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How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393759
02/21/03 06:05 PM
02/21/03 06:05 PM
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looking4grand Offline OP
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I'm fairly new to piano and music in general, and as an adult beginner, I find myself not able to make much progress on sight reading. My teacher compliments my musicality and believes that sight reading ability will naturally improve. I don't doubt my sight reading will get better, but without a deliberate effort to work on sight reading, I do not believe it will improve much over time. What I'm looking for from everyone is what they feel is some of the most important ways to improve one's sight reading abilities. I know there's another thread related to sight reading, but I want to focus on technique in this thread.

I started to focus more on sight reading lately, and one thing that has helped me the most is NOT to look at my hands. If I find that I cannot keep up with the music, then I slow down and sllooowwww doowwwwnnn until I can. I'm starting with extremely easy pieces just to build good habits and I think it's working!

So, what has worked for me are:

1. sight read EASY pieces
2. play slowly and keep steady rhythm
3. Most important of all, DO NOT look at the hands. Keep eyes on music!

Please jump in with your suggestions on how to improve sight reading. Thank you.

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Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393760
02/21/03 07:02 PM
02/21/03 07:02 PM
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Chicago
Rick Offline
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One thing that I suddenly realized had improved with me was the ability to find my place on the page, after looking at my hands. I never made a conscious effort in this area, but I remember always complaining about that during my first year or two of playing. Looking at my hands was dangerous only because of this difficulty. Sometimes, according to my teacher, you must or should look at your hands. But whenever I did that, I had big trouble reorienting myself on the page. I seem to have gotten considerably better at finding "landmarks" that can draw my eyes back to the right measure.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393761
02/22/03 07:36 AM
02/22/03 07:36 AM
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benedict Offline
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Looking4Grand,

I am concentrating for the moment only on sight-reading and trying to find a path that makes it really simple and pleasant.

Here is my advice :

1 Choose a piece that is your level or even above your level so that you will be very proud when you can sight-play it.

2 Start with hands separate till you feel you can sight-play left hand and right hand.
This is for the first piece. Once you feel confident, you will find it easy to play once left hand, once right hand and then once hands together.
There is no process that will work for all levels of skill for sight-reading so I give you the most basic one.

3 Never look at your hands. Better to spend ten minutes looking for the right key. I'm joking. The more you'll practice, the more you'll notice that your hands learn. This is magic. They learn if you let them do the job and do not try to tell them what to do.

4 Never say the name of the notes. Never. If you do that, you close yourself the door to sight-reading.

5 Instead of saying the name of the notes, say the name of the notes-duration. I have explained that in detail in my posts to AntonGranick and Jason. This gives you two things :
- it prevents you from saying the name of the notes
- it forces your eyes to look at every note.

This is the most important thing because once you have played several time a piece, your memory will tend to make your eyes leave the score. This is the most difficult in reading : just keeping your eyes on the notes (like when you read a book) and let your fingers do it.

Of course, to get the process to become automatic, you've got to work progressively.
That is why I advise you to start hands separately.

But what I found the most important is MOTIVATION.
If you work on a piece of music you love and really would feel proud of playing, then, there is no technique : it is only music.

I am so fascinated by this process of sight reading (and memorizing too, but that will come later) that I am considering building a web site on the subject.

Because in fact, we all want the same thing : open a music book at our level and just get on with it.

You see, except for complex works like three or more parts fugues, each hand usually IS music.
The write hand plays the melody, sometimes with an alto contrapunctal voice and the left hand plays either a bass line (baroque) or an alberti bass bass (Mozart) or complete chords.
So, you should feel proud to play a bass line or a melody by Bach, Mozart or Beethoven.

It is already great music.

And your brain, eyes, hands get a warm feedback that tells them : I love what I am doing. I CAN DO IT !

The process I indicate here works for me.

If you try it a few days and it does not work, you'll get your money back.

If it does, it would be nice to share your pleasure with us.
smile


Benedict
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393762
02/22/03 11:38 AM
02/22/03 11:38 AM
Joined: Aug 2002
Posts: 295
England
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John51 Offline
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England
I've tried the trick of reading with the digital turned off. It can help, 'cos normally I play A slow B slow etc. but the tune can get a grip and make me try CDE too fast.
Sort of fun getting the right hand somewhere near speed while still wondering what the tune is. smile
I give the hands a darting glance and then back to the dots, is this wrong?


Whaddya mean I shouldn't be swinging it? Beethoven wrote some great rags.
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393763
05/10/04 07:30 PM
05/10/04 07:30 PM
Joined: Apr 2004
Posts: 2,948
New York
Jeffrey Offline
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How soon did others adult beginners start sight reading? How is learning sight reading different from just "picking" out the notes as a beginner when learning a new piece? Sorry if these are really basic questions - I've been playing for about 12 weeks, mostly on a digital keyboard, and with lessons every 2-3 weeks or so. Just got a real piano and will start regular weekly lessons.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393764
05/10/04 09:55 PM
05/10/04 09:55 PM
Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 461
Australia
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starmender Offline
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Work daily on: "Improve your sight reading" by Paul Harris, Grades 1 through to 8, published by Faber, I think.

Get your teacher to supervise you, and do a test piece from the back of the book for your teacher at every stage.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393765
05/10/04 09:58 PM
05/10/04 09:58 PM
Joined: Nov 2002
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Iowa City, IA
Kreisler Offline
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The main difference between sightreading and "picking" out notes is that in sightreading, you have to follow the rhythm in tempo.

Because of this, the best advice I can give is to practice your reading in a way where you are accompanying or being accompanied. This means playing for singers, a choir, or an instrumentalist; playing duets with another pianist, playing a solo with a CD or MIDI accompaniment, etc...

I also believe it's important to learn a large quantity of repertoire. The first Mozart piece you learn will take a while. The next Mozart piece won't take as long, and the next gets easier, and so on. This is because the more Mozart you play, the more accustomed you become to his style. Your mind and fingers begin to be able to predict what the next note will be, rather than having to always decode the score note-by-note from scratch.

Same goes for different styles/composers. If you want to get better at reading hymns, learn a lot of hymns. If you want to get better at reading Bach, learn a lot of Bach.

I remember talking to an excellent pianist who had spent many years working as an opera coach/accompanist in some of the major European opera houses. Needless to say, he can sightread almost anything. I asked him about reading opera scores, and he said:

Quote
I was actually pretty nervous about it the first time I did it. I spent many, many hours practicing; at least as much as I would a Beethoven sonata or a Liszt etude. I practiced the second opera a great deal also. The same with the third, fourth, and so on. But after about the first 50 (!), you sort of get the hang of it and don't have to practice them anymore.
Music is a craft and a sport. The "how" is only the first step. Real musical ability comes from letting the activity of making music be a part of your daily life and thoughts.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393766
05/10/04 11:30 PM
05/10/04 11:30 PM
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US
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TheloniousPunk Offline
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I think I would be a better sight-reader if:

a) I didn't memorize as well as I do. I break pieces up into sections and practice them separately, and they're so short, it's impossible not to memorize them. Once you memorize a passage, you stop reading it.

b) I weren't such a lazy sack of crap. I have no problem making myself practice two hours a day, but setting fifteen minutes aside for sight-reading? No way.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393767
05/11/04 03:32 AM
05/11/04 03:32 AM
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benedict Offline
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Thelonious,

Quote
I think I would be a better sight-reader if:

a) I didn't memorize as well as I do. I break pieces up into sections and practice them separately, and they're so short, it's impossible not to memorize them. Once you memorize a passage, you stop reading it.
I think your sight-reading would improve a lot if your regularly played your memorized pieces without looking at the keyboard (with your eyes closed). The most important element in sight-reading is the deep knowledge of the keyboard.

You could test this by playing your memorized pieces once every day with your eyes closed.

After one week, you could take a piece of the same difficulty (same key, same time signature, same number of voices, same shortest values =quarter or eighth or sixteenth notes) and see if your sightreading does not become much more natural without any direct practice.

You could call this approach, the oblique approach. It would avoid the usual tension on practicing sightreading like it is a very unpleasant medicine laugh


Benedict
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393768
05/11/04 09:46 AM
05/11/04 09:46 AM
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Chapel Hill, NC
Stanza Offline
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Two things of help:

1)Take a little while to read the sheetmusic before diving in. I know I have the tendency to look only at the key signature and tempo, then dive right in. It is better to look it over for harmonic structure, changes in dynamics, repeats, the ending etc.

2) Don't worry about playing exactly what's written as long a you try to keep moving on and maintain the melody line.


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Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393769
05/11/04 10:58 AM
05/11/04 10:58 AM
Joined: Aug 2001
Posts: 6,467
Phoenix, AZ
Nina Offline
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OK, I am now curious. This question is from someone who sightreads fairly well, and I can't remember learning it (just getting old, I guess!).

What is the distinction between "practicing" and "practicing sight-reading"? Until a piece is memorized, aren't you sight-reading it? So until you have a piece memorized, doesn't your practice of that piece also mean you are practicing your sight-reading?

(Note: I'm not using practice to mean scales, chord progressions, etc., but rather playing bars of music or major sections).

I am confused!

Nina

PS: A huge help for me when learning chords was to play the scale, then end it with a variety of chords... thirds, fifths, sevenths, augmentations, etc. Your eye learns the shape of the chord on the page, and your hands learn the notes in each key... or so it seemed. I had a book with the scales, arpeggios and about 6-8 chords at the end of each page.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393770
05/11/04 02:51 PM
05/11/04 02:51 PM
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Iowa City, IA
Kreisler Offline
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Read my reply above. smile

A lot of practicing is done out of rhythm, and that's where the difference lies.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393771
05/11/04 03:06 PM
05/11/04 03:06 PM
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Phoenix, AZ
Nina Offline
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Kreisler:

Maybe it's a question of what "sight-reading" means. I think you have interpreted it as something like "trying to play as accurately as possible (tempo, dynamics, etc.) without having seen the piece before."

"Practice" means learning a piece by playing it over and over, working slowly on tricky passages, hands apart, whatever.

I guess I take sight-reading to mean pretty much any time you are trying to play a large section of the piece (e.g., more than a tricky few bars) as accurately as possible, to tempo, etc. For example, I am currently playing a Chopin Nocturne. It's pretty close to performance-level, but I haven't yet focussed on memorizing. Instead I am still relying on the printed music. That, to me, is still sight-reading, but I don't think it is what you mean. Would that be what "practicing sight-reading" means?

Nina

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393772
05/11/04 03:32 PM
05/11/04 03:32 PM
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Chicago
Rick Offline
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Nina,

I think there is a term called "sight playing" that more accurately describes what you are talking about. It's not exactly "sight reading", but doing it certainly helps your sight-reading ability. I would say 95% of my "practice" time is "sight playing". That is, I'm working on a piece for the 200th or 300th time. I haven't memorized it yet, so I'm still using the sheet music. Therefore, some of those necessary sightreading skills are still being exercised (like increased familiarization with the keyboard layout, and re-establishing your place on the written page after looking at your hands).

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393773
05/11/04 04:14 PM
05/11/04 04:14 PM
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benedict Offline
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Nina,

Quote
For example, I am currently playing a Chopin Nocturne. It's pretty close to performance-level, but I haven't yet focussed on memorizing. Instead I am still relying on the printed music. That, to me, is still sight-reading, but I don't think it is what you mean. Would that be what "practicing sight-reading" means?
This is to avoid this confusion that I use the term "sightplaying".
In French we use "dechiffrer" for sightreading and "jouer a vue" for sightplaying.

It means play a piece that you have already sightread (meaning first sight reading) and therefore partly memorized.

Some people memorize by sightplaying a lot. It seems to be your case.
Other people memorize one or two bars or a phrase and then they play it without reading the score.
It can be done with looking at the keyboard and/or with your eyes closed.

What I am discovering is that memory-playing and sightplaying and sightreading are not disconnected.
If you can play without looking at the keyboard, your ability to sightread will automatically increase because your brain will not have a thousands questions to answer.*
Like : what is the name of this note, and where do I find it and how long do I have to play it ?
Omygod, I'll never make it. Tomorrow, I'll start the trumpet (or the recorder or...golf) laugh


Benedict
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393774
05/11/04 05:50 PM
05/11/04 05:50 PM
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Phoenix, AZ
Nina Offline
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Got it-- sight playing vs sight reading. I do think that's the difference.

benedict, not to issue idle threats, but if you ever DO take up golf, we might not be able to be friends any more...

(I had a high school date with a guy I was MADLY in love with, and he stood me up because he got free tee time at a big resort. Then I dated a guy in college for a few times before I realized that I was somewhere way down on his list of priorities, with golf being the clear #1... I've hated golf ever since. ) smile

Nina

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393775
05/11/04 07:07 PM
05/11/04 07:07 PM
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pianodevo Offline
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One small thing that has been helping my sight-reading and sight-playing:

When looking down at the keys seems necessary, trying to form the habit of ONLY moving my eyes, and not moving my head at all. This seems to make it much easier to regain one's place in the score.

I can do the equivalent of really excellent sight-reading in another activity. Analyzing how this is possible has led me to this conclusion: my capability is the result of a lot of experience in this other domain. Consequently, a great deal of "chunking" of disparate bits of information occurs immediately, and below the level of conscious awareness.

The pianistic equivalent would be, I suppose, instantly recognizing a chord as a whole instead of seeing three or four separate notes. Going further, the expert reader probably looks ahead and identifies standard harmonic progressions which her hand has played tens of thousands of times, etc.

Another factor: the expert's knowledge and experience means she only considers very few possibilites in nearly all situations. In piano, this might mean that having seen one chord or note, in many instances the expert reader knows that there are a very small number of possible chords or notes that could follow.

Watching a *really* good sight-reader play the piano still seems like black magic! laugh


pianodevo
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393776
05/11/04 09:35 PM
05/11/04 09:35 PM
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valarking Offline
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It's been mentioned before, but a good book for sightreading is Bartok's Mikrokosmos. I borrowed it from my high school piano class and it really good.

Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393777
05/12/04 01:28 AM
05/12/04 01:28 AM
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benedict Offline
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pianodevo,

Quote
The pianistic equivalent would be, I suppose, instantly recognizing a chord as a whole instead of seeing three or four separate notes. Going further, the expert reader probably looks ahead and identifies standard harmonic progressions which her hand has played tens of thousands of times, etc.
This is probably the most intelligent thing I have read on sightreading in all my years of looking for the secret of that magic.

The natural conclusion could be : if you want to master sightreading (and of course sightplaying), then the most natural way ist to get really used in your brain, in your hands and in your hears of the standard progressions in all the keys that you want to read in.

This is why I find that learning to play standard accompagnments from favourite songs and standards builds the natural familiarity with the building blocks of music : chord progressions.

And as we all know,
if you build it, they will come.

smile


Benedict
Re: How to Improve Sight Reading -- the Right Path ... #393778
05/12/04 01:36 AM
05/12/04 01:36 AM
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benedict Offline
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Nina,

What a sad story !

Obviously golf is a form of obscure cult of celtic origin that requires its followers to give up all other interests.

I will follow your friendly advice and stay with the zen of piano.

Everybody here knows that with piano, there is absolutely no risk of being obsessed with reaching a goal that every time you feel you have finally succeeded laughs at you from a more distant and unaccessible place.

Pianists are not dreamers.

No sir. laugh


Benedict
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