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I can sight read really simple grade 1 pieces.

I can play some quite complex pieces from memory (Chopin preludes, Satie, Einaudi)

My teacher has given me some grade 2/3 pieces that I can play accurately after I memorise them, or can play accurately, LH or RH alone, or at a very slow speed (often losing the timing at complex places).

If I want to improve my sight reading, should I stick to simpler pieces I can handle from the score, and gradually increase the speed/complexity.
Or should I tackle these slightly harder pieces by memorising them until I can play them accurately.

I feel like memorising is a crutch that I'm relying on too much.
I feel like both ways help me make progress, and my teacher suggests I keep trying until my LH becomes second nature.

I'd appreciate the views of someone who can sightread really well.

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Hey Medden,

We are pretty much exactly in the same place (Chopin Preludes and Satie here too. No Einaudi though, not a fan) I too feel like it is a crutch and I decided to have a go at fixing it. I bought a set of books called The Sight Reading Source by Alan Bullard. They were pretty cheap on Amazon, about 7 quid each i think. I have been doing 15 mins worth of these exercises each day before my main practice and just doing that seems to have helped. I start with my new teacher next week so i will see what they say but I feel like I am making progress on a few quid spent and a small investment of time so it may be worth a shot for you.


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Thanks Sketches.
How complex are the exercises? Are the progressive?

Daily practice seems important. Going to try and be regimented about it.

Out of interest which preludes and Satie you doing?
I'm Op28 20, 15 and 4 and looking at Nocturne Op9-2 and Gymnopedie 3.

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They start at the very beginning which I coasted through pretty quickly and I bought up to Grade 3. So you can progress from very basic up to your target (which I am assuming from your post)

Preludes Op 28 2 and 6 and now looking at Nocturne Op55-1
Satie - Gnossiennes 1, 2 and 3. Gymnopedie 1 and 3.

Moving into some Bach now alongside the Nocturne and some simple Beethoven Bagatelles.

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My realitive who is teaching me started me at the beginning. I already finished Alfred's and could play some grade one basics. But starting with the Leila fletcher books I used it purely as sight reading. When the hands played separately I had to say out the notes I was playing but once hands played together I had to count . By doing this I have improved a lot in a short amount of time. But oknly go through the piece once because you don't want to memorize it. Or play it once a day and don't come back to it for a long time.


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Originally Posted by Medden
My teacher has given me some grade 2/3 pieces that I can play accurately after I memorise them

You are just at the beginning, don't consider a problem something that, at your level, isn't.


I can sight read pieces at ABSRM level 6 pretty well and level 7 "ok" at 3/4 performance speed.
The best thing I ever did to become fine at sight reading, was to ignore sight reading "as discipline" and just read through a lot of repertoire FOR FUN.

Get the RCM syllabus (that has many more pieces than ABSRM) and start reading through ALL pieces as accurately as you can.
Take a breath, read the key signature, understand if it is major or minor, mentally think about the scales and which black keys are there. play the relative scale few times to familiarize your hand with it.
at your level I'm not asking you to see the modulation sequence but would be a good idea to start thinking if you have a dominant key or subdominant modulation and play the relative scales few times.

There is much that can be added to this and I think might be WAY beyond your current level.
Just read through as much music as you can and try to have fun.

Bartok microkosmos 1... read it all through, kabalewski, kachaturian both have childrens collection that are good for sight reading. Sight read hanon up to exercise #30.

Again, try to be curious, don't do it because "you have to" but because you want to hear the music... you are eager to hear the music.


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I've done a pretty good job of learning to sight-read this year (even if I do say so myself). Basically like people have said do a lot of it. But I think it also helps to target certain fundamental skills or at the very least be aware what skill you are working on when you sight-read. I am lucky because I had two studio musicians from my band coaching me as I progressed. They have given me more information than I could possibly type out, but here are the basic stages they coached me through, FWIW hope you can find some nuggets to use.

Stage 0
Learn to read rhythm ... Learn it well. I'd bang out rhythms on my bongos or pluck rhythm straight out of repertoire and then apply them to scales and arpeggios. I also would play two handed rhythms with one hand holding the tempo and the other the rhythm I was reading. Then switch hands. I also collected several classic rhythm exercises for scales and arpeggios.

Stage 1
Learn to read from different 5 finger positions
Learn to stretch from 5 finger positions
Learn to read intervals between staffs to play HT easily
... A lot of this was first reading through lots of music to find stuff that I wanted to work on, that was also very instructive

Stage 2
Learn to quickly read shifting hand positions

Stage 3
Incorporate fingerings from scales and arpeggios into shifting hand positions.

Stage 4
Learn to identify the chords/scales/cadences as I read them. This is the stage I'm working on now, and it's actually where I feel like I'm "reading" and not just typing the notes, if you get my meaning.

So there's a lot of other stuff that I did and a lot of practice tools that I've bought and used, but that's how they got me reading at what I feel is a pretty decent level. I found my teacher most of the way through this process and he was very pleased with my sight-reading.

hope that helps


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Originally Posted by Medden


My teacher has given me some grade 2/3 pieces that I can play accurately after I memorise them, or can play accurately, LH or RH alone, or at a very slow speed (often losing the timing at complex places).



My mistake was to think I did not need to spend much time sight reading at the preliminary and grade 1 levels and I went straight to grade 2 & 3 pieces. This short cutting did not work and I eventually went back to the beginning and made a much better start. We have often seen first year beginners play a grade 5 or higher piece so we know there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to repertoire. I believe though sight reading is much more unforgiving and can only be done by adding small skill one on top of another.

Good rhythm and counting ability is crucial to improving your sight reading. You have to be able to look at a sight reading exercise and be confident nothing in the rhythm is unfamiliar or might make you hesitate. Clapping the rhythm before playing is a good exercise in itself. I have inserted a bit of rhythm practice into my daily regime in preparation for being able to read higher grades in the next few years.

Originally Posted by Ataru074
You are just at the beginning, don't consider a problem something that, at your level, isn't.


I think this is spot on, I personally thought there was something wrong with me at the end of my first year when all my sight reading effort was not paying off. I now believe at that time my brain, fingers, eyes etc were all just too inexperienced at working in this method. Now just shy of three years since starting from scratch, it is coming more naturally. No surprise that I am sight reading more confidently as my technical ability has improved.

Couple of books I really thought were worthwhile:

The Rhythm Bible by Dan Fox
Improving Your Sight Reading by Paul Harris (graded)


Surprisingly easy, barely an inconvenience.

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Originally Posted by earlofmar

Originally Posted by Ataru074
You are just at the beginning, don't consider a problem something that, at your level, isn't.


I think this is spot on, I personally thought there was something wrong with me at the end of my first year when all my sight reading effort was not paying off. I now believe at that time my brain, fingers, eyes etc were all just too inexperienced at working in this method. Now just shy of three years since starting from scratch, it is coming more naturally. No surprise that I am sight reading more confidently as my technical ability has improved.

When you get more advanced, there are techniques that you can apply and some kind of exercises that you can do once in a while...
but I did notice two things. In english speaking countries, there is a lot of concern about sight reading, while in other countries it's very minimal.
What I did learn is that maybe there is a proper way to develop sight reading quicker that how i did acquired it, but, at the same time, I feel much more thrilled about the idea that I don't have to practice it, but actually it comes naturally as you read and read more music.
An example. The more you learn Mozart sonatas (let's just say about 3 of them)... then you are almost able to play all of them relatively quickly because you worked hard to solve the difficulties in Mozart and you are becoming proficient with his style.
The same happens with Chopin, at a certain point, your hand understand what needs to be done before your eyes actually do.... To me the tough cookie is Beethoven... he's writing is not very comfortable for a pianist, therefore you need to pay extra attention.
Reading a lot of Bach helps immensely with everything. :-D

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Medden, I was going to say the same things sort of mentioned above , that you really should not be concerned w sight reading per se at this point in your piano journeys. It will improve on its own as you continue in your studies.
I would say after being in classical studies after several years and still not able to sight read to a satisfying degree, then you should look into some techniques or learning methods for sight reading (for the benefit of having sight reading being an integral part of making your practice more efficient, and again, not per se).

I can recommend if you do (as a beginner ) play through a lot of material such as in your 40 pieces per year, then I would suggest looking into some Joplin. Joplin is not level 2 or 3 but slowly immersing your eyes over his 'vertically-inclined' scores will help out tremendously I believ.


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Sight reading is my problem too. I am using Improve Sight Reading by Paul Harris and ABRSM join the dot. I keep practice every day and read two or three pieces a day. I do feel like I am improving since summer. But my speed is still very slow though when reading the first time.


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Originally Posted by Medden


If I want to improve my sight reading, should I stick to simpler pieces I can handle from the score, and gradually increase the speed/complexity.
Or should I tackle these slightly harder pieces by memorising them until I can play them accurately.


As written, your post suggests you may be mixing apples and oranges, and wondering why the result doesn't taste like pudding. Improving "sight reading" and mastering "harder pieces" are two different tasks. Your use of the conjunction "Or" suggests that you see them as mutually exclusive, which they are not. You can pursue both.

For sight reading, I suggest having sufficient musical scores at your easy access that you can play at length without repeating any of them, and, more importantly, without memorizing them. To keep from beating yourself down and getting counter-productively frustrated, make sure the pieces are at a level of complexity that presses you to perform near the top of your abilities, but, not so much that you do not successfully play them. Successful practice at or near your limits, with occasional forays just beyond that point, is a great way to progress.

As for mastering the difficult pieces, I think memorization is almost a given. Difficulty is part of the nature of a difficult piece. If you play it perfectly the first time, it would be hard to call it difficult. To me, memorization seems to be an indispensable tool in the quest to master a piece.

In no way should you consider these two goals to be exclusive of each other. Pursue both. And pursue each in the manner that each requires.

Originally Posted by Medden
I feel like memorising is a crutch that I'm relying on too much.


I think memorization is vital to mastering a difficult piece. In sight reading, though, it is antithetical to the process. Don't memorize your sight reading materials.


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Originally Posted by raubucho

As for mastering the difficult pieces, I think memorization is almost a given. Difficulty is part of the nature of a difficult piece. If you play it perfectly the first time, it would be hard to call it difficult. To me, memorization seems to be an indispensable tool in the quest to master a piece.


I think memorization is vital to mastering a difficult piece.

I don't agree that you need to memorize a piece to master it. Memorization and mastery are two different things entirely. And many people can play pieces entirely from memory but display lots of technical inadequacies in them.

There are well-known concert pianists who play some difficult pieces perfectly, but never from memory. When I was a student, I never memorized anything until my performance diploma pieces (which required playing from memory - but which ABRSM Grade exams didn't, and still don't), and I can safely say that I'd mastered lots and lots of pieces long before those.

Working on memorizing a piece and working on mastering it requires different techniques. Personally, I believe that it's much more important to be able to play a piece well (musically & technically) than to be able to play it from memory.


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Hey, bennevis.

Your post intrigues me. Bear in mind that I am a relative beginner, who has progressed well in sight reading per the manner set out in my post above. However, the only pieces I have mastered so far have been relatively simple, beginner or training pieces. Mastering and performing them has always involved me playing mostly, if not entirely, from memory. To be sure, I usually keep the written score in front of me, but only for emergency purposes, or, occasionally quick access to a few benchmarks or reference points that help me stay oriented to where I am at, or should be at, during performance.

I am surprised to hear your idea that one doesn't need to memorize a piece to master it. Every time I have witnessed a master of the piano performing one of the great works, it is without benefit of the written score in front of them. I would be very surprised if you have not witnessed the same thing. I have assumed that such performances, in the absence of a written score, involve the artist playing from memory.

So, I am wondering if you are speaking from an understanding that differs from the dichotomy I assume to be in operation. Specifically, I am under the impression that a piano performer has only two options for a source of the information about how a piece is to be played during performance. One, is to play the notes, tempo, phrasing, etc. that he has stored away in his memory, through extensive practice and study. This is what I refer to as playing from memory, or, memorization. The second is to play the piece per the written instructions on the music score, which I refer to as sight reading. And, I accept that performance can also be based upon a combination of both.

Is there another dimension or realm of understanding/knowledge/performance skill available to the more advanced pianists outside of memory and written score? I am able to accept the notion that there might be, given my relative infancy in piano, but I am as yet unable to imagine it.

Your statement that "Memorization and mastery are two different things" seems correct to me, in that memorization is clearly possible without mastery. I know this well from personal experience! blush What I am hung up on, is how mastery could be possible without memorization.

"There are well-known concert pianists who play some difficult pieces perfectly, but never from memory." What source of information do these pianists access to form and shape the impulses their brains send to their muscles in such performances?


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Originally Posted by raubucho

I am surprised to hear your idea that one doesn't need to memorize a piece to master it. Every time I have witnessed a master of the piano performing one of the great works, it is without benefit of the written score in front of them. I would be very surprised if you have not witnessed the same thing. I have assumed that such performances, in the absence of a written score, involve the artist playing from memory.

Most classical concert pianists, when playing as soloists, do play entirely from memory - except when they play complex contemporary pieces. But when they perform as chamber musicians, they almost invariably play with the music in front of them, and don't attempt to memorize it.

Here's an example wink : http://youtu.be/wqzZfMzba5I

Playing from memory became fashionable only with the advent of the piano soloist as superstar in the mid-19th century (Liszt especially): Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin et al never performed from memory, not even their own music.
Quote
One, is to play the notes, tempo, phrasing, etc. that he has stored away in his memory, through extensive practice and study. This is what I refer to as playing from memory, or, memorization. The second is to play the piece per the written instructions on the music score, which I refer to as sight reading. And, I accept that performance can also be based upon a combination of both.

Sight-reading is generally taken to mean playing a piece for the very first time (in its entirety), reading from the music. Playing it through again the second time isn't sight-reading, because you have become familiar with the music, even if only slightly.

Playing from memory means without recourse to the score at all. Not only do you have to know the score intimately (which you would, if you've brought it to performance standard - whether or not you've memorized it), but you have no 'pointers' to help you if your memory fails. Pianists therefore have to re-inforce their memory with all sorts of 'tricks', some of which, frankly, have nothing to do with musical understanding. And many classical pianists have a much wider repertoire than what they're prepared to play in concert, partly for that reason: when the great Sviatoslav Richter started to use music (and a page-turner) in his concerts, he immediately expanded his concert repertoire: http://youtu.be/SoqSqW0YW7A

Here's an interesting insight by a well-known pianist:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100053906/liszt-the-man-who-invented-stage-fright


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Sight reading; the ability to, on your first gaze upon a new piece of music, to instantaneously convert what you see on both musical staffs into the correctly played notes on the piano, executed with the proper timing.

I'm afraid there's only one way to achieve this, and that's by having an intimate relationship with each note on the piano, by virtue of having the ability to locate written notes on the keyboard without taking your eyes off of the music, and an inherent rememberance of each notes proper duration. There are no magic exercises for this (trust me, you will go absolutely bonkers and before too long a beginner will develope a disdain for the exercise), no lesson, and no book can teach you; it's simply an acquired skill that is developed over years and years of playing, a matter of recognition if you will, that you slowly over time develope through experience and sheer familiarity.

I remember in my early years how excited I used to get when my second teacher introduced a new music book to me, but that soon faded after he had me learning THE most boring pieces in the book. After returning home from my lesson, I couldn't wait to scan over the book and play what appealed to me. Oh, I wouldn't even practice what my teacher gave me to study, and a week later at my next lesson when the time came to play the pieces he had given me, I would buzz through them, with only a few mistakes. He'd make comment and add notation here and there and often times even say "Good job" - I'd giggle and say to myself inside "If this guy only knew I didn't practice this boring piece at all...!" Ah youth...

Anyway, as stated earlier, if you want to be proficient at sight reading, there's only one way to do it. After you've learned where all the possible naturals, sharps, and flats that are written on both musical staffs are, their associated positions on the keyboard, and their representations of timing, practice - practice - and practice some more. Gradually, and without you even realizing, there will begin to form a correspondance with what you see as notes on paper, with where your fingers go, and for how long or short a duration they stay there, without even looking down at your hands. Your ears will let you know when you've slipped or missed a note, and when the correlation between written notes, key location, and proper timing has been successfully and fluidly achieved without taking your eyes off the music, congratulations, you now have the ability to sight read :^)

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Andy




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I remember reading many years ago that the harpsichordist George Malcolm could walk into a recording studio, and play a new piece by sightreading alone, fit for recording.

I'm not long back from a recital by Leon McCawley, of nearly two hours of the most extraordinary range of piano music, all from memory, and I'm still dazed at how that kind of feat can be performed by a mortal being. I labour for weeks over sixteen bars.

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Originally Posted by Medden
If I want to improve my sight reading, should I stick to simpler pieces I can handle from the score, and gradually increase the speed/complexity.
Or should I tackle these slightly harder pieces by memorising them until I can play them accurately.
I cannot find a simple answer. Based on my 2 years experience, on one hand, you should go through simple stuff first to understand basics before moving on. Otherwise, you won't learn if things you try to learn are too hard. You cannot learn from things you don't understand. On the other hand, it's nothing wrong to challenge yourself and try something harder but you must be careful and assess yourself whether you actually progress.

Originally Posted by Medden
I feel like memorising is a crutch that I'm relying on too much.
I feel like both ways help me make progress, and my teacher suggests I keep trying until my LH becomes second nature.

I'd appreciate the views of someone who can sight read really well.
No, memorizing is a good thing. I even think it's great to have it and you do improve by playing from memory smile. I simply memorize everything. It comes to me naturally and that's why I rely on this too much. It's because it happens almost instantly and automatically; I don't have to force it. After a couple of tries, I can simply play a new piece from memory. I, on the other hand, have to force myself to open notes and play from them to practise sight reading :p As you say, we should not rely on it absolutely and I agree. It's natural you want to learn to sight read.

Remember sight reading is not that you open a completely new piece and you play fluently. You must recognize a bigger picture behind, such as key the piece is written in, a structure (2 parts, 3 parts), chord progression! behind notes or broken chords, note sequences which are usually just a part of scales in particular key, sometimes pieces modulate to another key etc. Recognizing note intervals and chords can happen instantly depending on your experience. From the moment you can do it, you sight read. If you play a piece fluently even with minor mistakes but you maintain harmony, you sight read. Your hands can automatically move to keys if you know what and where the keys are smile That's what you should be aiming for.


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Originally Posted by Medden

...
I feel like memorising is a crutch that I'm relying on too much.

Some people (I don't think i'm the only one) think reading is a crutch. What happens when you go to a nice restaurant with friends and there is a beautiful grand there with a sign that says "Play me. I'm yours" ... all your friends say ... hey Medden you play piano right? Why don't you play us something?

Sorry, I can't ... I didn't bring my sheet music ...

Both are important.

I've been learning to read in last 3 years. The grade the material is in matters little. What matters is if I like it and want to learn it. Once I have, it restores faster each time and memorization comes as a by product.

Learning to read in conjunction with your advancement of playing ability makes a lot of sense. However, doing either at the extremes is something that has never made sense to me.

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It might be a stupid question, but the books "Improve you sight reading" by Paul Harris. Are they ment to be used at the piano, or can they also be used without instrument at hands?

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