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Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
#3052703 12/04/20 01:28 AM
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Hi,
I have to give some background to what I am asking here, so please bear with me.

I am in my later 50s, and have been playing pop/rock guitar for most of my life, and need some advice about a difficulty I am having in learning piano.

Although I learned to read the treble clef during my not-so-stellar couple of years on second violin in the school orchestra, I primarily relied on memory because my ability to read time values was not good.

I learned guitar by using tabs and working things out by ear (and, since the advent of YouTube, partly by video).

I have also taken sitar lessons, and Hindustani Classical Music does not really involve written notation – although it does have a written system, one is not supposed to rely on it; learning comes from an oral approach.

The point I am making is that I have not been in the habit of using Western notation/reading from a score at all, really, although I can sight sing to an extent.

About 15 years ago I bought a digital piano, and have had a few serious, sustained tries at learning traditionally (i.e., by learning to read Western musical notation). At that time, I took a couple of lessons, and bought some books from which to learn.

A couple of months ago I started piano again, with two aims:
1. To learn to sight read (play piano from a written score)
2. To learn to be able to come up with effective arrangements for songs that I want to play and sing

The good news is that I have been quite disciplined – I have been working my way through a piano method series, to teach myself sight reading from Western musical notation, and have got to the end of the first book. Very simple stuff, but at least it is some progress.

During this time, I have also learned a song from video, and have now learned enough about how to approach things on piano from a rock perspective that I have been able to put together an arrangement of a rock song (for piano and voice) which sounds pretty good, and I am familiar enough now with simple chords to be able to fake my way through many popular songs.

I am quite pleased that I have managed to do this, because it has been one of my aims to be able to do on piano what I can do on guitar (look at or work out the chords and a couple of riffs, and almost instantly come up with an arrangement).

However, regarding my other aim, of sight reading from a score, I have been experiencing difficulty with one piece in the book I am using. It is the only piece in which has a lot of rests for one hand when the other hand is playing, and notes in one hand carry over beyond the rests for the other hand. I can play everything else in the book (very simple stuff) well with both hands.

My ability to deal with dotted notes has not been historically great, and even though I now understand things better, when trying to play what is written for both hands, I am moving at a snail’s pace with that one piece, and I do not want to go on to the next book until I have solved the problem of how to learn this stuff better.

Obviously, I expect this to an extent, but I am beginning to think that perhaps reading from the written score is a skill which I will not be able to develop further, and maybe I should go back to just relying on learning by playing by ear and learning from video.

I know that I can learn the same pieces more effectively that way.

Has anyone else here experienced this?

If so, what did you do about it?

I am by no means a natural musician, and I tend to take a long time to learn things, regardless.

I would appreciate any help/words of advice.

Thanks for getting to the end of this post!

Last edited by drutgat; 12/04/20 01:29 AM.

"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
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Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3052725 12/04/20 03:00 AM
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I don't know what a "natural musician" is --

. . . but if you can do what you say you can do, you have enough talent
. . . to learn to play dotted rhythms in one hand, or both hands.

It often happens that a rhythm (or combination of RH/LH parts) that is confusing when you _look_ at it, is perfectly natural when you _hear_ it.

. . . And once you hear it, you can play it.

I think that what happens (over time), is that you build up a "mental library" of rhythmic patterns:

. . . For you, you'll learn them "by ear" (that is, the actual sound of the rhythm).

What you need to do (for sight-reading) is to learn the _notation that corresponds to the sound_ --

. . and when you _see_ it, think:

. . . "Oh yeah, that's a syncopation in the melody line",

. . . . and play that syncopation,

without thinking about the note-values and rests that comprise it.

Sight reading two hands is not easy.

If we hit a rhythmic snag, many of us (me, in a pinch) would play the LH slowly, until we mastered that.

And then play the RH part, slowly, until we mastered that.

. . . And only then combine the hands -- slowly.

I don't know if I've helped, or confused you even more --


. Charles
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Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3052757 12/04/20 07:34 AM
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Another thing that may be useful: draw a vertical line on the score to show which notes are played together, and which are played in between the others.

Don’t forget to practice SLOWLY

Btw I’m sure everyone has this problem. Be patient with yourself smile


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It's ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3052773 12/04/20 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by drutgat
I would appreciate any help/words of advice.

Thanks for getting to the end of this post!

Well, first of all .... what you call "sight-reading" is more accurately just plain "reading" music.

Sight-reading is playing a piece of music you have never seen before by reading from notaion.

Not a biggie .... but you may as well use the correct terms as you discuss this.

Next .... The bad news is that I am afraid there is no magic bullet for your issue.

It revolves around counting (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and) as you play and figuring out where each note should be played according to that process.

If you haven't been doing this in the past, it will be difficult (not impossible) for you now but I am afraid there is no other solution.

I would suggest regular sessions with a teacher to work on this very thing.

Good Luck


Don

Casio PX-S1000, SennHeiser HD 559 Headphones, Pianoteq, Focus Rite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3052778 12/04/20 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by drutgat
... I am beginning to think that perhaps reading from the written score is a skill which I will not be able to develop further, and maybe I should go back to just relying on learning by playing by ear and learning from video.

I know that I can learn the same pieces more effectively that way.

You absolutely can do that.

However, when you do that you reach the same point that you have described in past postings (10 years ago) where you begin to forget those songs you once knew and your mind just cannot hold them all.

That is how it works.

The only solution is to learn to read music better.

I have been playing for 15 years and I still cannot pick up a piece of music and play it while reading it.

I never took the time to learn to do that.

I am better at it now because I do a little bit of it every day.

It does get better but not in a week .... more like years.

The problem with learning to play piano is that the best way to do it is also the most difficult and the most tedious in the beginning.

We find out we can learn to play things much quicker by looking at the keys and memorizing which keys to press.

But that only works with simple short pieces of music and also we run out of memory or just plain forget.

I would suggest spending a little bit of time each day learning to read music AS YOU PLAY.

Tedious ? yes.

Worth it ? Absolutely.

Good Luck


Don

Casio PX-S1000, SennHeiser HD 559 Headphones, Pianoteq, Focus Rite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
dmd #3052829 12/04/20 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by drutgat
... I am beginning to think that perhaps reading from the written score is a skill which I will not be able to develop further, and maybe I should go back to just relying on learning by playing by ear and learning from video.

I know that I can learn the same pieces more effectively that way.


It doesn't have to be all one or the other though like that. You have a strong background and you can draw on those strengths to overcome any weaknesses you may have with reading.

Rhythm has always been the trickiest for me with reading too and I could never get a complex rhythm by counting it out. Still can't usually. But I can get it by listening and eventually feeling it. It is cheating? Yes, probably but I don't care. Maybe when I see the pattern again, I .ay know what to do just from the score, otherwise, just need to hear someone else do it right first. There are still lots of other benefits I can get from reading though.

Whatever you can use to your advantage, go ahead and use it. There are no Piano Police watching.

Last edited by Greener; 12/04/20 12:20 PM.
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
Charles Cohen #3052899 12/04/20 03:55 PM
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Thanks very much for your reply, Charles - it helped a lot.

My aim is certainly to be able to get to the point of being able to play without thinking about the note values - just like one does when reading; we read by recognition, really, and that is what I am striving to do with music.

I am glad to hear that I am not the only person here who has experienced these difficulties.

Many thanks for the tips.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
dogperson #3052903 12/04/20 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
Another thing that may be useful: draw a vertical line on the score to show which notes are played together, and which are played in between the others.

Don’t forget to practice SLOWLY

Btw I’m sure everyone has this problem. Be patient with yourself smile
Thanks very much, dogperson.

I will try the vertical line idea.

And thanks for the encouragement.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
dmd #3052905 12/04/20 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by dmd
Well, first of all .... what you call "sight-reading" is more accurately just plain "reading" music.

Sight-reading is playing a piece of music you have never seen before by reading from notaion.

Not a biggie .... but you may as well use the correct terms as you discuss this.

Next .... The bad news is that I am afraid there is no magic bullet for your issue.

It revolves around counting (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and) as you play and figuring out where each note should be played according to that process.

If you haven't been doing this in the past, it will be difficult (not impossible) for you now but I am afraid there is no other solution.

I would suggest regular sessions with a teacher to work on this very thing.

Good Luck
Thanks, dmd.

Actually, I did mean to say that I want to be able to reach the stage where I can play a piece of music that I have never seen before (even if I flub some notes, I want to be able to understand what I am supposed to be playing).

Thanks for your support.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
dmd #3052911 12/04/20 04:16 PM
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Originally Posted by dmd
Originally Posted by drutgat
... I am beginning to think that perhaps reading from the written score is a skill which I will not be able to develop further, and maybe I should go back to just relying on learning by playing by ear and learning from video.

I know that I can learn the same pieces more effectively that way.

You absolutely can do that.

However, when you do that you reach the same point that you have described in past postings (10 years ago) where you begin to forget those songs you once knew and your mind just cannot hold them all.

That is how it works.

The only solution is to learn to read music better.

I have been playing for 15 years and I still cannot pick up a piece of music and play it while reading it.

I never took the time to learn to do that.

I am better at it now because I do a little bit of it every day.

It does get better but not in a week .... more like years.

The problem with learning to play piano is that the best way to do it is also the most difficult and the most tedious in the beginning.

We find out we can learn to play things much quicker by looking at the keys and memorizing which keys to press.

But that only works with simple short pieces of music and also we run out of memory or just plain forget.

I would suggest spending a little bit of time each day learning to read music AS YOU PLAY.

Tedious ? yes.

Worth it ? Absolutely.

Good Luck
Thanks again, dmd.

I am making sure that I play by reading music each day; I suppose that, I will just have to resign myself to the knowledge that seeing results this way will be slower than if I learn in one of the other ways I have learned over the years.

I am sure that there are people who can memorize long pieces of music, but I fit with the category of people whom you mentioned whose memory just runs out - particularly as I get older.

Thanks again.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
Greener #3052914 12/04/20 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Greener
Originally Posted by drutgat
... I am beginning to think that perhaps reading from the written score is a skill which I will not be able to develop further, and maybe I should go back to just relying on learning by playing by ear and learning from video.

I know that I can learn the same pieces more effectively that way.


It doesn't have to be all one or the other though like that. You have a strong background and you can draw on those strengths to overcome any weaknesses you may have with reading.

Rhythm has always been the trickiest for me with reading too and I could never get a complex rhythm by counting it out. Still can't usually. But I can get it by listening and eventually feeling it. It is cheating? Yes, probably but I don't care. Maybe when I see the pattern again, I .ay know what to do just from the score, otherwise, just need to hear someone else do it right first. There are still lots of other benefits I can get from reading though.

Whatever you can use to your advantage, go ahead and use it. There are no Piano Police watching.
Thanks, Greener.

I really appreciate the encouragement, and I laughed out loud when I read "Is it cheating? I don't care".

I do not really care what anyone else thinks, either, but I would like to reach the stage of understanding the rhythm / timing clearly, and being able to play it.

I do not have the best motor control, and cannot play anything quickly, and I have accepted those things, and do not really care much about them (i.e., I no longer give myself a hard time about them).

Thanks again.

Last edited by drutgat; 12/04/20 04:20 PM.

"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3053705 12/06/20 02:40 PM
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To deal with playing rhythms correctly and aligning the hands I will count out loud when playing, subdividing the beat to the lowest value necessary. Being able to count out loud while I played was a skill I had to learn. And it is incredibly helpful.


Also, sometimes I don’t count but will just say a syllable, like ‘da’ at the subdivision I need. Sometimes I find it easier to keep the pulse that way. For instance, I am working on a piece with a dotted eighth followed by sixteenth. I have a tendency to play it like I am subdividing the beat into 3 instead of 4. So I will say 4 das per beat, holding the dotted eight for 3 das and the 16th for one. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to feel/hear the subdivision in your head. I also play French horn and a strategy I use there to help get the subdivision is I will play a line of music as written except I will subdivide the notes as I play them. So for the example above I would rearticulate the dotted 8th into 3 16th notes. This incredibly effective, but a little harder to do on piano. I also sometimes just sing the music and clap the subdivisions.

I have been reading music for 35 years and I still do these things. I only have about 3 yrs on piano and still struggle reading treble and bass clef at the same time. I just takes time. Being able to read music well while playing piano is probably the hardest skill. Knowing your scales and basic chords and cadences can help a lot. You are capable of playing much more difficult things then you can read, that will always be true. My advice work on this skill, but don’t let I hold you back from progressing in other aspects of piano.

Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
J.Kennedy #3053785 12/06/20 06:40 PM
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Originally Posted by J.Kennedy
To deal with playing rhythms correctly and aligning the hands I will count out loud when playing, subdividing the beat to the lowest value necessary. Being able to count out loud while I played was a skill I had to learn. And it is incredibly helpful.


Also, sometimes I don’t count but will just say a syllable, like ‘da’ at the subdivision I need. Sometimes I find it easier to keep the pulse that way. For instance, I am working on a piece with a dotted eighth followed by sixteenth. I have a tendency to play it like I am subdividing the beat into 3 instead of 4. So I will say 4 das per beat, holding the dotted eight for 3 das and the 16th for one. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to feel/hear the subdivision in your head. I also play French horn and a strategy I use there to help get the subdivision is I will play a line of music as written except I will subdivide the notes as I play them. So for the example above I would rearticulate the dotted 8th into 3 16th notes. This incredibly effective, but a little harder to do on piano. I also sometimes just sing the music and clap the subdivisions.

I have been reading music for 35 years and I still do these things. I only have about 3 yrs on piano and still struggle reading treble and bass clef at the same time. I just takes time. Being able to read music well while playing piano is probably the hardest skill. Knowing your scales and basic chords and cadences can help a lot. You are capable of playing much more difficult things then you can read, that will always be true. My advice work on this skill, but don’t let I hold you back from progressing in other aspects of piano.
Thanks very much, J. Kennedy.

I found your reply very helpful and inspiring, so thank you.

I do some of the things you suggest already (such as counting out loud using either numbers or mnemonics) and find them helpful, but I have some questions for you about them.

QUESTION 1 - I suppose the first one is do you aim to get to a point where you recognize certain time combinations in the same way that we do when we read, so that you do not have to count out everything as you are playing? Is that a desirable goal?

I saw someone else recently suggest to subdivide to the next lowest value (if one is having difficulty), and that has been very helpful. So, thank you for mentioning that.

QUESTION 2 - If you are playing something which has a fast tempo, how do you manage to apply the skill of counting out 1/16th. or 1/32nd. notes? I would have thought that was why it is good to try to develop some ways of counting by recognition.

On guitar I have previously cheated by knowing some scales by shape/position as opposed to the notes, although I do know the notes if I concentrate, but I do want to learn scales on piano.

QUESTION 3 - How exactly does that help?

Thanks again for your post.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3053875 12/07/20 12:21 AM
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In response

QUESTION 1. I am not sure I fully understand your question. But I can say what I use counting for. I do understand rhythms automatically without thought, and honestly can’t recall a time i didn’t, but I have been reading music for a long time. I still find counting very useful, but don’t use it on every piece and then not in every measure . 1. When I am learning a piece Counting is like an audible cue to tell my finger when to move to a note. (I see my right hand moves on 2, so when I say 2 it moves, hopefully ). 2. When I am reading music that has more notes in a measure then my brain can handle it helps me keep my place on the page. It is probably the equivalent of moving your finger along the page when you read. I found this really helpful with the Bach inventions. 3. It helps me keep my left and right hands in sync. 4. Counting subdivision helps me feel the pulse and play the rhythms correctly. Also, practicing counting subdivisions will help you be able to internalize the subdivision and eventually use very little mental energy to do so almost automatically in your head. I have had highly advanced teachers on multiple instruments say they are always subdividing in their head when they play. I just assume they have gotten to a point where this takes no mental effort to do. One , last note, before you start playing you should think the necessary subdivided tempo in your head.


QUESTION 2, my guess is if you are still needing to count it you should be playing it slower. And don’t shy away from slooow practice. I think by the time you have it at tempo you shouldnt need to count. Also, you can also just try saying a repeated syllable and count along in your head. I really like this method because I actually feel the pulse stronger, going da da da.


knowing the shapes of scales is definitely not cheating. Knowing the key signatures is really valuable, but it doesn’t tell you how to play them. Knowing your scales, arpeggios, cadences and 1, 4, and 5 chords and inversions is incredibly helpful because these things pop up in music all the time.

Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3053901 12/07/20 02:13 AM
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When dealing with different rhythms in each hand, I have found that isolating the specific bars/measures and only practicing hands separate works. You master the notes and rhythm in the right hand (RH) one week, and then the following week you only do the left hand (LH). If you have a lot of notes in one hand, delete them and only focus on the melody notes. You can then just work on putting both hands together with those bars SLOWLY with the melody notes, and then add more notes as you get more confident in the passage.


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Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
AssociateX #3053973 12/07/20 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by AssociateX
When dealing with different rhythms in each hand, I have found that isolating the specific bars/measures and only practicing hands separate works. You master the notes and rhythm in the right hand (RH) one week, and then the following week you only do the left hand (LH). If you have a lot of notes in one hand, delete them and only focus on the melody notes. You can then just work on putting both hands together with those bars SLOWLY with the melody notes, and then add more notes as you get more confident in the passage.

This is probably one of the best tips you can receive.

Try to understand it.

Another thought on this is .... if you can .... locate notes that are to be played ON THE BEATS of the measure just play those and then add in some more little by little.

You just have to find some way to simplify the passage and get a feel for the rhythm and then including some additional notes into that rhythmn.


Don

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Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
J.Kennedy #3054222 12/07/20 09:07 PM
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Originally Posted by J.Kennedy
In response

QUESTION 1. I am not sure I fully understand your question...
Many thanks for these answers, J. Kennedy.

You seemed to understand what I was asking.

One of my frustrations is that I am going very slowly, but things are still difficult.

I was quite surprised that you and other experienced musicians/readers still subdivide when necessary; or, rather, I should say that I am surprised that doing so is sometimes necessary, but maybe there is a comparison here to reading words - when reading a book, newspaper or other publication, if we come upon a word we do not know and/or which is complicated to 'hear' or pronounce, most of us tend to slow down, look at the word more closely, and try to say it or hear it, and then we move on.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
dmd #3054225 12/07/20 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by dmd
Originally Posted by AssociateX
When dealing with different rhythms in each hand, I have found that isolating the specific bars/measures and only practicing hands separate works. You master the notes and rhythm in the right hand (RH) one week, and then the following week you only do the left hand (LH). If you have a lot of notes in one hand, delete them and only focus on the melody notes. You can then just work on putting both hands together with those bars SLOWLY with the melody notes, and then add more notes as you get more confident in the passage.

This is probably one of the best tips you can receive.

Try to understand it.

Another thought on this is .... if you can .... locate notes that are to be played ON THE BEATS of the measure just play those and then add in some more little by little.

You just have to find some way to simplify the passage and get a feel for the rhythm and then including some additional notes into that rhythmn.
Thanks very much, Don.

The example that I was think of the most when I posted my original message, is very easy to play in each hand (I have no problem doing that), but, due to the fact that some of the notes in one hand carry on past, or fall between certain rests in the other hand, it is putting both hands together that is difficult.

I suppose that becoming so familiar with the part for each hand can help, but that gets into memorising, and I do not want to have to rely on that.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
drutgat #3054226 12/07/20 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by drutgat
Originally Posted by J.Kennedy
In response

QUESTION 1. I am not sure I fully understand your question...
Many thanks for these answers, J. Kennedy.

You seemed to understand what I was asking.

One of my frustrations is that I am going very slowly, but things are still difficult.

I was quite surprised that you and other experienced musicians/readers still subdivide when necessary; or, rather, I should say that I am surprised that doing so is sometimes necessary, but maybe there is a comparison here to reading words - when reading a book, newspaper or other publication, if we come upon a word we do not know and/or which is complicated to 'hear' or pronounce, most of us tend to slow down, look at the word more closely, and try to say it or hear it, and then we move on.


With a tricky word, you might haul out the dictionary or check out the internet
For a tricky rhythm, you might haul out a pencil or the metronome.
😊


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It's ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: Difficulty in Synchronizing Hands While Reading Dotted Notes
AssociateX #3054227 12/07/20 09:13 PM
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drutgat Offline OP
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Originally Posted by AssociateX
When dealing with different rhythms in each hand, I have found that isolating the specific bars/measures and only practicing hands separate works. You master the notes and rhythm in the right hand (RH) one week, and then the following week you only do the left hand (LH). If you have a lot of notes in one hand, delete them and only focus on the melody notes. You can then just work on putting both hands together with those bars SLOWLY with the melody notes, and then add more notes as you get more confident in the passage.
Thank you, AssociateX.


"If The Beatles or the '60s had a message it was 'Learn To Swim' - And once you've learnt - Swim".
John Lennon
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