Grade 4 & 5 Sight reading - ABRSM

Welcome... :0)

The sight-reading for the ABRSM exam is we have 21 points at stake. What is the examiner looking for? The previous 3 aspects have expanded and we now have to consider the style and period.

  1. Rhythm (Semiquaver developments, triplets, compound vs simple time developments)
  2. Note accuracy (Spotting chord shapes, arpeggios, scale patterns, relative keys, key signature fluency)
  3. Articulation and Dynamics (Pedal, Broader range of musical terms)
  4. Style and Period

How do we work on these features?

We would use exactly the same steps as perviously laid out for Grades 1 and 2 with some adjustments needed for the variations in the aspects mentioned above.

Again, I would refer to Paul Harris’s Improve your sight-reading. It goes through key by key, adding rhythms and difficulty at each stage.

1: Rhythm

Semiquavers - These cause difficulty in counting as the student can shorten the length in the beat in a will to develop rhythmic consistancy. When sight-reading a piece which uses semiquavers in simple time, the student should always count 1 + 2 + 3 + etc...  in preparation for the bar ahead that contains them. For compound time this isn't necessary. The distinction should be made between the two though.

Triplets - When counting triplets followed by notes which aren't, it's important to try and Imagine where the next main beat will fall. A special emphasis should be made on understanding how to move from semiquavers to triplets for Grade 5.  Count like this 1 +, 2 +, 3 - trip - let, 4 i + a.

Another good exercise is to learn the rhythm with the counting and then try doing it just counting the main beats and to imagine where the others will fall. A game taking it in turns to clap a straight rhythm with the another person putting in the triplets is good too.

Compound vs Simple - This is again a development from what was introduced in Grade 3 but is introducing 6/8 time too. Make sure you test the ability to switch between simple time and compound time. Especially when counting semiquavers as mentioned before.

2: Note accuracy

Spotting chord shapes, arpeggios and scale patterns - This is a very important skill to speed up you absorption the information. It is important to be able to recognise chords and their potential position or inversion. It is equally important to be able to recognise intervals and by the position of the two notes. A great app for this is called musical intervals.

Relative keys and key signature fluency - No extra keys are added from Grade 3 to Grade 4 but Grade 5 has a significant addition of keys up to 4 sharps not including C sharp minor.

Test the ability to quickly recall the 2 keys which have multiple flats and sharps. Start with the minor 1st as generally people refer to the major first and work out the minor from that. This should be done away from the piano as well as in front of it.

Try working backwards with this. E.g How many sharps does F sharp minor have? and What minor key has 3 sharps?

Also spend a lot of time clarifying the roll of the raised sharp in the harmonic minor as it can be visually confusing. E.g G minor having 3 black notes.

3: Articulation and Dynamics

This should probably be avoided till much later on in the process as rhythm and note accuracy are still the most important elements. That said it most definitely plays a stronger roll especially in Grade 5.

Pedal - This is added in Grade 5 and exercises at reading lead sheets can be a fun way to learn about sight reading this linking the chord changes with pedal. This can also be tied in with an awareness of when chords change within notation. Go over a piece and see if you can spot the changes just by the notation alone.

Broader range of musical terms - This is something that is quite thoroughly covered by the ABRSM theory syllabuses and if you learn all of the terms with those syllabuses then you'd be fine. That said a great ap is called music tools and you can look anything up there.

*Remember that accuracy of rhythm, notes and expression are more important than speed. If you can't play it vivace, don't. Take everything at a speed you can play it. If it says Rall... then take advantage of it and really buy some time.

4: Style and Period

This is an aspect that is covered very well in the Aural part of the exam and is probably more applicable to the Grade 5 than the Grade 4 but it plays a part in both. A good understanding of the characteristics of the 4 time periods of that part of the exam will ensure this is covered. Tie this in with the Aural test.

E.g Do an example of classical aural test for the C part of the test and then ask the student to do a sight reading in that style. Refer to the pieces to help them to recognise the characteristics.

You can also use other examples and ask them to listen to other music relating to it.

Good luck :0)

Kevin Matthews,

PianolessonsUK, Brighton and Hove

Sight reading tips for Grades 1 and 2 ABRSM

When accessing the sight-reading for the ABRSM exam we have 21 points at stake. The pieces and scales should be the main focus as you know what you will be asked and you are pretty much guaranteed a pass by conquering these two parts. The sight reading however helps to access the pieces faster and is where the really good scores come from. What is the examiner looking for?

The easiest way to think about it is to separate it into 3 aspects of musical fluency.

  1. Rhythm

  2. Note accuracy

  3. Articulation and Dynamics

By getting all of these elements correct, you will get top marks.

Part 1

How do we work on these features?

First of all we need a method book and there is no better than Paul Harris’s Improve Your Sight-Reading. It goes through key by key, adding rhythms and difficulty at each stage.

I always ask my students to work on sight reading the way I ask them to start learning new pieces. I give a set of practice steps which are specific and non ambiguous. I am not a fan ambiguous teaching instructions! A student should always know precisely how to practice.

These are the practice steps I give when a student 1st begins to sight read. Probably for stages 1-7 of the Paul Harris book.

1st set of steps:

  1. Tap and count the rhythm of the exercise out loud

  2. Work out the key and play the scales, 5 finger scales and arpeggios (if appropriate)

  3. Find starting position

  4. Play through counting out loud

Notes: Tapping of the rhythm should always be worked on till there is no hesitation. Rhythm is learnt and recognised in the same way as any other vocabulary.

The 5 finger scales is the playing of a scale modally whilst also playing the 7 triads of each scale. (And naming them if possible)

Part 2

Once this is mastered for all of the keys and rhythms that are tested within that grade the next part is to be mastered. This is close to what they’d do in the exam.

This would apply to stages 8 and 9 of the Paul Harris book. I would also recommend that the student buys the ABSRM specimen sight reading tests for the relevant grade.

2nd set of steps (to be used nearer the exam):

  1. Key and starting position

  2. Play through (Silently) counting out loud (In your head

  3. Check for dynamics and in particular the starting dynamic

  4. Play for real counting out loud and don’t stop.

The key and starting position is the most important aspect of passing the sight-reading test. Once you have this skill and you are able to find the position and key in under 5 seconds then you have a lot of time to play through the remaining music. I challenge students to a stop watch like race. E.g: Find the key and starting position to exercise number 23 (In the already open ABRSM specimen sight-reading test)

Then i would do another and another.

It is important that the student counts out loud in practice as it makes sure they are doing it consistently and it gives it emphasis and an importance.

Steps to be used in the exam

In the exam the student is allowed to play the piece out loud as they prepare and they get 30 seconds. They should follow the below steps in the actual exam.

3nd set of steps (to be for the exam):

  1. Key and starting position

  2. Play through (Out loud) counting out loud

  3. Check for dynamics and in particular the starting dynamic

  4. Play for real counting in your head and don’t stop.

These final steps should be practice at least 2 lessons before the exam. Also encourage the student not to make any noises if they make a mistake as this can often give a mistake away that would have slipped through the net. Also iterate that it is possible to make lots of errors and still get a great score.

Added exercise to improve the most important areas.

In all sight reading exercises the most important thing is that you don’t stop.

If a student plays the correct rhythm with completely the wrong notes but the correct dynamics and articulation they will get a score in double figures. If they play all the correct notes with no rhythm and no dynamics and articulation they will get a much lower score.

The main factor here is a fear of playing and hearing the wrong pitched note. For this I have a very fun exercise.

3rd set of steps to conquer fear of mistakes (to be used in the lesson but they can try at home too):

Step 1

  1. Lay hands flat on the piano with no concern of which note they are on.

  2. With no previous knowledge of the piece count them in and they must play the piano like a drum making a lot of awful noises. (They’ll love this!)

Step 2

  1. Now try again but choose any 5 finger hand position again with no concern of which note they are on.

  2. Ask the student to do the same thing but use their fingers

Step 3

  1. Now try again but choose any 5 finger hand position again with no concern of which note they are on.

  2. Ask the student to do the same thing but use their fingers and move in the general direction that the pitch of the music goes.

Good luck!!!

Exam Preparation - The final week!

Hello there Brighton pianists,

1st things 1st!! Congratulations on all your hard work!!! I'm sure you've been beavering away inside and outside of your piano lessons.

Here is a run down for the week leading up to your exam - please get in touch via phone or email with regards to any specific details you aren't sure on.

One week and counting:

Only a short way to go so lets go for it! It's time for lots and lots of practice.

  • I would recommend doing between one to three hours per day if possible. You should have all of the information needed.

  • Whilst you are working and studying hard, try to remain calm. Think about posture - Is it stable and relaxed? Breathing with loose shoulders and supportive feet!!

  • Maintain slow, separate hands and up to speed practice.

  • Focus on the small areas which may be shaky and correct with precise practice.

  • Avoid booking other activities which will distract immediately before or after the exam.

The day before your exam:

  • At all points project a positive outcome. Say to yourself "I will play great in my exam", "I rock" or "I will enjoy it and be calm" etc... Pick one you like and stick to it.

  • Using your books I would recommend playing through the exam syllabus in your mind in the order chosen. E.g The scales first, then the pieces, and some sight reading.

  • Play your old pieces and exercises. Make up a song - Just don't play the exam bits!!!

  • Do something fun if you have the time - watch a film, play a game, meet with friends etc... and try to get a good night’s sleep (exercise the day before is helpful).

  • Make sure you know where the exam location is.

  • The main focus is avoiding anxiety and remaining relaxed.

The morning of your exam:

Morning!!! This is the day that you will be amazing on!!

  • Again project positively throughout, imagine a successful result (remember you can make a lot of mistakes and do very well in the exam).

  • Please avoid playing anything related to the exam syllabus instead run them through in your mind.

  • Play some warm up exercises.

  • I recommend some light exercise if there is time before the exam to cool down!

  • You may not feel like eating because of nerves but try and have something.

  • Do something fun if there is time.

  • Make sure you have your pieces in a safe place


30 minutes before the exam:

You will be at the examination centre. 

  • Only bring your pieces with you.

  • Avoid talking to other people about your pieces, scales etc... You know what to do.

  • Find a piano to warm up on I would recommend playing some exercises you've learned during your lessons.

  • Run through the pieces in your head and fingering of the scales only once.

  • Focus on your breathing, relax and think how you want to play.

5 minutes before: 

Focus only on relaxation and positive thinking.

  • Close your eyes, breathe slowly and repeat in your head something positive such as "I am calm and relaxed"

In the exam: 

In you go - 

  • Adjust the piano stool to the correct height for you make sure it is the right distance. This will help you settle in - Take your time. It's your exam.

  • In between each piece and scale take your time to prepare for your next performance. Never dive straight into a piece or scale.

  • Ask the examiner to repeat a question if needed.

  • If there are a few hiccups don't worry. We can't affect the past just the future. We all make mistakes. I just picked up two forks for my lunch!

  • Once performing don't stop.

After the exam:

Well done, I'm sure you have done fantastically well. Keep a note of areas you feel were trickier than expected and areas you'd like to improves on. Equally areas that you really enjoyed and did very well on. 

  • Eat something wonderful - Ice Cream????!!!!

Good luck!!!!!

Kevin Matthews

Is my child too young for piano lessons?

Many people contact us asking - Is my child too young for piano lessons? Research has shown that children of a very young age recognise and respond to music. When pre speech children listen to music they have been observed to smile when moving in time to it and when the children went out of time they stopped smiling. This shows an intriguing understanding and enjoyment of rhythm and timing.

Even from pre birth we are aware of our mother's heart beat and footsteps. People generally find 3/4 rhythms (like a waltz) more difficult to pick up because of this. People tend to put in a phantom fourth beat to represent the other foot so to speak.

Teaching a very young child is about keeping it fun and accessible at their level. There is no point in trying to get a 1 year old to read music straight away. You need to break up the  core elements of music and teach them separately.

These core elements are-

Rhythm, pitch and emotional expression

Every child develops at a different speed but in a very young child there are certain skills needed for music making that are yet to develop. We would develop these using fun activities and games, which would encourage a fast uptake of music. The lesson would be split up into maybe 6 different activities all aiming to work on these elements. The majority of it would be non-instrumental.

The activities would enhance areas such as-

  • Pattern recognition

  • Note recognition (on the piano)

  • Pitch awareness

  • Rhythm awareness

  • Musical expression

Kevin Matthews

What should I think about when buying a piano in Brighton & the UK

When buying a piano or digital piano there are many elements to consider- What is the difference between a digital piano and an acoustic piano?

Digital piano

A digital piano uses the recorded sounds of a piano and ,when triggered by the keys, reproduces them. This sends information (midi) to the built in computer within the keyboard which makes the sound. This is then sent to the speakers (if there are any) or to your speaker system. This midi information can also be sent to an external computer to trigger other sounds (E.g drums, strings whatever really).

They have all different kinds of sounds and key weights Light keys, heavy keys etc etc... The heavier the key the more it will strengthen the muscles but take into account age and strength when deciding the very young (under 5) or old (varies a lot but over 75/80) need a bit of help with their muscles. :0)

Digital pianos normally come separate to a stand, pedal and case. They vary in size but can normally be packed away discretely.


These elements as you can expect vary in quality and price with the spectrum being £50 - £14,000. You can get a good digital piano for £400 second hand.


The keys can vary from something spring loaded (basic) to something which imitates the feel of a piano. Piano keys are heavier in touch in the low end and lighter in the high end. There are also a lot of techniques that you can play on a piano that affect the sound produced sometimes dramatically sometimes very subtly. Digital pianos ,although to most people sound good-great, do not have the range of expression a piano has. The touch can be emulated and up to a certain level but I have yet to feel one that is 100% convincing. Basically it's not a piano.

When a key is pushed down on a piano it lifts a piece of felt which has been resting on the strings. It also simultaneously triggers a number levers and mechanisms which eventually makes a felt tipped hammer strike the string/s. This makes the famous noise! This echoes around the casing of a piano. When you release the key another piece of felt dampens the vibrations of the keys and stops the noise.

There are thousands of different makes and models the best thing to do is to literally sit, play and find the one you like. It's a personal thing. They come in all shapes and sizes from the tiny to the gigantic. Light keys, heavy keys etc etc... The heavier the key the more it will strengthen the muscles but take into account age and strength when deciding the very young (under 5) or old (varies a lot but over 75/80) need a bit of help with their muscles. :0)


These elements as you can expect also vary in quality and price with the spectrum being Free - £300,000+. You can get a good upright piano for £700 second hand.

Plus sides to buying a digital piano

  • Compared to acoustic pianos, digital pianos are generally less expensive when. bought from brand new second hand probably about the same.

  • Most models are smaller and considerably lighter, but there are large ones as well.

  • They have no strings and therefore don't need to be tuned.

  • Depending on the model they will have a number of other sounds.

  • Young beginners (under 5) will find it easier to play on non weighted keys.

  • It is a lot more likely that they will be compatible with a computer via midi or USB. (Useful for recording and other more complicated functions)

  • You will be able to practice quieter on all of the models via headphones.

Plus sides to buying a Piano

  • The sound quality on most piano's is superior to that of a digital keyboard. This in turn can promote practice a higher enjoyment of the instrument.

  • There are techniques that are taught on a piano that don't translate to digital pianos.

  • Pianos have an aesthetic value that digital pianos don't.

  • It's much easier to fall in love with a piano...

If you are buying a piano you need to think about size and how often you may be moving as after the initial move it is expensive moving pianos around.

Where can you buy a piano or digital piano?

Brand new pianos or digital pianos

Digital piano without weighted keys

These instruments are probably best suited for someone with a limited budget or of a very young age. These instruments have lighter keys and as such are easier to play for the younger learner. This is probably the cheapest digital piano you'll find of good quality without weighted keys:

Digital pianos with weighted keys

If you can spend more say £500 + I'd go for a piano with weighted keys - Yamaha digital pianos are great. The p series has a good selection of instruments of different prices.

Gak are brighton based. They will match any price you find online and do a 0% finance deal so you pay small amounts monthly:

Second hand pianos or digital pianos

You can look for second hand options which are cheaper (but you won't have the guarantee). You can also pick up free pianos from various sources however the quality is generally not so good.

Gumtree -,

Ebay -

Friday Ad -

Second hand and brand new pianos or digital pianos (pay in instalments) 

These guys offer 0% Finance discount too on real pianos as well as digital ones:

This scheme allows you to pay off the cost off your instrument in installments

The piano warehouse do a government funded loan scheme as well which is worth checking out. I can't see it on their website but if you give them a call I'm sure they are still doing it.

Please feel free to get in touch with us with any questions at

All in all I recommend-

  • Young pianists(5-) Yamaha Piagerro NP11 non weighted keys or light weighted piano

  • Aspiring midi composers & pianists - Separate midi keyboard (£20) & a piano

  • People with little room or about to move - Digital piano

  • Anything else - A Piano

Go to the piano warehouse in Brighton for all your piano needs speak to Peter and say Kevin sent you. He's lovely!

Good luck and if you need any further assistance. I'll be happy to help with any decision you want to make.