scale up and down following the given rhythms without repeating any note consecutively. The last note should be the tonic note (for now). If the tonic note seems to come earlier than you’d like, make a detour (going around the tonic note) so that the exercise ends on the tonic note. Likewise, if there’re one or two too many notes before reaching the tonic note, skip a note or two so that you can end the exercise on the tonic note:



Idea-2. Recognise any repeated or similar pattern in the rhythms. For those patterns, you could play the same notes in the same order:



Idea-3. Use a mixture of steps and skips but no wide intervals (for now). Many tunes that you can easily sing/hum often consist of stepwise motion (consecutive intervals of 2nd) with occasional skip(s) (interval of 3rd):



Idea-4. Experiment with the direction of the melody line to create contrasting ideas. For example, one pattern going down-up-up-down and then the second pattern going up-down-down-up.:



Idea-5. Be inventive using an economical compositional technique, sequence. For example, in the first bar, play the first four notes in an ascending form, then one step down. Then repeat this idea for the second bar but starting on one note higher. You could add the 7th note of the scale (note one below the tonic note) for creating an effective ending. You could also change the note value of the LH pattern; holding each note twice as longer ( LH pattern1 ); or combination of the two note values (e.g.  LH pattern2  ). Each change introduced will help increase your ear-eye-hand coordination:



Idea-6. When you become comfortable with improvising within the 5-finger position, it’s time to extend your horizon a little bit. Try using one octave scale notes and introduce some repeated notes. For example, for the first two bars, use the top part of the scale (scale note: 4 to 8), and then for the following 2 bars, use the bottom part of the scale (scale note 1 to 5). Always remember to use the fingerings that you’ve learned from your scale practice. (e.g. know when to bring the third finger over the thumb, so that you won’t run out of the fingers to complete the phrase):



Idea-7. Change the LH pattern to Tonic-Dominant note played alternately on every beat. This increases the attention you’d need to pay for both hands. Keep reminding yourself of the order of the notes in the LH whilst improvising with your right hand:



Other LH patterns to experiment:

  • Alberti bass following I-V7 chord sequence
  • Tonic & Dominant 7th chords in a blocked form
  • I-IV-V7-I chord sequence in a form of blocked chord or broken chord



N.B. In 3/4 time, you could try Tonic-Dominant-Dominant pattern. Another notch up to increase your eye-ear-hand coordination here!

When all the experiments seems to come naturally under your fingers, it’s time to swap the task between the hands! Now, RH plays the beat notes whilst LH plays improvisation.



For whatever you do in your improvisation, always aim to create a musical phrase; a phrase you’d be able to sing naturally so that the music doesn’t sound like a collection of notes being played randomly without a sense of direction, and if you can add dynamics to shape the melody line. Also, you could try different tempi if you feel ready.

When you get used to improvise in your chosen key, it’s time to delve into as many sight-reading exercises written in the same key as possible.


What to look for in the score before you start sight-reading:

[Excerpt from Improve Your Sight-Reading Grade 2, p.15]


Sight-reading excerpt_grade2_p15-1

  1. Check the key signature and time signature and decide how fast your beat speed is going to be according to the tempo description (e.g. Andante) or character description (e.g. lively) if there is one.


  1. Pattern analysis: rhythms, melodic shapes, repetition (sequence, etc.), any tricky rhythms that you’re not sure about? (–> find out how these rhythm fits within the beats).

Melodic shapes

LH: Starting on the tonic note, play a 4 note-scale down to A (the lowest note in this exercise); two half notes (minims) per bar and then going back up to the E (the highest note in this exercise) by going through a sequence of 3-note scale, and then ends with the tonic note.

RH: Starting on the tonic note, a short motif ( 3-note motif ) is played and its repeated in the next bar, with slight different filling notes (first motif is followed by A-E, second by E only). It ends with the tonic-dominant-tonic pattern.

As you analise the patterns, try singing the notes as you quietly play them along. Make sure you take into account other details such as dynamics and articulation at this stage. If there are fingerings written in, try to follow them as well.

  1. Identify which hand part seems to have less notes and less movements? Loosely memorise such patterns so that you can focus on the other hand part that has got more notes and movement.

Do you remember how you managed to focus on getting the two lines going simultaneously when you did the improvisation exercise? Keep the easier part (LH) in the back of your mind as you focus on the more trickier part (RH).


  1. Before playing the exercise with both hands, see if you can sing the RH melody as you quietly play the LH melody. This helps you see/hear the two lines horizontally as well as vertically. Always be aware of the point where both hands come together. If there’s a gap in the music, clearly visualise where the beginning of each beat is, so you won’t loose counting.


  1. When the preparation is finally done, play the exercise once without stopping, no matter what happens. If you have to improvise a few notes around the mistake, go for it! It’s better than going back to fix it and loose the flow of the music. Sight-reading is about following the music without loosing the beat, playing as many correct notes as possible and playing them as musically as possible.


You may think there’re an awful lot of things to do/think about before playing a short exercise just once but the most important part is preparation. Just like anything else, be it DIY, sewing, planting, plumbing; getting the preparation work done properly makes the actual job go much smoother than going straight into it without any preparation.

Happy sight-reading!