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Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031167 10/02/20 02:50 AM
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As someone who has always been overly reliant on my sight reading ability I am probably an outlier in all of this, but I have long ago forgotten most of my theory and never think about the key signature of a new piece, or the names of anything. I just glance at the sharps or flats and take off from there, no matter whether major or minor - they may well change along the way and you adjust. It helps to be a fast reader and to be able to take in patterns and be able to quickly 'get into the piece'.


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Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031172 10/02/20 03:25 AM
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I dont know of any great pianist that is not also a top musician, which includes excellent theory knowledge, but also music history, structural and formal knowledge and other skills. All these skills participate directly or indirectly to improve the playing ability. The idea that one can become a good musician by simply reading notes without any clue of what one is playing, nor how it is organized is ......(one can choose the appropriate word). It can work out to a certain point after which it will become a blocking point. Thats why all programs like RCM or ABRSM include theory as a requirement. The fact that one is not necessarily always thinking consciously about what key is in progress does not mean it is not usefull. When i read arpeggios or chords, i know what those chords are within the key i am in. I recognize immediately inversions, 7th and so on. I know when i am in a cadential formula and it does help also to remember what to play, it acts as a sign post. Thats why rcm or abrsm also includes the practice of those chords and arpeggios in all keys, as well as the cadential formulas. It is like grammar in a language. You can learn to speak just by imitation and oral practice, but to get further and be able to read and write more complex sentences, grammar is necessary.

But if one is only interested to be like a playing machine, a sort of human robot reading notes and pressing ad hoc keys on a keyboard, then of course no addtional knowledge is necessary. Just like people who dont need to become proficient in a language and just need to be able to interact in casual everyday life situations dont need to know the grammar.

Re: Key Signatures
Qazsedcft #3031212 10/02/20 06:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by jeffcat
I'm not saying music theory is bad, it won't hurt to know, but it's not a requirement for the sake of playing/ sight reading.
I'd disagree about sight reading. The most brilliant sight readers that I knew were all experts in theory.

My thoughts exactly. You can sight read much faster when you can take in a whole arpeggio at once instead of reading individual notes.

Exactly. I think what many people don't understand is that theory requires drilling just as well as technical things. If you know that interval X consists of Y semitones this knowledge gives almost nothing to you practically. You need to get a book with very simple pieces and practice naming and playing every interval there one by one. You know, in Russian music schools music theory is a weekly lesson and that is what's mostly going on on these lessons - theory drilling. With time your eyes and your hands will remember every interval from every note, and that is where true intervallic reading begins, when after one note your eyes and your fingers automatically identify interval, and for some neurological reason it's faster than identifying next note individually. From intervals you then go to triads, then to 6th and 7th chords, then maybe to extended chords, and you become good sight reader. That is how it works.

Re: Key Signatures
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3031221 10/02/20 06:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by jeffcat
I'm not saying music theory is bad, it won't hurt to know, but it's not a requirement for the sake of playing/ sight reading.
I'd disagree about sight reading. The most brilliant sight readers that I knew were all experts in theory.

There is NO TIME to think theory when it comes to sight reading.

That brilliant sight reader is not drawing on his theory knowledge when sight reading. He may well know more about what he's reading than another person, but he is NOT using that knowledge when performing the act.

What's happening in the brilliant sight reader, vs a lesser, is that the more experienced guy has more SETS of muscle memory facing the music, which covers significantly more Fingering variations.

It's like a person who types faster, simply knowing more words. YES he does know more words, but that's not why he types faster. The bulk of the speed actually comes from having practiced muscle memory for digraphs and trigraphs. For example, typing -stewart-. The user has st, ew, and art as muscle memory. He may have never typed the name stewart in his life, but he's typed alot of ART from words that end in that, and alot of ST for words that begin in ST, and EW for words that end in EW.

Music is the same way, again, You can type really fast without knowing the word or what it means. Just as you can play and sight read fast without knowing what ANY of the key signatures are.

The REASON you'd have people who sight read well also being familiar with the theory is simply due to the fact that anyone spending that much time physically practicing piano would've also spent some time hitting the books. But, those books are not the primary reason why that person is FAST at sight reading.

You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Sight-reading just like typing, as an act, is quite independent from indepth knowledge of english and music theory.

Last edited by jeffcat; 10/02/20 06:49 AM.
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031224 10/02/20 06:47 AM
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^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.

Re: Key Signatures
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3031227 10/02/20 06:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.
No you haven't, you critically misunderstand sight reading. Lots of people do.

Fast sight reading has everything to do with building large sets of muscle memory. Knowing the key signature doesn't hurt, and it gives a person a NAME for the set of muscle memory which he's built. That name does not make him fast, the LARGER SETS of muscle memory makes him fast.

Last edited by jeffcat; 10/02/20 06:55 AM.
Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031246 10/02/20 08:10 AM
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Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.

Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031248 10/02/20 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by jeffcat
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.
No you haven't, you critically misunderstand sight reading. Lots of people do.

Fast sight reading has everything to do with building large sets of muscle memory. Knowing the key signature doesn't hurt, and it gives a person a NAME for the set of muscle memory which he's built. That name does not make him fast, the LARGER SETS of muscle memory makes him fast.
I'm not surprised at the large number of educators misunderstanding sight-reading. I meet the same thing in other activities.

But where are your concepts coming from? I don't consciously use names when sight-reading nor do I suspect those names are helpful but I do associate particular groups of notes with particular keys and get thrown a curve ball when a key turns from many sharps or flats to the other side, e.g. Chopin 28/15 or 64/2.

Your supposition, if that's what it is, would seem to belie that. I'd be interested in any supporting documentation you could point us to or any further help in understanding your thoughts. If it were greater muscle memory without theoretical understanding of some sort I would have thought that the better or faster sight-readers would be little better than guitar-hero type players but this is not the case; they are typically excellent musicians who interpret well on the fly.


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Re: Key Signatures
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3031256 10/02/20 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.

I'm convinced of the connection completely. The OP though was inquiring of the connection of this theory to their playing better. Reading may be part of playing better, but this is more in a overall sense.

For example, if you have something up to tempo, but are struggling to play it better, than having an ability to read faster is of no help to you now. It isn't the issue. Tone quality and expression is more likely the issue.

Long term though if you wish to become a better musician and play better too, everything will need to advance together and this is where what you're suggesting makes sense to me. But not for day to day playing better.

Re: Key Signatures
Greener #3031311 10/02/20 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Greener
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.

I'm convinced of the connection completely. The OP though was inquiring of the connection of this theory to their playing better. Reading may be part of playing better, but this is more in a overall sense.

For example, if you have something up to tempo, but are struggling to play it better, than having an ability to read faster is of no help to you now. It isn't the issue. Tone quality and expression is more likely the issue.

Long term though if you wish to become a better musician and play better too, everything will need to advance together and this is where what you're suggesting makes sense to me. But not for day to day playing better.
Yes, I fully agree, theory doesn't help to play better physically, except maybe for some confidence that it gives, and it makes sense to procede to theory training only when good physical, technical foundation is already built.
Main benefits of theory which are better memorization and better reading are relevant at a later stage, when you need to work on pieces faster.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031482 10/02/20 07:45 PM
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Once upon a time, i had a devil of a time with more than one church organist/pianist. I would enquire the key to a given hymn, they would shrug thier shoulders. They could have exclaimed "four flats," or "one sharp." I had to learn how to ask them. Then translate.
I have to agree, key or tonic center, is part of chord/harmony theory. If your road hasn't taken you there by nessesity or otherwise, you simply don't know.


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Re: Key Signatures
Farmerjones #3031535 10/03/20 02:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Farmerjones
Once upon a time, i had a devil of a time with more than one church organist/pianist. I would enquire the key to a given hymn, they would shrug thier shoulders. They could have exclaimed "four flats," or "one sharp." I had to learn how to ask them. Then translate.
Obviously, more than one church organist/pianist manages perfectly fine without knowing the key that they are in. wink

Actually, personally, I am always aware of what key I am in, because I want to know what I am doing. But if you are not interested, and especially if playing the piano is a hobby for you, just don't bother. smile


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Re: Key Signatures
Animisha #3031574 10/03/20 06:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Animisha
... if you are not interested, and especially if playing the piano is a hobby for you, just don't bother. smile

What would an interested hobbyist do? grin

Are these really the only realistic scenarios?

Some people just have a need to know why they need to learn something. Once acknowledged they may feel differently. Or not, but if you have a desire to play better, even as a hobbyist the same things apply.

To my knowledge, everyone around here is a hobbyist. Most of them though are also very serious about getting better.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031584 10/03/20 07:16 AM
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Greener, I meant, If you are not interested in knowing what key signature your piece is in, then just don't bother about key signatures.

And if you have a desire to play better, there are many ways to do that without learning key signatures.


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Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3031725 10/03/20 04:36 PM
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Actually you can also ask why you need to know the note names in order to play. You can just look at the position of the note head on the sheet music and press the corresponding piano key. So the OP may ask, "how does knowing that note is called "B" help me play better"? I think it doesn't. In my opinion, knowing the key (tonic) and the scale degrees and resulting chords help you play better. Knowing the letter names of the notes, not so much, except to communicate with others.

Re: Key Signatures
wszxbcl #3031738 10/03/20 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by wszxbcl
So the OP may ask, "how does knowing that note is called "B" help me play better"?
I went close to 50 years without knowing note names, and yet playing from sheet music. Don't even ask. Learning the parts I didn't know opened a lot of doors, and made some things faster and easier. Having what I had accidentally gave me other avenues.

Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031797 10/03/20 09:20 PM
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Originally Posted by jeffcat
You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Do you have any evidence to back that up?

From what I learned in grad school, you will type the essay faster if you have more prior knowledge about the topic. For example, you'll have more vocabulary and knowledge of how to spell specific words, and groups of words.

The rest of your stuff on sight reading makes almost no sense to me.


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Re: Key Signatures
AZNpiano #3031799 10/03/20 09:29 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by jeffcat
You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Do you have any evidence to back that up?

From what I learned in grad school, you will type the essay faster if you have more prior knowledge about the topic. For example, you'll have more vocabulary and knowledge of how to spell specific words, and groups of words.

The rest of your stuff on sight reading makes almost no sense to me.

You are making the wrong analogy connections..

Sight reading is like Transcription <on a computer keyboard>

That is not the same as writing an essay, or free form jazz, or improv

Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031800 10/03/20 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by jeffcat
You are making the wrong analogy connections..

Sight reading is like Transcription <on a computer keyboard>

That is not the same as writing an essay, or free form jazz, or improv

When you transcribe, you listen to an audio and you type what you hear.

Don't you need to know how to spell in order to do that?

If you have to stop to look up every technical jargon, doesn't that make you slower?


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Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031836 10/04/20 04:13 AM
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Originally Posted by jeffcat
That brilliant sight reader is not drawing on his theory knowledge when sight reading. He may well know more about what he's reading than another person, but he is NOT using that knowledge when performing the act.

What's happening in the brilliant sight reader, vs a lesser, is that the more experienced guy has more SETS of muscle memory facing the music, which covers significantly more Fingering variations.

It's like a person who types faster, simply knowing more words. YES he does know more words, but that's not why he types faster. The bulk of the speed actually comes from having practiced muscle memory for digraphs and trigraphs. For example, typing -stewart-. The user has st, ew, and art as muscle memory. He may have never typed the name stewart in his life, but he's typed alot of ART from words that end in that, and alot of ST for words that begin in ST, and EW for words that end in EW.

You are confusing conscious thinking and automated execution of patterns registered by your brain. Muscle memory does not exist. It is all driven by our knowledge stored in our brain. And yes, of course one is typing faster when one understands what is being typed. Try to type something in chinese characters or in a language that you do not know, it will be way slower. When one is driving a car, most actions are automatic. But pushing the clutch is not due to muscle memory in my leg, but a set of predefined patterns in my brain.

What makes the difference is how the knowledge is stored. If you only register patterns without any rationale, it will be less effective than when there is a set of principles that you understand that govern that knowledge. But after a while the actions are so well registered as execution patterns that one does not necessarily realize what is going on. But does not mean the rationale does not play a role.

For example taking a simple piece like Fur Elise. The main theme is basically just arpeggios on 2 chords, the tonic one followed by the dominant. When reading the score, i dont even need to figure out the pattern, i recognize these chords since i am in the key of A minor. I actually dont even need to read the score, i can play the measures simply because i understand how it is structured. Most top pianists memorize quckly that way. And i dont need to know all the patterns in all different configurations. I just need to some of them and the various permutations that are possible. After a while though, i am so used to do that that it becomes fully automated and unconscious, but the knowledge of how it works is what has allowed by brain to automate the process.

In summary, the idea that sight reading or playing music is a purely mechanical activity only based on physical abilities and muscle memory (whatever that may mean for those using the term) makes no sense.

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