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Thread: Sight Reading

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    The weakest part of my piano playing is hands down my sight reading skills. I am very serious about changing that. I am so serious, that I am going to start from the beginning, no matter how rudimentarily frustrating it may be. I have been investigating methods for study and have found several different strategies. Is it more effective to read both staves at the same time or read 3 measures of one staff and then 3 measures of the other? I have seen one method that claims that most good sight readers read 3 measures ahead in the order of 1-3-2. Before I begin to plow ahead, I would like to know if pianists out there either know what methods that they use that are effective or are introspective enough to explain their cognitive processes while they sight read. Thanks very much. The information I receive here could very well affect the course of the next several years of my life :P

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    Junior Member max's Avatar
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    This will help me too..

    I REALLY need to pass the piano proficiency at Penn State. This requires sight-reading 4 part chorals from a hymnal... And they aren't always as simple as I-IV-V-I.
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    Senior Member Daniel's Avatar
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    Some methods which come fast to my mind are:

    At first be sure of tonality, rythme and other theoretical aspects before playing a note.
    Then play scales and arpeggis and this tonality
    Like you said Tim: reading ahead. Actually I am trying to play one bar ahead and that always. Analyse during playing: you can speak while you play or think (if someone listens to you :P) like: now it reaches dominant, thats a plagal ending etc.
    Choose a not too fast tempo and keep this tempo the whole piece. Don&#39;t be afraid of wrong notes, just go ahead, don&#39;t correct them.
    And a last point, you can&#39;t practise sight reading as much as you can. Take every day 2 pieces you don&#39;t know and sigh read them. If they are pieces you are anxious of it will bring up great ambition.

    By the way of practising matters I really can recommend a book written by Seymour Bernstein: "With Your Own Two Hands" and it is not only for pianists, but also all musicians can profit.

    Hope to have helped a bit - Daniel.

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    Junior Member max's Avatar
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    good advice, I&#39;ll try out that, and look up that book&#33;
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    I find that &#39;Improve your sight reading&#39; by Paul Harris to be most helpful for a progressive study, and Hal Leonard&#39;s notespeller is excellent for kids.
    There are certain things one can do ( specially recommended for people with poor co-ordination or slow note reading. )
    1. U can memorise some space or line formulas as guidelines to help u read, and it&#39;s easy to navigate around em.
    Treble(space notes)_ FACE
    Treble(line notes)_ Every Good Boy Does Fine
    Bass ( space notes )_ACE is Good, or, All Cows Eat Grass
    Bass ( line notes )_ Good Boy Does Fine Again.
    2. After u&#39;ve got that in yr head, yu learn to navigate around the staves with that. U do written ex. of note spellers, then gradually leading into verbal ex...as the main difference between written and spoken form lies in the speed.
    3. Then, do Hal Leonard&#39;s advanced notespeller whereby they make u learn to read notes in shapes and intervals...this is esp. helpful for chordal playing. And they make u recognise different intervals such as steps(2nd), thirds( leaps), fourths and fifths and so on.
    4. Try Paul Harris&#39;s clapping ex. The purpose of doing clapping is not to check the rhythm, but to work on the co-ordination between the 2 hands. So often have I seen teachers making students do these clapping ex in two seperate lines, which is really wrong. Let the kid clap the 2 lines at once, so it&#39;ll be pretty mucgh like playing on the piano itself. Right hand for the upper line, and left for the lower line. Start with really simple rhythm, then progressing into dotted rhythm, triplets and so on.
    5. Now, here is when the actual playing comes in...after the student is equipped with adaquete note reading abilities-Pls note that the student does not have to read every note itself, most often, they are encouraged to read in steps and shapes, to ensure a good flow.
    Start with real simple ex that anchors around the key note and moves in steps, then progress to leaps of thirds, then 5ths.
    4th will come in by itself, so long as they can tell the difference between 3rds and 5ths. And methods as such work not only for chords, but for melodic progression also.
    Both hands always seems more tricky. But it&#39;ll be tackable if it&#39;s done systematically. Start simple BH ex with &#39;false&#39; BH playing. RH doing steps and leaps, and LH with tied notes, or occasional &#39;shapes&#39;...preferably 5ths. Then take it to the next step, LH in steps, and RH with shapes....and so on.
    And the ultimate element, is the ability to read ahead. Choose spaced out rhythm such as minims for a head start, and perhaps chords...since shapes are easier to identify. So, it&#39;ll go like this: 0 read, 1 play, 2 read, 3 play, 4 read the next bar, 1 play... and so on.
    Then, finally it&#39;ll develop into something like this... 0 read, 1 play, 234 read, 3 play... This means that they&#39;ll actually read 1 whole bar/phrase ahead.
    And lastly, always remember that chordal progresisons are always easier to sight read, it&#39;s the linear ones that are difficult.

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    Senior Member Daniel's Avatar
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    Hello DW&#33;&#33;&#33;&#33; Welcome back to the board&#33; Where have you been? Tournee? I don&#39;t know this two books. I must look if I can get some german copies.

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    HI&#33; NICE TO SEE U TOO , Daniel&#33;&#33;&#33;
    Nothing like a good old welcome&#33;
    Nope, I haven&#39;t been touring...I&#39;ve been occupied with work... massive work. I&#39;ve been so stressed and tired lately. And I&#39;m like at a career crossroad... LOL ... Well, I&#39;ve been busy killing my brain cells.

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    Originally posted by DW@Sep 11 2004, 05:59 PM
    HI&#33; NICE TO SEE U TOO , Daniel&#33;&#33;&#33;
    Nothing like a good old welcome&#33;
    Nope, I haven&#39;t been touring...I&#39;ve been occupied with work... massive work. I&#39;ve been so stressed and tired lately. And I&#39;m like at a career crossroad... LOL ... Well, I&#39;ve been busy killing my brain cells.
    [snapback]1889[/snapback]
    Welcome back, DW&#33;&#33;&#33; I was wondering what had happened to you.

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    Thanks for the ideas DW&#33; THe only books that I have on the subject are the 3 volume set "Speed Reading at the Keyboard" by Edward Shanaphy, et al. and the 1 volume booklet "super sight-reading secrets" by Howard Richman. The strategies are as different as night and day (please forgive the cliche :P ).

    Tim

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    Yr welcome&#33;

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    You will need a stack of fresh material, unknown to you or never played before (libraries and volumes of collections are the best source here, unless you are independently wealthy.)

    The material you start with MUST BE COMMENSURATE WITH YOUR CURRENT SIGHT-READING ABILITY, NOT YOUR CURRENT PLAYING ABILITY.

    Choose material you can sight read (errors allowed, a fair amount) hands together and at least at 60% of the marked tempo.

    Almost everyone has some experience from school or church 'somewhat reading' while singing a single line song or part in a chorus - radically different from two staves and polyphony. The initial habit is to read a single line. Force your eye to sweep not just horizontally but vertically. Literally sit far enough back that your eyes can take in, at least peripherally, one entire line of the grand staff.

    You may have to start with the Bartok Microkosmos, one of the most elegant and musical graded sets of pieces yet conceived for learning both piano, sight-reading and rhythm simultaneously. The first piece is in unison, parallel motion. They progress smoothly: initially your hands are over one five-note pattern, then to a piece with a shift of hand position to another five-note pattern. If they are 'beneath' you I would still recommend them as a great starting point. Going through books I - IV, if simple for you, will be a quick exercise, and you will develop, small scale, all the fundamental habits and reflexes you need for more difficult pieces.

    VEHEMENTLY REJECT AND / OR ABANDON ANY AND ALL ACRONYMS FOR RECALLING NOTE-NAMES AND THEIR LOCATION ON THE STAFF. Some 'residual' of those God-Damned sentences will forever be attached to your reading, and will, to at least a tiny degree, slow you down, forever, as attached baggage (I'd say downright garbage) which will never completely go away. (In other words, they pull your mind away from the matter at hand, which of course is counter-productive.)

    Learn your musical alphabet, reciting every other letter, in pairs, both ascending and descending. This can be done in small increments throughout the day, when, in such mundane situations, as brushing your teeth, etc. After a few weeks of a few moments here, there, several times a day, you should have them near-reflexive (...no more difficult than learning the entire alphabet in threes for library use.) Then you are spelling generic thirds, which are on any staff, a line to line or space to space figuration. Once you have the pairs down, extend that to three letters - spelling basic triads -- then four, spelling basic seventh chords.

    It is also well-worth recognizing numeric intervals, by spatial distance, and their lay of the land on the page. Any octave will be a specific distance, with one note on a line and the other on a space: any fifth will be on every other line or every other space. Thirds are space to space or line to line, seconds line-space, etc.

    Grab, right now, the coins in your pocket, close your palm on them. (I'll use American currency.) Open your hand, glance at the coins for one second, close your hand. Now name how much money is in your hand...
    If you see one nickel, two dimes, a quarter and a penny...
    and came up quickly with fifty-one cents, you have just exercised qualitative perception. (coins as icons representing
    If your process was
    5+10+10+25+1 you are in the habit of quantitative reasoning, the quantity of each individual coin added up in a string.

    Most people, unconsciously, use the qualitative mode, because they are familiar with the objects and it is more direct and immediate. It is the qualitative mode you want to develop reading music, where an interval, eventually without thinking, just 'pops' off the page at you, and your motor reflex responds. In brief, pattern recognition. (at that point you are not consciously 'naming notes!')

    You want to begin to think of the notes on the staff in that same quantitative manner: Following the directive to 'just learn' the notes in letter pairs, you will have sight-anchors for just about any note or notes on either staff (eventually). The most obvious is to first 'just memorize' what note the middle line of each staff is, then you are literally 'centered' as far as eyeballing anything else in the measure, as relative to that middle line -- you are seeing patterns to which you have developed a motor sense instant reaction, and are no longer 'naming notes' or figuring out 'that is a fifth, and then getting your 'hands around that.'

    THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO USE GOING OVER A PIECE TWICE. Think about it: YOU CAN ONLY "SIGHT-READ" ANY PIECE ONCE! After that, some data is already stored in the brain, and you are not facing the challenge of reading something 'for the first time.' In that stack of sight-reading material, keep bookmarks so you know where you left off, to avoid 're-reading' anything.

    Four-part chorales are good. A stretch would to be to read from the four-stave actual choral score, making the octave displacement of the tenor, written in treble clef (Any 'c' part, and its octave re-location Is Not A Transposition - a minor technicality many get wrong.) Now, four-part chorales may be used for going over repeatedly, but with this additional 'drill.' Play just any two of the parts in isolation, the soprano and bass, the soprano and tenor, etc. Once sight-read initially as a whole, this is an excellent exercise. I recommend putting it all back together before moving on to another piece.

    None of this will in any way be 'comfortable.' You are pushing yourself in an unpracticed and unfamiliar mental capacity: this is completely apart from your playing ability and usually quite far beyond normal comfort zones. Initially, you will find mental fatigue setting in quite quickly - exactly as you would an unused muscle you were beginning to exercise. It can be mentally exhausting. The moment your brain starts to fatigue, that particular sight-reading session Is Over! You can go back and do another few minutes after some stretch of 'normal' practice.

    Looking the piece over before you play is a vitally important thing to do, regardless of how much you currently see or hear, it is precisely the same as looking over a map before you set out on a trip - you at least have a vague idea of the terrain you will be traversing, key, configurations, phrasing, dynamics and cadences. (Regardless of pyrotechnical ability, a player without an idea of the piece, as a whole, and 'what it is about' is not going to give anything near an interesting performance.)

    When it comes to configurations, like an arpeggiation, do try and visually 'compress' the horizontal data into one vertical - you will often begin then to recognize a very standard chord or its inversion, and that 'grabs' an entire grouping vs. reading note to note. [ADD: Some classical music, the left hand accompaniment, either arpeggio or Alberti bass, can be read through pushing to play each quarter note as a vertical chord - that exercise is exactly 'compressing' the horizontal visual data into vertical reading.]

    The above is a nutshell of what can be a long process, and I can only advocate that you begin, then stay with it. This is a process, and most find that after some time, one day, over your shoulder and in retrospect, it has had its effect. (Ear-training and solfege, for many, 'happens' in the same manner.)

    You are not at all alone, especially among keyboard players, of having your sight-reading lag behind your technical playing ability. The self-taught, especially, often find themselves in this situation.
    Last edited by PetrB; Apr-10-2012 at 14:26.

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    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    PetrB, that is a very detailed and well thought out response, but this thread was last posted in nearly 8 years ago.

    I learnt to sight read by working my way through IMSLP, starting with baroque and classical, eventually working my way through to early 20thC chromaticism and 12-tone.

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    Senior Member Moira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Argus View Post
    PetrB, that is a very detailed and well thought out response, but this thread was last posted in nearly 8 years ago.

    I learnt to sight read by working my way through IMSLP, starting with baroque and classical, eventually working my way through to early 20thC chromaticism and 12-tone.
    It is a very interesting thread nevertheless. And PetrB uses many of the techniques I was taught.

    Actually there is a use for 'used' sight reading scores, PetrB. They make excellent pieces for working with another musician in a busking session. The aim here is to take the music and 'memorise' it without playing it - the shape, the structure, the melody, the harmony (not all at once initially). Then working with another musician, preferably one more competent than oneself, reproduce the piece as musically as one can. The other musician can sing or play another instrument. They produce the melody initially or reinforce it (they have access to the written music). This is an excellent exercise for developing aural skills, useful additional sight reading abilities (and as the score is not in front of the musician learning the skill when playing it is not part of the sight reading technique per se, but does strengthen it), and ensemble playing.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    and if anyone looks at it, there is a detailed pragmatic response on how to train yourself to sight-read, and it is gratis :-)

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