Music literacy is one of the most crucial aspects of music education.Just as with any other language you can consider yourself fluent when you recognize the notes on the staff, at first glance. And, as with any other language the only way to become a good reader is to practice reading.
Note reading can and should first be learned independent of your instrument, in the same way that we learn the alphabet before we learn to read words. Becoming a fluent note reader does not have to take a long time to accomplish however it does take consistent and short term intense exposure to accomplish. So, when you are ready, just dive in. There are numerous tools and worksheets to help.
Once the skill to instantly recognize the notes on the staff has been attained the next step is learning to sight read. With instant note recognition there is one less thing to actively think about as you begin to hone your skills as a good sight reader. Practicing sight reading should be part of your regular routine. A glance at your sheet music tells you the name of the note(s) you want to play and now the goal is to instantly register exactly what you have to do to produce that note.
Becoming a fluent sight reader takes a bit more time than becoming a fluent note reader as there are more variables involved, like key signatures, rhythm, tone and dynamics to name a few. However, if each aspect is broken down separately it can become an easier task. Choosing a random piece of relatively easy, unfamiliar music is a good way to begin. Now that you can easily recognize the notes it is time to practice playing them on your instrument. Part of what you will be establishing is muscle memory. In time your fingers will automatically reach for the correct notes on your instrument.
Each time you practice sight reading try to add another dimension to your reading – first find the notes, next add the rhythm, the dynamics, the proper technique, etc. Your goal will be to enable yourself to pick up any piece of music and play it fairly accurately and relatively effortlessly. Learning to sight read is extremely rewarding and will be well worth the effort you put into it. In terms of solo playing the skills you learn will bring joy and satisfaction to your playing because you will be putting less effort into the mechanics required which will allow you to play with more expression. In order to even consider playing with a group, large or small, strong sight reading skills are absolutely essential.
Note reading and sight reading are both taught during your regular lessons. Taking all opportunities to accelerate your learning of each skill is very important to your progress as a music student.