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Originally Posted by Csj24
Thanks, this is very helpful. Seems like it's not very different from reading music in general. If you play it slowly and don't worry about mistakes, then it really seems like if someone can read music they should be able to sit down and attempt a piece that's around their level even if they've never played it before.

I guess what confused me is the number of people saying they are terrible at sight reading. To me, that sounds like being terrible at reading music, in which case you're clearly doing something wrong.

I don’t know that reading abilities always correlate with playing level. I’m no piano pedagog, but I think that when you play a piece, you are using multiple skill sets to different degrees — reading, memory, aural skills, manual/mechanical skills, theoretical knowledge, perhaps there are more. Different people will rely more on some of these than others, and as you learn a piece, you will rely on these skills to different extents. But we all have things that we do relatively better, and for some, reading (let alone sight reading) is not a strength.

I will give you two examples of people who performed at very high levels who could not read music. The first is Dave Brubeck, the fabulous jazz pianist. He could not read music, but apparently it took a while for his teachers at the conservatory to figure this out! When they did, they put a stipulation on his graduation that he wouldn’t ever teach piano. He is a really interesting example because he was very talented in composition (and studied with Milhaud) but he could not read (I think the speculation is that he had something akin to dyslexia). He was clearly someone who was very strong with his other skills, which compensated for the reading issues. And he made his career in jazz piano, which played to his strengths and for which his inability to read music was not a big deal.



The second example is that of a singer, Jane Powell, who was a big MGM musical star in the 1950s. She also could not/did not read music (I was quite surprised when I learned this). This song may not be to your taste, but I think that it would be wrong to say that because she can’t read, she can’t sing. Instead, she writes that she relied on her aural skills.



That said, I think that trying to enhance all our skills — reading, aural, manual, memory, theory, etc is probably the best way to make progress.

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Originally Posted by Sgisela
Originally Posted by Csj24
Thanks, this is very helpful. Seems like it's not very different from reading music in general. If you play it slowly and don't worry about mistakes, then it really seems like if someone can read music they should be able to sit down and attempt a piece that's around their level even if they've never played it before.

I guess what confused me is the number of people saying they are terrible at sight reading. To me, that sounds like being terrible at reading music, in which case you're clearly doing something wrong.
I don’t know that reading abilities always correlate with playing level.
The poster you quoting said they thought sight reading and general reading were correlated, not that reading and playing level are correlated.

OTOH I think those two latter skills are usually closely related and have seen examples of professional sight reading pieces at a high level that I could not even attempt to learn given months of practice.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Sgisela
Originally Posted by Csj24
Thanks, this is very helpful. Seems like it's not very different from reading music in general. If you play it slowly and don't worry about mistakes, then it really seems like if someone can read music they should be able to sit down and attempt a piece that's around their level even if they've never played it before.

I guess what confused me is the number of people saying they are terrible at sight reading. To me, that sounds like being terrible at reading music, in which case you're clearly doing something wrong.
I don’t know that reading abilities always correlate with playing level.
The poster you quoting said they thought sight reading and general reading were correlated, not that reading and playing level are correlated.

OTOH I think those two latter skills are usually closely related and have seen examples of professional sight reading pieces at a high level that I could not even attempt to learn given months of practice.
Are reading and playing level correlated? If you can play well without looking, that helps with reading. Also, understanding structures and being able to execute patterns such as arpeggios without thinking much is very useful in reading. Reading a wide variety of pieces helps you get familiar with more keyboard patterns. However, they are not necessarily linked, and don't have to be. You can play without knowing how to read, and vice versa (but the latter is rare).

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Interesting thread on sight-reading,

Originally Posted by bennevis
The way I look at it is that how you were taught as a beginner makes a world of difference.
I say "taught", because from posts in PW, it's evident that self-learners - whether or not they eventually get teachers (and often only if - and when - they realise that progress has come to a halt) - usually have poor sight-reading skills, and more often than not end up memorising pieces because they cannot play from the score.
This is my case. I had a teacher 20 years ago but after that I was self-taught for many years. Last spring my teacher told me, if I want to progress from intermediate to advance pianist, I need to be a better sight reader. She said I rely too much on my finger memory and my aural memory. And she said, when I learn a piece that I never heard before I struggle a lot with the rhythm.

In the last 3 months I do 10 minutes a day of sight-reading exercise. It's really hard for me to sight-read something I don't know. I have no melody to rely on, all I can do is count in my head and read the notes.

Last edited by Serge88; 08/21/21 12:59 PM.


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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
While 'sight reading' is a pure form of decyphering notation, the 'reading' is not. 'Reading' is a mix of notation decyphering and playing from memory. Right from the first playing of a piece an unintentional memorization of it occurs involving all types of memory: motional/tactile, visual, aural. The more we play a piece, the more memorization occurs no matter if we want it or not, and relying on notation decyphering decreases. Up to the point when a pianist needs only a brief look at the score from time to time to continue playing. At this point decyphering notation almost doesn't occur and the piece may be considered almost fully memorized. So if someone is a poor sight reader and at the same time a good reader it means that he or she is not good at decyphering notation but has a strong memory of one or several types that helps them memorize the piece unintentionally after fewer number of repetitions.
Another good explanation that I can relate to,

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
(And this is why it's most efficient to play every piece just a few times when learning to read/sight read, because first few times is when most decyphering of notation occurs and the memory plays smallest role.)

I only play the sight-reading exercise twice, they are only 8 to 16 measures and the third time memory kicks in.



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Originally Posted by Serge88
Interesting thread on sight-reading,

Originally Posted by bennevis
The way I look at it is that how you were taught as a beginner makes a world of difference.
I say "taught", because from posts in PW, it's evident that self-learners - whether or not they eventually get teachers (and often only if - and when - they realise that progress has come to a halt) - usually have poor sight-reading skills, and more often than not end up memorising pieces because they cannot play from the score.
This is my case. I had a teacher 20 years ago but after that I was self-taught for many years. Last spring my teacher told me, if I want to progress from intermediate to advance pianist, I need to be a better sight reader. She said I rely too much on my finger memory and my aural memory. And she said, when I learn a piece that I never heard before I struggle a lot with the rhythm.

...

She is referring to your overall musicianship and I think clearly from a classical perspective. Fair enough and she is probably right, in terms of what next steps are to advance as a classical musician. But what she is suggesting won't immediately help your rhythm or improve your playing ability any time soon. Playing other genres might be a better option for that. Reading is just one tool of many for getting the music into your fingers, but really does not have any direct relation to one's ability to play it, once there. Since they are often taught in parallel, it seems they are tied at the hip, but they are not.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think most amateurs don't memorize most of the music they study. They memorize mostly only the few pieces they occasionally perform.
I'll say it again in case someone misses the point; learning quickly needs good reading and comprehension skills.

Without these skills most amateurs won't memorize most of the music they study but memorize mostly only the few pieces they occasionally perform.


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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think most amateurs don't memorize most of the music they study. They memorize mostly only the few pieces they occasionally perform.
I'll say it again in case someone misses the point; learning quickly needs good reading and comprehension skills.

Without these skills most amateurs won't memorize most of the music they study but memorize mostly only the few pieces they occasionally perform.
I think most/many amateurs don't memorize most of the pieces they study because they don't want to and/or their teacher doesn't require it. Many will think, correctly I believe, that there's little point spending time memorizing if the piece will never be performed in public(even then memorizing isn't necessary unless one is planning a professional career) or the time can be far better spent learning new rep. Learning a piece quickly doesn't necessarily require memorizing it.

I haven't memorized a piece for the last 55+ years but I think I have very good reading and comprehension skills for an amateur. And despite never memorizing anything I have performed in public countless times in solo, chamber music, choral, and musical theater productions. IOW lack of memorization does not imply weakness in reading or comprehension.

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Originally Posted by Saan
I have never heard that it doesn’t count as sight reading if you are playing below tempo or if you make lots of mistakes. I took lots of sight reading exams as a child and if I did these things I would have received poor marks but I would have still been sight reading.

So if I get you right, you believe it is sight reading if I play the first chord, take a minute to decypher the next beat, then play it, another minute or maybe two, play the next chord etc?

Of course you can define sight reading this way but I would just call this practice or even out figuring out the notes. And would you pass a "sight reading test" this way?


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Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by Saan
I have never heard that it doesn’t count as sight reading if you are playing below tempo or if you make lots of mistakes. I took lots of sight reading exams as a child and if I did these things I would have received poor marks but I would have still been sight reading.

So if I get you right, you believe it is sight reading if I play the first chord, take a minute to decypher the next beat, then play it, another minute or maybe two, play the next chord etc?

Of course you can define sight reading this way but I would just call this practice or even out figuring out the notes. And would you pass a "sight reading test" this way?

Though I am carefull using analogies, it is somehow like reading text (though sight reading also involves playing). If one is learning to read, then he /she will decipher text very slowly and painfully, but it is still reading.

Sight-reading has levels of proficiency, at the very extreme it is bordering deciphering. Also it depends upon the complexity of the score. One can be quite good at sight-reading easy pieces and be overwhelmed by a Mozart sonata. There is a continuum of skill level.

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If someone comes in and says "can you sight-read this?", then the answer is often a straight-up "yes/no"

If the answer is "yes" then the person in question would probably not be expecting you to take two mins working out the notes in a chord from beat to beat.

This is more an example of reading than having to read at sight.

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Originally Posted by fatar760
If someone comes in and says "can you sight-read this?", then the answer is often a straight-up "yes/no"

If the answer is "yes" then the person in question would probably not be expecting you to take two mins working out the notes in a chord from beat to beat.

This is more an example of reading than having to read at sight.

However, if you would do an exam, and the examiner tells you: "please sight-read this" and you take two mins working out the notes in a chord from beat to beat, you will still get a mark in sight reading. Probably a low mark, but what you have been doing will count as sight-reading. cool

(I think the confusion here is that you fatar760 talk about sight-reading as a skill, whereas of course there is also sight-reading as part of piano practice, and piano students can be anything between very bad and very good at sight-reading.)


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Originally Posted by Animisha
Originally Posted by fatar760
If someone comes in and says "can you sight-read this?", then the answer is often a straight-up "yes/no"

If the answer is "yes" then the person in question would probably not be expecting you to take two mins working out the notes in a chord from beat to beat.

This is more an example of reading than having to read at sight.

However, if you would do an exam, and the examiner tells you: "please sight-read this" and you take two mins working out the notes in a chord from beat to beat, you will still get a mark in sight reading. Probably a low mark, but what you have been doing will count as sight-reading. cool

(I think the confusion here is that you fatar760 talk about sight-reading as a skill, whereas of course there is also sight-reading as part of piano practice, and piano students can be anything between very bad and very good at sight-reading.)

Don't get me started on the problems with the exam system (ABRSM). You would still get 7-10 marks (which is nearly 50%) in the situation we've described. These organisations don't like to FAIL candidates. Yes, they are assessing you at your ability to sight-read as it's that section of the exam - they're assessing your ability to play music you've not seen before in a proficient manner:

"Learning to sight-read helps you to develop quick recognition of keys and tonality, rhythm and common patterns of beats. It also helps you to learn to keep going even when you make mistakes, and work music out for yourself – which makes learning new pieces quicker and easier.

Being able to sight-read is a valuable skill. It enables you to explore new pieces with increased confidence. Good sight-reading skills offer the satisfaction of independent musical discovery, as notation on the page is more readily transformed into sound"


https://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/what-is-a-graded-music-exam/sight-reading/

Sight-reading is a skill, and a difficult one at that. The sight-reading you do as part of your practise routine is to build on that skill for the reasons that ABRSM list above.

Sadly, too many (often young) students are put off sight-reading because they associate it with pressure and fear of the unknown. A more relaxed approach (i.e. little pressure) to reading generally improves one's sight-reading, in my experience, plus it's more fun, positive, and encouraging feeling. However, one must also practise under pressure for the skill to really develop.

I just wouldn't conflate the two approaches as 'sight-reading', because one is about outcome and the other is about process. In my opinion, sight-reading is largely viewed from an outcome perspective and how proficient you are at it.

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Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by Saan
I have never heard that it doesn’t count as sight reading if you are playing below tempo or if you make lots of mistakes. I took lots of sight reading exams as a child and if I did these things I would have received poor marks but I would have still been sight reading.
So if I get you right, you believe it is sight reading if I play the first chord, take a minute to decypher the next beat, then play it, another minute or maybe two, play the next chord etc? Of course you can define sight reading this way but I would just call this practice or even out figuring out the notes. And would you pass a "sight reading test" this way?
You wouldn't pass the test but it would count as your sight reading test. No matter how poorly or slowly one does it, by definition it's still sight reading. And you would fail the test without doing as badly as you described. If I'm on a tennis court and hit every ball into the net I'm still playing tennis.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by Saan
I have never heard that it doesn’t count as sight reading if you are playing below tempo or if you make lots of mistakes. I took lots of sight reading exams as a child and if I did these things I would have received poor marks but I would have still been sight reading.
So if I get you right, you believe it is sight reading if I play the first chord, take a minute to decypher the next beat, then play it, another minute or maybe two, play the next chord etc? Of course you can define sight reading this way but I would just call this practice or even out figuring out the notes. And would you pass a "sight reading test" this way?
You wouldn't pass the test but it would count as your sight reading test. No matter how poorly or slowly one does it, by definition it's still sight reading. And you would fail the test without doing as badly as you described. If I'm on a tennis court and hit every ball into the net I'm still playing tennis.


And if someone asked "would you like a game of tennis?", they'd probably expect you to have the skill-set to get the ball over the net!

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Originally Posted by pianolverus
IOW lack of memorization does not imply weakness in reading or comprehension.
Learning a piece involves remembering. This is subconscious memorisation. Our sightreading skills don't develop that much in the time it takes us to learn a piece. Deliberately involving memory is faster than using it subconsciously so it increases our learning speed. It takes more effort but less time. You don't have to recall it the next day but you will retain it better from having made the effort.

Learning to perform a piece without the score does take longer but not trying is as ridiculous to me as using a pickup truck like a push cart and taking the engine out to make more space.

In over fifty years I've never learned a piece well enough for public performance, whether playing classical piano, classical guitar or a rock song with the band, without it first having been memorised and I still retain most of the pieces I've ever studied.

You're given a minute to study a few bars of music for a sightreading exam. Why would you not spend that time trying to memorise it? It seems like encouraging people to turn their brains off if they aren't going to perform a piece without the score?

If you want to improve your reading you have to read more stuff, not just the piece you're learning. If you want to improve your memory you have to memorise more stuff, not just the piece you're learning. If you want to increase your learning speed try to memorise. It's faster to get into the brain than into the fingers and once it's there you can practise wherever you are, with or without the piano.

It's easier to remember things you comprehend and easier to memorise things you remember. Lack of memorisation may not imply a lack of comprehension but it may be a warning sign.


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Originally Posted by fatar760
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by Saan
I have never heard that it doesn’t count as sight reading if you are playing below tempo or if you make lots of mistakes. I took lots of sight reading exams as a child and if I did these things I would have received poor marks but I would have still been sight reading.
So if I get you right, you believe it is sight reading if I play the first chord, take a minute to decypher the next beat, then play it, another minute or maybe two, play the next chord etc? Of course you can define sight reading this way but I would just call this practice or even out figuring out the notes. And would you pass a "sight reading test" this way?
You wouldn't pass the test but it would count as your sight reading test. No matter how poorly or slowly one does it, by definition it's still sight reading. And you would fail the test without doing as badly as you described. If I'm on a tennis court and hit every ball into the net I'm still playing tennis.
And if someone asked "would you like a game of tennis?", they'd probably expect you to have the skill-set to get the ball over the net!
They'd probably expect it but that doesn't mean you're not playing tennis if you hit all the balls into the net. Expectation about how good someone is not the same as whether one is participating in an activity.

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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Lack of memorisation may not imply a lack of comprehension but it may be a warning sign.
So all the greatest pianists who never memorized music before it became fashionable/required and all the chamber music players and orchestra players who have almost never memorized music may lack comprehension(of what?) or be concerned that their non memorization is a warning sign(not sure what you mean for what)?

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
They'd probably expect it but that doesn't mean you're not playing tennis if you hit all the balls into the net. Expectation about how good someone is not the same as whether one is participating in an activity.

This is in line with the point I made earlier.

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Yet again, a thread about sight-reading got derailed into one of memorization..... crazy

First off (staying with sight-reading), this is incorrect:
Originally Posted by fatar760
Don't get me started on the problems with the exam system (ABRSM). You would still get 7-10 marks (which is nearly 50%) in the situation we've described. These organisations don't like to FAIL candidates.
To pass any test in the ABRSM, you need at least 66.666666666...%. For the whole exam, 100/150 is the minimum pass mark.

Sight-reading is marked out of 21. Pass mark is 14 (i.e. 66.6666666666.......%).

50% marks is a BAD FAIL, viz:
Lacking overall continuity
Incorrect note values
Very approximate notes/pitch/key
Insecure presentation....


....down to (if you get 10 or less - which is nearly 50%):
No continuity or incomplete
Note values unrealised
(Pitch outlines absent)
Very uncertain presentation


And you get ZERO if you don't play at all.

As for routine memorization of pieces for amateur pianists - which is basically almost all of us here - one has to ask: what is the point?? All professional orchestral players and chamber musicians perform from the score, and more and more concert pianists are performing concertos and solo recitals from the score too.

I remember watching a recital by a certain well-known concert pianist (whose career started by winning a big competition with Rach 3 - performing from memory) who played an all-Chopin recital using an iPad, a few years ago. It was so unobtrusive that most in the audience thought he was playing from memory, and I only realized it after a few minutes because his 'pedalling' didn't make sense. (From where I was sitting, I could see his feet clearly.)

Afterwards, I asked him about it, and he told me that he started using it because he wanted to perform the complete Iberia and Goyescas, but the complexity of the scores made playing them from memory very precarious, so when he discovered that other pianists were using iPads controlled with foot pedals, he knew he'd found the solution, and never looked back, even with "safer" rep like Chopin.

For those who don't know those huge works, here's a taster of just one well-known movement:


Almost all concert pianists would admit that they could perform a lot more varied rep if they didn't have to memorize for their solo concerts (just as Sviatoslav Richter did, when he started performing from the score with a page-turner), and it does seem to be getting more acceptable these days.

As for me, I once performed Schumann's C major Fantasy - complete, from the score. There was no way I had the time or energy to devote towards memorizing the half-hour work securely enough to perform without the music: I had, and still have, a full-time job with long hours. (Very long during the worst of the pandemic.....). Though I have been performing from memory in my monthly recitals for many years now, I don't perform gigantic complete works like that Fantasy in them (my recitals last around 25 minutes), and as I've already mentioned before, the only reason I perform from memory is because I have no page turner.

As a classical teacher - like all the ones I know personally or professionally or by name - reading skills (and with it, sight-reading skills) are paramount. Memorization of pieces is of ZERO importance. When students can read music proficiently, the world of classical music is their oyster. If students don't memorize, the world of classical music is still their oyster. But if they have very poor reading skills, everything they learn is either too easy and/or boring for their technical level, or else it takes them so long (because they can't play properly without having memorized it first) that they give up.
What I want from all my students is that they keep enjoying playing the piano indefinitely (even if they switch to other genres later on - which I don't teach), and I make sure that they acquire all the skills to do so. I'm not trying to make solo concert pianists out of any of them.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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