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#3063733 01/01/21 12:03 PM
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First off, I'm a complete beginner. No teacher (pandemic) and for starters I want to learn to sight read. My question is what would my strategy be for deciding which finger to use for which key? And if my goal is to learn to hit the key displayed on the sheet without looking down, that means I must be feeling black keys for orientation somehow. There are plenty of apps for learning sight reading (flash card type of thing), but I'm sure that only using my index fingers is not the way to go, duh.

And BTW, I realize there's not going to be some precise recipe/algorithm that answers my question cleanly, but some insight would help a lot. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Here's a portion of a video where the guy at least starts to address this issue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6lt3wBSQJ0#t=6m39s

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All these vids are just a lot of BS. To learn to sight read you first need to learn to read, ie know your notes on the ledger. Then you need to be able to play simple things with limited range over one octave. You need to learn to use your 5 fingers, irrespective of whether you are sight reading or not.

Learning to associate keys with notes is a step by step learning process which will take months and years based on practice. There is not any magic solution, nor any method significantly faster.

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Yeah, I thought it might be something like that. As opposed to doing it in a linear/sequential fashion like 1. learn to sight read and find keys on the piano 2. learn to play (after completing #1).

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I recommend Cory Halls "Sight Reading and Harmony". It's great for a complete beginner or advanced. Reason I think the book is great is it starts at the very basic such as, say note name play it with index finger one hand at at time. This really gets you to learn the grand staff and the location of the note on the piano. It gradually builds too. After a few months with this book I learned the grand staff much better than last couple years of study. While I feel like I have mastered grade 1 of Cory's book I'm still following his directions and not moving on until I complete all of grade 1 work.

I also used Super Sight Reading Secrets by Howard Richman I only did up to chapter 5 after that I felt a lot of the material wasn't that good and was suggesting poor fingerings. Looking back I'd rather have put that time to Cory Halls book instead which I'm still working on it and Cory's book has years of work, I'm hoping I stay with it until completion.

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Tons of options.
There are also the kids version of Alfred Premier and Faber Piano Adventures that have their own sight reading book for each level.
Series like :
Joining the Dots
Improve your Sight Reading..
I tried a bit of each and they all give you a structured approach .
Most of the beginner stuff is fixed 5 finger position.


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Like others said, to become proficient at sight reading you just need to read lots and lot of music of gradually greater difficulty level over many years. Unfortunately, there aren't really any short cuts.

About fingering, this is a bit tricky. If you just "use whatever feels comfortable" you might fall into a trap where you learn strange/unnatural fingerings because you never thought of doing any other way. A teacher can help you learn good fingering principles and after you've practiced many pieces those fingerings become natural so that you can then apply them when sight reading.

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
All these vids are just a lot of BS. To learn to sight read you first need to learn to read, ie know your notes on the ledger. Then you need to be able to play simple things with limited range over one octave. You need to learn to use your 5 fingers, irrespective of whether you are sight reading or not.

Learning to associate keys with notes is a step by step learning process which will take months and years based on practice. There is not any magic solution, nor any method significantly faster.

+1.

If you read through posts here, you'll find a general rule quoted:

.. . Your sight-reading level is likely to be about two "grades" below your
. . . normal (practiced and memorized) playing level.

So:

.. . If you're not yet around Grade 2, don't try to sight-read anything.

I think what happens (slowly) is that you develop very quick recognition of note patterns on paper, and very quick recall of how to play those patterns. Those quick-recall finger-patterns don't always work, but they give you somewhere to start, figuring out:

. . . which finger for that G#?

Until you develop that library of patterns and how to play them -- which enables you to "read ahead" of what your fingers are playing -- trying to play music "prima vista" (at first sight) is going to be very frustrating.

Quote
...And if my goal is to learn to hit the key displayed on the sheet without looking down, that means I must be feeling black keys for orientation somehow.. .

You've got the question right. The answer isn't simple.

. . . Can you play a two octave scale, in common keys (Bb / F / C / G / D ),
. . . with your eyes closed ?

. . . Can you do the same with one-octave arpeggios, in those keys,
.. .. starting on any scale degree ?

If not, learning (and practicing) those things would be good for developing a sense of "orientation" that you're going to need.

(I don't teach, and this lesson is worth what you paid for it.)


. Charles
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Well I really appreciate the responses, and they're beginning to dissipate some of the fog I'm trying to deal with. Again, absolute beginner. One hour max so far of actually touching my recently acquired keyboard.

Still, the path to eventually quasi-instantly linking a note on a staff to a key on a keyboard vs playing music does seem like a chicken or egg situation. Apparently I have to manage getting familiar with both at roughly the same time.

I never expected it to be easy, so I'm cool with a little ambiguity in the process.

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Saying you want to start sight reading with 1 hour of practice is like saying you want to read War and Peace but you haven't learned the alphabet yet. Your orientation to the keyboard will develop with repetition, but you have to start with the basics. You might get through them in a month, but muscle memory won't be developed in that time frame.

You didn't say what kind of piano/keyboard you have. If you have a digital keyboard and a laptop of iPad, I would recommend you sign up for the free trial offer from Piano Marvel. It will at least get you a basic orientation of what you have ahead of you, and when the free spin is over you can decide if you want to pursue that learning method.


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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
If you read through posts here, you'll find a general rule quoted:
.. . Your sight-reading level is likely to be about two "grades" below your
. . . normal (practiced and memorized) playing level.
So:.. . If you're not yet around Grade 2, don't try to sight-read anything.
The two level rule you quoted is about sight reading something reasonably well. It's very dependent on which rating system one is using to determine levels and the reading skill of the pianist.

All pianists of any level including beginner by definition sight read the first time they try to play a piece. They may not do it well but they are sight reading none the less. There is no success level requirement to qualify as sight reading. If one stops many times, makes many note or rhythm errors, plays at half speed, etc. it's still sight reading. One does not have to wait until ones is level 3 to sight read or practice sight reading.

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Originally Posted by MrOhm
First off, I'm a complete beginner. No teacher (pandemic) and for starters I want to learn to sight read. My question is what would my strategy be for deciding which finger to use for which key? And if my goal is to learn to hit the key displayed on the sheet without looking down, that means I must be feeling black keys for orientation somehow. There are plenty of apps for learning sight reading (flash card type of thing), but I'm sure that only using my index fingers is not the way to go, duh.


MrOhm, I think you are trying to solve 3 challenges at once. They are:

- reading (understand what's written in the sheetmusic)
- navigating the keyboard (know where to hit for the note you want)
- fingering (optimize finger choice)

It will be wiser to address each challenge separately. Books have been written about each of them. None is easy to master, and less so in combination with the others.

For reading, the general advice is to read lots, and lots, and lots, of material. Just like a kid who starts reading written language. It takes years, and you need to consume fresh material every day. No difficult material, only "below your level". Dont repeat pieces, and don't stop/startover when you make a mistake. Image you play for a singer by your side. Try to catch up with her when you make a mistake, play just one hand if you can't keep up otherwise. Use your metronome (possibly at a slower pace) to force you. If you can't do that, choose easier pieces and/or set the metronome even slower to make it easier the next time. But don't repeat the same piece. The second attempt is practicing, not reading.

For navigating the keyboard, this will come on its own over time. Teachers and method books start you out with fixed position pieces. You only need to locate your hands at the beginning of the piece, and everything falls into place. Later you will have some often-used chords, then transitions like going from minor to major, from major to dominant, or octave up/down. It's all about repetition and feeling "at home", then introducing just one new difficulty occasionally.

For fingering, you should use all 10 fingers, and initially you should have the decision be made for you. Beginner sheets come with the fingering clearly marked. Many beginner pieces are also modified to have easier fingering (e.g. fixed hand position with just 5 notes). They may sound dull and boring to you, but they spare you from diverting brain resources on fingering and help you focus on mastering the other challenges. Later, when you advance, you will get sheets that have only a few fingering hints in unexpected places, because they assume that you will automatically know the rest. At that point, you will STILL add a few pencilmarks here and there to reduce the load on your brain.

For analytic adult minds, the fingering challenge is the easiest to master. It's like doing sudokus. But it's unnecessary to do in real-time while you struggle with something else. Navigation is next. After a year or two, you will not think about it anymore unless you do large jumps or unusal key signatures. Reading is the real problem. It is not difficult per se, but you need to force yourself to play "dull and boring" pieces for many years. It takes 6-8 weeks of daily work to get slight (but noticable) improvement.

Go with a method book like e.g. James BASTIEN, even when it is made for children. You will not regret. Identify and analyse your struggles. Dedicate time to each in isolation, and only progress when you feel confident. Don't overdo it, don't risk injuries, listen to your body. And get a real in-person teacher as soon as the situation allows.

Divide and conquer!

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Following up on the "start slowly" philosophy, I too have decided to be more serious about sight reading training and am currently using Czerny Opus 777 as material. The interesting characteristic of Opus 777 (Five Finger Studies) is that the pieces pretty much have your hands in a fixed (or almost fixed) position. Which helps with not having to look down to re-position your hands until you get better at recognizing the notes quickly and playing them. Another Czerny opus that I'm finding useful as source of sight reading material (at a beginner's level) is Op. 823.


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The biggest success for me was to keep reading/playing music. Just play random stuff for fun. No training required, just give it time ;0

It's hard to believe it's been 5 years now taking lessons. Reading music now is a lot easier!!


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Originally Posted by pppianomarc
- reading (understand what's written in the sheetmusic)
- navigating the keyboard (know where to hit for the note you want)
- fingering (optimize finger choice)
Nice breakdown + the elaboration, thanks. And I'm considering the Bastian book(s), not a huge investment.

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Originally Posted by pppianomarc
For navigating the keyboard, this will come on its own over time. Teachers and method books start you out with fixed position pieces. You only need to locate your hands at the beginning of the piece, and everything falls into place. Later you will have some often-used chords, then transitions like going from minor to major, from major to dominant, or octave up/down. It's all about repetition and feeling "at home", then introducing just one new difficulty occasionally.

I'm a beginner as well, and this touches upon something that has been on my mind.

I have a book that uses fixed hand positions, John W. Schaum, but, there are two issues:

First, oddly, I do not draw upon my note recognition knowledge when using this method. I will explain more of what I mean in a bit.

Second, I am unsure how I will progress beyond hand positions based on what I'm learning. There is another thread called "Important Hand Positions C & G and Other's A, D, F" where this issue of hand positions is discussed, and a user named packa said:

"There are no fixed hand positions in piano. The concept is one that some method books use to introduce the new student to the keyboard and to help them finger their first few pieces. Other method books and many teachers don't bother with such a concept even in the beginning. The downside of hand positions, as pointed out earlier, is the tendency to associate notes with certain finger numbers in certain positions. That doesn't really work for real playing."

Ok.

So let me explain what I'm learning from Schaum. To give an example:

When in C major position, the first space on the treble clef is finger 4
When in F major position, it's finger 1
When in D major position, it's finger 3

Basically, it seems like it's teaching me finger numbers based on what hand position I'm in. Now, I know the name of the note, it's an F, but I never think "F". Note recognition doesn't connect to my actual piano playing. (Now, when I first started playing, I sang out each note name, but this became impossible once I started playing two hands at once. I actually have to use a note recognition app to keep my note recognition knowledge fresh.)

I see that you recommend Bastien, and maybe the issue is just my choice of book. (It was the book series my mother learned from.) I see another route is interval reading, which I would like to learn but not solely rely on. I actually have the Alfred book, but it's not apparent how heavily it means on interval reading.

If my question is simply just, should I ditch the book I'm using, perhaps I'm being a tad long winded in my question, but I wanted to share my underlying thinking on this, and any comments appreciated.

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To be honnest, i dont understand what you mean by the first space on the treble clef is finger 4 ?

The fixed hand position approach is just to help you associate a note with a finger, thus with a physical key. It is easier when there are only 5 notes and 5 fingers. When you see the note C you know you have to play finger x. Eventually when you will know your notes and the physical location of the key, you will be able to choose whatever finger is best suited. You dont need to overthink it. The issue is not the book you use, but the skills you need, which will come with time and practice.

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
To be honnest, i dont understand what you mean by the first space on the treble clef is finger 4 ?

When my hand is in C major position, if I'm meant to play the note on the first space on the treble clef (which we know is F, but as I said, I don't think "F"), then that means press down on finger four. (The hand position of C major starts with the thumb on the C.)

Originally Posted by Sidokar
The fixed hand position approach is just to help you associate a note with a finger, thus with a physical key. It is easier when there are only 5 notes and 5 fingers. When you see the note C you know you have to play finger x. Eventually when you will know your notes and the physical location of the key, you will be able to choose whatever finger is best suited. You dont need to overthink it. The issue is not the book you use, but the skills you need, which will come with time and practice.

Interesting. I have to admit I don't understand how what I'm learning will teach me the physical location of the key. I understand how it will teach me the location relative to the hand positions I have memorized, but not in a position that is new. Just like a professional typist will know where the keys are relative to the "home base" position, but not from a new start position (at least without looking).

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Originally Posted by Tofu
When my hand is in C major position, if I'm meant to play the note on the first space on the treble clef (which we know is F, but as I said, I don't think "F"), then that means press down on finger four. (The hand position of C major starts with the thumb on the C.)

Interesting. I have to admit I don't understand how what I'm learning will teach me the physical location of the key. I understand how it will teach me the location relative to the hand positions I have memorized, but not in a position that is new. Just like a professional typist will know where the keys are relative to the "home base" position, but not from a new start position (at least without looking).

Ok got it. Thats because you have not yet a direct lecture of the note from the score. It will come with time. In fact i dont necessarily need to know it is F, as i know which key to press when i see a note in that place in the score. I also know it is F, but it is more of a side information (which is also usefull for other reasons).

It is just a matter of practice. With time you will acquire a sense of the keyboard geography and which physical key is associated with a particular spot/note in the score. The 5 finger position is just a way to get you started so that you start the learning process and can play something by getting used to read a score and translate that into a key to press with a finger. After a while, you will see that when you see a C in the score you will automatically know which key it is on the keyboard.

Interval reading can be usefull for relatively short intervals, seconds, thirds, ... but anyway you need to know where you are and as soon as you have a large interval, you need to know what note/key it is. So that is what is different from a typist. There is no home position. You need to know the absolute physical position of every key and in relation to its notation on the score.

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Quote
. . . a user named packa said:

"There are no fixed hand positions in piano. The concept is one that some method books use to introduce the new student to the keyboard and to help them finger their first few pieces. Other method books and many teachers don't bother with such a concept even in the beginning. The downside of hand positions, as pointed out earlier, is the tendency to associate notes with certain finger numbers in certain positions. That doesn't really work for real playing."

Packa is right.

Associating "finger numbers" with "notes" is a crutch. All too soon, it will become an impediment, and you'll have to throw it away, as you learn more complex music:

. . . The less you use it, the better-off you'll be, in the long run.


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Quote
. . . a user named packa said:

"There are no fixed hand positions in piano. The concept is one that some method books use to introduce the new student to the keyboard and to help them finger their first few pieces. Other method books and many teachers don't bother with such a concept even in the beginning. The downside of hand positions, as pointed out earlier, is the tendency to associate notes with certain finger numbers in certain positions. That doesn't really work for real playing."

Packa is right.

Associating "finger numbers" with "notes" is a crutch. All too soon, it will become an impediment, and you'll have to throw it away, as you learn more complex music:

. . . The less you use it, the better-off you'll be, in the long run.


. Charles
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