Learn to Sight Read

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

In my own selection of educational music, I must have over 20 Sight Reading Schemes. I see which is a best fit for my student and then get them to order a copy.

However, I still loan out many to help the student get a very varied experience. Just like reading, I think its important that students get a varied amount of material.

With quite a lot available out there, in order to impress me, a sight reading resource needs to be something special.

Well congratulations Sandy Holland and Peter Noke, I am impressed! Heres why………….

cover1 copy

First Impressions

I first encountered the books at Chethams International Summer Schools Teacher Course. I was excited to see a multi-media approach with recordings of all the sight reading tests (for students to check their work) alongside a traditional printed book.

For years (especially adult students) have voiced to me: Its all very well playing these sight reading tests, but how on earth do I know if Ive played it right or not?

Written by Sandy Holland and Peter Noke, this new approach gets around this problem pretty brilliantly. As the authors put it at the beginning of their book:

Just another sight reading book? No! Its a new take on the age-old tradition of learning to speak a language – in this case the language of music – with fluency, from the outset. The authors are seasoned teachers and highly experienced examiners who apply current modes of learning to the best pedagogical principles.

Free QR code technology means that your student can listen to each piece first, play it and then listen again. Listening before helps with musical syntax and character. Listening after playing helps with self-assessing the accuracy. Your students will discover more quickly. Success breeds success, so students find this approach much more engaging.

Sandy Holland and Peter Noke 

The product

cover2 copy

The books have a high quality glossy cover and thick, quality paper, slightly off white, which is brilliant for a student who struggles with the white and black glare of paper (often associated with conditions like dyslexia).

All the print is clear to read. Music engraving has been well done and there is a good balance of material on the page.

There are three books, one each for Grades 1, 2 and 3. They are, I believe, based on ABRSM specifications but would work well for all boards.

A larger than average stave size in Grade 1 is particularly helpful. The following grades are slightly smaller but clear and easy to read. This is a high quality publication and even though self-published, this is not at all obvious! 

The contents

As ever, I always like to check with a number of people before writing a review. An examiner has looked over the publications as well as double figures of students and several teachers.

Ive included some quotes from them here:

The examiner:  The material covers all the parameters well. The fingering is appropriate, and they are short manageable tests. They do the job well.

The student  I really like being able to listen to the test and see what I am going to play. I like having maximum four tests on a page. Any more and I can just feel like – thats too much.

The teacher  My students really love these books and theyve become a core part of my teaching curriculum now.

All the parameters of the ABRSM graded sight reading tests are included in each book.

There are ten sections in each book with 10 sample tests. Students have a progress chart at the beginning of each section to track their progress.

There are simple additional prompts on some of the tests from the little illustrated dog, e.g. remember the accidentals or the last note of each piece is the keynote. Or pointing out tied notes and prompts to help with keys (find the black notes before you play). These are not overdone. Helpful, as too much instruction can be lost on students.

The tests are short, just four bars in book 1 and up to 8 bars in Book 3. Students responded very positively to this.

The titles of the pieces link with the rhythm of the first few notes of the piece – something I think is very helpful.

I think this is an element that could have been further developed in the books. Isolating rhythm work out separately in sight reading can be useful. It is processing pitch and rhythm at the same time which can cause such a challenge. Some separate work just on rhythm patterns and pulse identification can be valuable.

That said, teachers can do that themselves using these publications, which are extremely rich in rhythmic variety and metre.

Other elements of reading – key recognition, articulation, expression, dynamics, etc – have all been carefully considered. A real strength is covering ALL keys in each section, meaning students have to continually adapt to new keys. A very useful skill.

Digital media support

There is a QR code conveniently put next to every test.

The app works really well on my mobile phone and I was easily able to scan and hear good recordings linked with each test. Tempos were realistic.

Added to that, the option of doing the test in real-time on-line is also there. So teachers can give the test using a tablet rather than the book. I would perhaps have liked a two-bar metronome count in (with the first beat stressed) instead of a voice but Im sure thats just my personal preference.


cover3 copy

These are high quality publications which are clearly written by teachers, examiners and pianists.

These are very pianistic compositions which fit well round the hands.

I do think teachers could consider doing some additional rhythm work using the examples, perhaps patting the rhythm of the right hand on the right knee and rhythm of the left hand on the left knee. They could also consider getting the student to tap the pulse when they first hear the recording (useful for dotted rhythms, quavers and semi-quavers and feeling the difference between two and three metre). This compliments well the rhythm work the authors suggest using the titles of the tunes.

It should be noted also that fingering is all appropriate and theres a rich range of examples in these books to truly help students thrive in their quest to become able sight readers.

The multi-media approach is I think a triumph, and Im sure these books will play a valuable part in helping teachers support their students in developing their sight reading skills.

I know they will become a valuable part of my sight reading curriculum. Congratulations to Sandy and Peter, this is a job well done!


Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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