Piano World Home Page

Sightreading question...

Posted By: GracieCat

Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 01:01 PM

I'm not good at sight reading. I have an easy book here that I'm going to start playing 1-2 songs every day. I figured I would just play each song twice and go to the next one.

So I tried it yesterday.

I play slowly (hands together) and it just ends up sounding like random notes because I can't stay on tempo. Most of the songs aren't familiar either so that doesn't help.

My question is, is this going to help me sightread? Should I find an easier book to work through for this purpose? Should I expect myself to be able to keep a slow tempo or is this something that will come with practice?

I think the songs are a little easier than the level I'm at, but maybe they aren't easy enough.

Looking for some guidance. My teacher's idea of sight reading is giving me a new song to practice. I told her I had a book and wanted to use it to practice sight reading, but she didn't really say anything...
Posted By: GlassLove

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 01:14 PM

Hi GracieCat,

I use my sons' old piano books for sight reading practice. Both of my boys have played and they each used different books. I can sight read up to tempo for the books labeled "primer." My regular playing level is probably most accurately called "early intermediate" (probably 4 book sets above what I am sight reading). Perhaps the pieces you are trying to read are too hard.

If your children are playing piano too, you could give their books a try. There are also bucket loads of VERY EASY free music online that you could print out.
Posted By: Andy Platt

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 01:18 PM

Go "backwards" until it is easy enough. The aim is to "read" not "decode" and be able to stay ahead of the music.

Easier said than done of course ...
Posted By: GracieCat

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 02:17 PM

Ok, that answers my question. The music I'm trying to sight read is too hard. I'll look for something much easier.

My son is going through the same Alfred book #1 that I've already gone through. I did play through most of the book last night, but I think a lot of it was still too familiar and just came back under my fingers.

Good time to sort my books and sheet music!
Posted By: Euphonatrix

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 02:25 PM

Hi Gracie Cat,
the graded sightreading courses and books available start with REALLY easy stuff - e. g. hands playing quarter notes alternatingly but not at same time so you can focus on counting and melody/interval recognition.
Fancy stuff such as chords, hands together, two voices in one hand is introduced much later in the progress.

I don't know if "reading" harmonies and including this deep understanding of musical structures in your interpretation can be taught or if it just happens, though. I hope one day I'll get there *sigh*

I think your approach "just doing it" is good - but I second what others have written: make it so easy you CAN do it and go up from there.
Posted By: knotty

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 02:37 PM

I have used the Four Star series and the 'Improve your sightreading' series and I like them both. They have slightly different approches but both are based on playing short pieces daily.
Book 1 is either series starts simple.
Posted By: Eglantine

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 03:25 PM

I'm using Piano Sight Reading 2 by John Kember (Schott). There's a first volume as well.

The nice thing about these series is that
- you get 150 pieces in a book
- the pieces are ordered: first, simple hands together in C/no position moves; then some semi-quavers in 2/4; then position change in one hand; then certain chords; then some new key sigs... So the number of competing new challenges is limited. With random pieces, the differing new challenges are going to be fairly random.
Posted By: rada

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 03:38 PM

I used to have a pile of books to my left and one by one I went through them. If some pieces were too difficult I would just try a section, or a hand. I love to sight-read. It is a valuable resource to discover which piece you'd like to learn next. Of course if you prefer audio there is always youtube.

I think the answer is read, read, read!

Posted By: krzyzowski

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 03:44 PM

Oddly, sometimes when there aren't enough notes the staff, it slows you down..Get the "Big Book of Children's Songs" for piano and sight play them until you can play like Neil Sedaka. She'll be comin' round the mountain..
Posted By: dire tonic

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/21/11 05:10 PM

I'd absolutely echo the "just doing it" principle and not to worry at all what sort of hash your making of it - it's all beneficial - it doesn't matter how many wrong notes your playing providing at any point in time you're engaging your brain in making the effort to play the right notes. If you play something that makes no musical sense, examine the bar again and see if you've missed a pre-defined accidental, then attempt to play the bar again. I would definitely avoid reading anything that you find easy, I believe the essence of the exercise is to tackle the 'unfamiliar'.

I know if I do 30 minutes or so of difficult sight reading that it can feel mentally exhausting but I'm convinced that is a good sign. Do it again as often as you can until you feel mentally stretched then give it a rest.

Also, if you're taking on a difficult piece, don't feel you need to get to grips with both the notes and rhythm at the same time. There's nothing wrong with treating those two tasks as completely independent. With that in mind, why not just sit down in a comfortable chair (not too comfortable!) and go through a piece tapping out the rhythm of each stave separately. Ultimately, of course, you'll want to be able to do both simultaneously but that should be for later, or for pieces of music which are easily within your scope.

- only my 2 cents worth, but I'm a keen advocate of sight-reading and that is my approach.
Posted By: GracieCat

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/22/11 02:51 PM

Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I dug through my books and found several beginning level books that I had bought when I first started. We have an awesome used book store here that always has some cheap piano books to buy...

I'll work through those, but I don't imagine it'll take too long. I order 2 more books that were suggested above from Amazon so I'll start those when I'm finished with the old books I have.

It's much better reading the easier pieces. I have to read every note and it's not so hard so I'm able to look ahead some. Now I'm at a good place to start sight reading and I'll build up from there. The other book I was trying was too hard to sighread.

Posted By: FarmGirl

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/22/11 03:38 PM

Reading everyone's comments, I was wondering why it could be so difficult. I read new music all the time in my spare time. I finally realized it's because most of people are trying to do it right with the required speed, all the notes and without mistakes. I realized that I must be reading music in the most sloppy way. i set my own tempo, I don't care if I make mistakes and I won't play any ornaments first time around.

I have studied how properly sight reading should be done. But I don't think I abide by it too much. The only thing I still apply is to check key & time signatures, minor/major, obvious patterns, big jump/leaps etc. Then i just start. One more thing - I am not sure it's useful or not, but I developed a crazy trick. I usually glance at 4 majors across first and then read from the base. For some strange reasons, if i try to read it from the top, it does not work, it's too slow.

I would love to be a proficient sight reader someday who can pick up any strange piece and accompany someone.. But then, I have never done it under pressure like in the church service or wedding etc. For now, I just enjoy reading Kings Speech and Harry Potter music in my own way smile into the wee hours of night when my husband is away.

Posted By: Brian Lucas

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/22/11 07:07 PM

Remember that sight reading is all about recognition. Can you recognize the notes fast enough to play them on the piano. The more notes you have to play (recognize), the harder it is. So the way you've described practicing above is actually counterproductive. If you make more than a few mistakes and stay at that tempo, the mistakes become muscle memory and will continue to happen. I tell my students all the time, if you make the same mistake twice, you're playing too fast.

Try this, I did this with a student. The goal was 100 bpm. He tried to play it there and was making a ton of mistakes. So I made him a deal. We'll start at 70. If he can play it 3 times with no mistakes, we'll bump it up by 5. By the end of the lesson (30 min), he was up to 90. I then had him play at 100 to notice how many fewer mistakes he was making. By the next lesson, 100 was error free.

Slow it down so you can work on the brain to finger connection. It will get faster, but you can't force it.
Posted By: Meredith A

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/23/11 05:01 AM

I second what Dire Tonic said!

Every time you read through music, whether it's just one hand, just the notes, or just the rhythm, you are increasing your sight reading ability. I can read music very well now, but I never had any special sight reading lessons or practice. I did spend a lot of time just reading through easy music, however. And my first lessons in second grade involved note flash cards with a short flash card test by my teacher at every lesson. Those flash cards helped me learn to recognize the notes in a short time span.
Posted By: Jaak

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/24/11 12:29 AM


There are some certain steps in the process on sightreading.

For me when I take a piano score that is not too difficult, the sightreading is almost like doing nothing. I sit and hands play. Really. The chain from note sheet to the piano works through my body. All steps I have to go throgh to sightread are working and there is no gap between them.
So which main steps does the process have? (I do not mention all of them. Would be too complicated)

1)You have to imagine the rhythm in your head that is written in the score.
2) You have to recognize the notes in the score that you have to play.
3) After recognizing the notes and rhythm you have to find the place where the right keys are situated on the keyboard.
4) You have to depress the keys in right place with right fingers.

So probably there are more things like pedal and so on. It may seem that there are so many things. But now you can start working with each step and start strengthening the steps that are your weakest. And if you are patient your effort will bring you success.

Now you can concentrate on each single step and this makes it much easier to do them all toghether later. Some examples how practise:

1) Developing rhythm - Watch the score and and imagine the rhythm figures in your head. Only rhythm. If this seems hard use rhythm syllables. I find them very effective. Would be too long to explain why. So keep practising rhythm until you feel that it comes easily and you do not have to think too actively. Then you habits start to work for you and the process is more effortless.

2) For recognizing notes - Watch the score and recognize only notes without playing the piano. Try to find as many links between notes and the staff as possible. Example - b is on the middle line and c4 has a hat on and so on. Do it until you know all the positions of all notes without thinking too much. The more links every note has with the staff the better your skill is.

3) For orientation on the keyboard - Go to the piano and think randomly a key. Move you hand as quickly to the key as possible at the same time be sure that you move to the right place. Later take two keys at the same time and so on. It will strengthen your coordination and sense of the keyboard.

4) For fingering - Take the score and find out fingering positions. Try to just look at the score and quickly see where are the logical positions.

Do all these exercises with the piece before you are going to sightread. If you do it to the level where you have mastered every exercises with the new piece, the sightreading is a lot easier. If you keep practising this way you will not recognize yourself as the same sightreader in 2 months.

Hope it gave some insight.

Best wishes,
Posted By: Brian Lucas

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/25/11 05:16 PM

I think I mentioned this in another thread, but there's an app called "KeyWiz" for the iPhone/iPad that is like the flash cards that Meredith is talking about. I use flash cards with my students and I agree with Meredith, I think it really helps speed up your overall reading skills. On the teacher side, it really helps us know which notes are giving students the biggest problem. When I found this app, I was thrilled that they could practice this way when they were away from their lesson (and away from the piano too).

By the way, I have no financial interest in the app. I just like it because it helps with note recognition. You also have to play the note on the piano graphic as well, so you know which C you are reading, for example.
Posted By: GracieCat

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/25/11 06:51 PM

I want to thank everyone for their replies! They're helpful to me and will be to anyone else that comes across this thread.

Jaack, I always seems to hesitate when I run across an A & G on the top line/space of the treble staff. I now have both notes associated with something in my brain so now I won't forget. Those 2 notes really stuck out when I started sightreading.
Posted By: PianoStudent88

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/26/11 01:06 AM

GracieCat, do you mean A/G on the top line/space of the __bass__ staff? Or A/G on the first leger line/space __above__ the treble staff?
Posted By: GracieCat

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/26/11 11:32 AM

Top line/space of the Bass staff...I wasn't thinking. LOL
Posted By: joyoussong

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/26/11 03:10 PM

I used Hannah Smith's "Progressive Sight Reading Exercises For Piano" for a while, till I got to where the exercises were beyond my playing ability at the time. It's 96 pages of graded exercises that start out really easy. At the beginning, each "piece" is just one line, so you can go through several pages of single-line riffs every day. I had it from the library, because the objective is to play each line not more than twice, though it doesn't cost much to buy. I got about half way through it before it got to the too-difficult stuff, but I'm thinking I should borrow it again for a while because in the past year, my playing has improved to where my sight-reading ability, or lack of it, is really becoming an obstacle.

Posted By: Andy Platt

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/26/11 04:26 PM

Originally Posted by joyoussong
I used Hannah Smith's "Progressive Sight Reading Exercises For Piano" for a while, till I got to where the exercises were beyond my playing ability at the time. It's 96 pages of graded exercises that start out really easy. At the beginning, each "piece" is just one line, so you can go through several pages of single-line riffs every day. I had it from the library, because the objective is to play each line not more than twice, though it doesn't cost much to buy. I got about half way through it before it got to the too-difficult stuff, but I'm thinking I should borrow it again for a while because in the past year, my playing has improved to where my sight-reading ability, or lack of it, is really becoming an obstacle.

I'm going to go back to this book too. Although I kind of have the opposite problem (most of it is easily within my sight reading ability), it is great for really getting you to read ahead of the current position.

I just wish there was a volume two that would have hand changes in because that's where most of my problems lie and the standard sight reading books move too quickly (in my opinion) in getting you from fixed hand position to moving your hands (e.g. the difficulty of the pieces has too sharp a curve for my liking).
Posted By: JimF

Re: Sightreading question... - 09/26/11 07:47 PM

I just wish there was a volume two...

Me too, Andy. Did you know Hannah Smith wrote this somewhere around 1910-ish? If you do some searching there is actually reference in several spots to "ten volumes" of her sightreading material. Unfortunately, as best I can determine the one we all have is the only one in print. (it is also possible that the in-print version IS all ten volumes). Access to a really good music library or Library of Congress might turn up something.
© 2018 Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums