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#515679 - 12/21/07 10:13 AM Embarassed... But working my rear off!
igobarefoot Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/21/07
Posts: 3
Loc: Destin, FL
I am new to the forums. I play piano around town full-time, (jazz gigs) but I am embarassed to say that I never learned how to read music proficiently. I've been playing since I was 9, but not reading. I can learn a peice after hearing it, but it takes me a while to figure it out from a sheet. A LONG while!

However, I have been working on sight reading for about a year now, and even enrolled music classes at the college. I am very very slow still! I practice tapping rhythms, and drill myself on both staves for at least a couple hours a day.

Are there any suggestions anyone has to help me with my sight reading? Or is there a more strategic and better way to practice?

I'm 25 now, and I spend many hours out of each day hammering away at scales on the piano, practicing voicings, etc... but I am lop-sided. I want to be balanced by being able to play something I've never seen before off a sheet.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind." -Ghandi

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#515680 - 12/21/07 10:21 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
BruceD Offline

Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 20193
Loc: Victoria, BC
The only way I know of to improve sight-reading skills is by sight-reading.

Start with very simple pieces; pieces that are very easily within your technical grasp, pieces that you might think are "too easy" for you. You may want to look for a book of "graded" pieces - pieces that gradually increase in difficulty through the book - or simply pick books of pieces that are at a given "grade" level. Many piano method books come in varying grade levels.

Take a few minutes to look through the piece you are going to play, determining the key signature, the time signature, and what the rhythmic patterns are. Play it as slowly as you need to to play it correctly, at a steady tempo, but without stopping to make corrections if you make mistakes.

If you make this part of your daily practice regimen - and you don't need to spend more than 15 or 20 minutes a day at this - you should soon find that your skills are improving and that you will move to more complex pieces quite readily.

- - - - -
Estonia 190

#515681 - 12/22/07 12:27 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Age_of_Anxiety Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/25/07
Posts: 273
Loc: home
Or you could do it 2+ hours a day and improve more quickly. It took me about a year..starting out with maybe 20 minutes a day and now up to about 2 hours a day of sight reading to bring my sight reading level from about beginner to late intermediate (Sonatinas, some baroque, Schubert waltzes, jazz standard books, etc.)

Try to NEVER look at your hands. It'll slow you down at first but pay off in the long run.

#515682 - 12/22/07 01:48 PM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4534
Igobarefoot, your post really puzzles me.
Since you're already a pro, I don't see why
you even want to bother with this--indeed,
most of the classical pianists here would
like to be able to do what you can do. Surely,
this won't be part of the job, that is,
playing from the score cold in a gig.
And if you had to read something, you
can do it at home, although slowly, and
then you'll have it by ear. Just what
are these pieces that you need to read
at sight? I hope you're not thinking of
getting into classical repertoire in a big
way--that would be like regressing, in my

I'm a classical pianist amateur
and a bad sight-reader, which is very
common among classical players.
For what it's worth, here's what I do
to try and sight-read better. When
sight-reading, I ignore all fingering numbers,
pedal marks, phrase marks, dynamic markings
(p, pp, crescendo, etc.), and even grace
notes and trills, except if they are very easy.
This eliminates a significant amount
of score clutter that you have to process
in your brain in addition to the notes
themselves. That leaves just the notes
themselves, which is plenty difficult enough
as it is.

When playing with the score, I try not
to look at my hands and keep my eyes glued
to the score, trying to read every note.
When you play without looking at your
hands, your hands will tend to find the
best fingering and technique on their own
with no special effort on your part.
You often hear that you should look ahead
when sight-reading, and read in groups
of notes and patterns rather than individual
notes, or even read intervals rather
than single notes; however I personally
cannot do any of these things and have
to process notes more or less individually
in my brain as they come up on the score.

I used to practice sight-reading with material
below my level, which is what is recommended
in books. But now for "sight-reading" practice
I generally use material far above my level,
like Rachmaninoff and Saint-Saens concertos,
for example. This is not sight-reading in
the strict sense, because I can only do
about a page a day, and after I read through
them I go back to the start and read them
again, and again, at about a page a day.
However, I feel there is much benefit in
struggling with "heavy" material like this:
this is analogous to heavy weight training
that an athlete does in addition to the
regular workout in his sport. The heavy
work tends to lift your overall performance
simply because of its weight. And with
the piano this has the added benefit
of you being able to actually play these
big concertos if you keep "sight-reading"
them over and over for years.

#515683 - 12/22/07 02:16 PM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Did you learn by the Suzuki method?

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

#515684 - 12/25/07 12:18 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
I heard several times that classical pianist are generally not good sight readers. I thought they were execptionally good sight readers. I read Lizst was amazing, as well as others. I was watching a Glenn Gould documentary and a guy on there said he saw Gould sight read the Greig concerto at tempo, never looking at his hands.

Are these guys just exceptions?


#515685 - 12/25/07 01:01 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2748
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
Igobarefoot: Here's an article by Michael David Shaw who was in a similar position some years ago.

"As an organist, I have been working in club land in the North of England for the past 30 years or so and one of the crucial qualifications in this environment is the ability to sight read music on demand.

When I say music this can be anything from a beer mat to a ripped piece of paper repaired with sellotape and stained with beer.

To be fair most of the music is written by professionals and is nice to read but not always easy.

As a club organist, you do not get a band call. In fact, you are lucky to get five minutes to scan through between 10 and 15 pieces of music. Some written in different keys, and every organist will tell you they hate it when they get the dreaded 6 sharps or 6 flats or even 7 sharp keys in a piece of music that just happens to contain a solo especially written for you.

So how do you improve your sight-reading? Well I asked my music teacher this very question as I embarked on my club land career. His answer was to practice sight-reading. He went on to tell me that session musicians practice by picking up any music book start playing on page one and continue until they have finished the book.

Does it work? Yes it does. Try it for yourself, pick up any piece of music you can find, preferably one that you are not that familiar with, then start to play, but do not stop. If you make a mistake it does not matter, you are not practising how to play this piece of music you are practising sight-reading this piece of music.

If you really want to test yourself. Get yourself an audience. I practice my sight-reading every week in front of a 200 plus audience. Its surprising how your concentration improves."

Mike's web page:
Mike\'s music room
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

#515686 - 12/25/07 01:10 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Secondo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/15/07
Posts: 312
Loc: Seattle, Washington
I used to have a copy of Charles Cooke's "Playing the Piano for Pleasure" which I see is really expensive now. If you can get it from your library system, he has a lot of suggestions and is very inspiring for amateur classical pianists; he talks about sight reading every day as Bruce D suggests. Being able to get through the entire piece at sight, I personally think is important, because you want to get a feeling for each piece as a whole and understand how it fits together. You are very lucky that you will eventually be able to play both by ear and from the music. I guess playing without the music would be as daunting to me as playing with the music is to you! Wonder if it will influence your playing by ear and how. I would think that you would become aware of the structure of what you are doing by ear.
Baldwin SF-10 320152, Marshall & Wendell, Steinway B

#515687 - 12/27/07 05:07 PM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
TromboneAl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 798
Loc: Northern, Northern California
IGoBarefoot, I am in the same situation as you (search for similar post), and I'm determined to get a lot better. I've been doing 2 hours per day of just sight-reading every day since Dec 10.

I've already seen some improvement (I've progressed from terrible to bad), but progress is frustratingly slow. I'll read some easy piano pieces and think "How could anybody sight-read this at tempo?"

What I don't get: I've probably done more sight-reading than most students who have played for several years, but I bet they would be better at it than I.

I've read entirely through Music for Millions Easy Classics to Moderns vol 17 and 27, plus Easy Piano Pieces, each about 160 pages, and about six other beginner books and Easy Christmas songs type books.

Gyro, it's true that I've never needed sight-reading in my jazz playing, except one time when someone suggested I sit in with a big band.

1. I imagine how embarassing it would be if someone said "Hey, you play piano, can you accompany us on these Christmas Carols? Here's the music." and I couldn't play.

2. I feel a little like a fake if I can't read music well.

3. Sometimes I'll have a theory book or a riff book with some examples, and I want to be able to play them.

I've vowed to do two hours per day for a year, and see if that makes a difference.
- Al

My Book: Becoming a Great Sight-Reader -- or Not!
My Blog: The Year of Piano Sight-Reading

#515688 - 12/27/07 05:30 PM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
kissyana Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/12/07
Posts: 203
Loc: Northeast Illinois
I got better at sight reading by doing a LOT of it. I started with super easy stuff- I'm talking beginner method books. I would read through lots of later-elementary and early-intermediate pieces. The hymnal is a fantastic sightreading tool that I used religiously (haha) during college. Another thing that helped me was learning to read in patterns vs. note-by-note and getting good at identifying chords. Gotta love music theory \:\)

#515689 - 12/28/07 09:32 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15150
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I agree with kissyana. You can't start reading stuff at the level you can play, because your reading isn't there yet. Work on beginner method books and work your way up from there. Also, I understand you drill yourself on note names and such. That is good. But you may be neglecting another important aspect of reading music and that is intervallic reading. Most people I know do a combination of reading intervals and actual pitches when reading through a piece. If you are just focusing on reading pitches, you may be making it harder on yourself.

Intervallic reading takes whatever note you are starting from and determining how far away the next note is from that. Let's say you're starting in Treble clef first space F. The next note is say not on the next line, but the line above that. What is the interval? It is a 4th, which is much easier to recognize quickly than trying to identify the pitch. In larger leaps, that is where actual note reading can come in handy. So as you go through these beginner method books, think more in this process: "Is the next note going up, down or repeat?" and then as the pieces get harder, think: "If up or down, how far?(interval)". This will speed up the process for you. Stay at it and you will improve.
private piano/voice teacher FT

#515690 - 12/28/07 11:13 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Age_of_Anxiety Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/25/07
Posts: 273
Loc: home
A lot of good suggestions here. I recommend not bothering to much with intervallic phrase reading unless you're in an easy key. If you're in Ab and the phrase goes, say, Bb up a fourth, down a step (Bb Eb Db) you've got to know to flat those. I guess having a really good Idea of the "geography" of that key will help.

Intervallic reading, I find, is more useful for chord reading. I'm sure very few good sight readers see a chord and go, "oh, that's G B D F#." No, they see the bass note and are familiar enough with the shape of the chord to play it knowing only that.

My teacher always says to read bottom to top.

#515691 - 12/28/07 11:14 AM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Stanza Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1464
Loc: Chapel Hill, NC
Just a suggestion....

Of course you will be needing to sight read in all (or most) keys, but you might want to try sticking to pieces in only one key at a time.

If I were trying to teach you to read text, I wouldn't give you books in English, Spanish, French, Italian etc at the same time (same letters/different language vs same notes different key).

Start with the key of C. Find lots of pieces in C. Suddenly you will start seeing the same notes recurring and the same chords as well. this will help with quicker recognition by limiting the possibilities and help you learn theory better.

You will suddenly realize that you start seeing lots of C, F, and G or G7 chords along with a few Am, Em, and Dm as well. Practice these chords, and their inversions and arpeggios along with the C scale.
In a short while you will be able to pick up a piece written in C, peruse it quickly and be able to read through it pretty well because it will all be pretty familiar.

Then do it again in another key. You also might want to simultaneously do the relative minor key as well.
Estonia L190 #7004
Casio PX 310
Yamaha NP 30

#515692 - 12/28/07 05:02 PM Re: Embarassed... But working my rear off!
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15150
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally posted by Age_of_Anxiety:
A lot of good suggestions here. I recommend not bothering to much with intervallic phrase reading unless you're in an easy key. If you're in Ab and the phrase goes, say, Bb up a fourth, down a step (Bb Eb Db) you've got to know to flat those. I guess having a really good Idea of the "geography" of that key will help.

Intervallic reading, I find, is more useful for chord reading. I'm sure very few good sight readers see a chord and go, "oh, that's G B D F#." No, they see the bass note and are familiar enough with the shape of the chord to play it knowing only that.

My teacher always says to read bottom to top. [/b]
I disagree about having to be in an "easy" key for intervallic reading. Once you know your keys well, you become accustomed to thinking in that key, and so when I think a 5th up from B, I know it's F# just by feel. Of course, this comes from years of scales. Intervallic reading helps for in both chord reading and melodic reading, but it is not used exclusively of note reading. The two work together.
private piano/voice teacher FT


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