Raising the Bar | Piano Marvel

Raising the Bar

Breaking the Sight-Reading Barrier

If you can read this. Thank a piano teacher


Imagine if you could have a report that showed you how well each of your students can sight-read. Now you can!


Sight Reading Test Report


Do you want to know your student's sight-reading scores? We can help! 

Help me get sight-reading scores for me or my students


Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a beautiful pianist. People came from near and far to listen to her play, but one day she was approached by a small boy with a book. The pages were worn and tattered, and with a hopeful look in his eyes, the small boy stretched out his hands, extended the book, and pleaded with the beautiful pianist, “will you play this song for me?” 

The beautiful pianist learned this was the song the boy’s grandmother played for him every night before she passed away. Embarrassed that she could not read music well enough to play that song, the beautiful pianist politely declined with the excuse that she was late for an appointment elsewhere. However, at that very moment, the beautiful pianist vowed she would learn to read.

There are many "beautiful pianists" who feel embarrassment or regret that they do not read as well as they would like. Indeed, learning to read music is not everything, but oh, what a feeling when you pick up a sheet of music and can play it at sight. 

I have a friend who majored in saxophone performance in college. When he graduated, he began applying for jobs and found a high school looking for a band teacher, but to his dismay, the position also required him to run the choir program. The principal who interviewed him asked if he played piano. He answered with as much confidence as he could muster, “Well…I passed my piano proficiency exams.” Suddenly he felt frightfully unprepared. The ability to sight read at the piano really does open a world of possibilities.

It was then that I asked myself if it was possible to raise the bar with sight-reading. I visit a lot of university class piano programs and have had the opportunity to ask students what they want most from the class. The overwhelming response is always the same. They want to learn to play cool songs on the piano. The second
most popular hope is to learn
to read piano sheet music.

In 2015 a study was launched with students enrolled in college piano classes to determine how well they could sight-read. The project consisted of administering the Standard Assessment of Sight Reading (SASR) to over 26,000 students in universities across the country. In October 2022, the Average SASR score for a (non-piano major) college student was 429.

Often group piano instructors ask me what score I recommend before passing students off on their piano proficiency. To that, my answer is, “it depends.” Every college is unique and should set its requirements based on its needs and goals. A score less than 200 is poor by any standard. A score less than 325 is underperforming. For schools that accept beginning pianists, perhaps a 450 - 500 score would be a good sight-reading proficiency goal. A more competitive music program might encourage students to reach a 600 sight-reading score. 



In order to raise the bar, first measure your students’ sight-reading, then set realistic goals.

1. Test all of your students with the SASR to get a benchmark of where your students are.
2. Read, read, read! The best way to improve reading is to simply read more!
3. Test students regularly with the SASR in order to track sight-reading growth.
4. Set a goal to raise the bar in your program.

Programs that are currently taking these steps are seeing students dramatically improve their sight-reading skills, better preparing them for careers in music.

What about private students, piano majors, master's students, and doctoral students? As you can see on the chart, anyone can compare their sight-reading scores to see how they stack up. Imagine a world where students have a clearer picture of where they stand with their sight-reading and a better vision of where they want to go.


SASR Levels

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