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Thread: Is It Ever Too Late to Learn Sight Reading?

  1. #1
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    Default Is It Ever Too Late to Learn Sight Reading?

    Began playing piano at age 5. Never picked up sight reading and ended up learning by memory and being told where to place my fingers. I know only rudimentary "reading," at the level of a five-year-old who's just learning how to read words. The analogy is, if you see CAT, you immediately recognize it as "CAT." A first-grader just learning to read sees C-A-T, the components, and sounds them out as "Ca, aah, Tttt," and may or may NOT then see "CAT."

    I see only the components rather than a whole when I look at sheet music. If I know how the song sounds -- if I can play or hear it in my head -- I can painstakingly figure it out on the keyboard by looking at the sheet music -- LOOKING at it, not reading it.

    My hands and fingers are trained, but I cannot read music, not even a beginner's single-note bar. I know the F-A-C-E and "every good boy does fine," and that's how I can figure things out (if I can already play the piece in my head). I can recognize an octave. I recognize patterns or the same chords repeated. I know the sharp, flat and natural symbols.

    I CANNOT play the piano without looking at the keyboard.

    Throughout my life I've taught myself songs without sheet music, such as the piano in the original TV series "Incredible Hulk." I taught myself (with a lot of help from the commercial on YouTube) a waltz that's played on a Cymbalta commercial. I taught myself "Nadia's Theme" (no sheet music) as a child.

    I was playing Bach's Invention at around 8, and learned Little Fugue at 5 or 6. Nailed Debussey's Fireworks at around 12 -- with my mother telling me where to place my fingers and demonstrating.

    With all that said, to give you an idea of my music skills...

    I'm 58. I'm wondering, with my background, I can ever learn fluid sight reading such that I could look at any Debussey piece and peel it off on the first try, or at least, "work it" like a rock climber works a new route, but after several re-climbs, has it linked.

    Second question: Anyone familiar with the "Alfred Method"?
    Last edited by Christine; Jan-02-2021 at 13:11.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    There seem to be two sorts of music learner - those who are more comfortable by ear and those with music. Each has difficulty understanding the problems of the other.

    I'm happy with music but have trouble (massive problems!) trying to play by ear.

    One step is to sight sing the melody line. If you can "hear" what the composer intends then you should be able to play it back.

    Everybody has to look at the keyboard at some stage - big jumps or awkward chords - but that should be minimal. If you need to look at the keyboard, then you need to have a feel for the keyboard. That comes with scales and lots of practice.

    Think about reading aloud in public. You want to see your audience, your head needs to be up to project properly, so you look at the text and remember a phrase or two, say it and look down for the next.

    When you play, you should look ahead and memorise the next few notes so you can look down if you need to, then back to the music. As you play more and do lots of scales and finger exercises, then you will feel better about the keyboard and look down less. Work at consistent fingering, that brings in muscle memory. Scale patterns help to teach you finger patterns for keys and arpeggios.

    I started early, gave up for many years. Came back at 30, played for two or three years. Came back at 61 and am still playing. It's never too late to learn, it just takes effort.

    No idea about the Alfred Method though. I've used Joining the Dots from ABRSM which concentrates on tonality and also the Paul Harris sight reading books.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    As Taggart says," As you play more and do lots of scales and finger exercises, then you will feel better about the keyboard and look down less. Work at consistent fingering, that brings in muscle memory. Scale patterns help to teach you finger patterns for keys and arpeggios."
    He is 100 % spot on. You may not be able to do everything you want at first, but over time you will see improvement.
    Practice scales until you can play them without looking at the keyboard or with your eyes closed.

    Here is the key: " It's never too late to learn, it just takes effort." Remember, the turtle always wins the race!

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    It's interesting - I can play several instruments, all woodwinds, bassoon at long-time professional level....

    I absolutely stink at piano - at school I barely passed the secondary piano requirement....I hated it and never practiced....I always had to look at the keyboard which meant i was terrible at sight-reading on piano...
    With wind instruments, you have no such issue - you can't look at your hands, they are out of quickly learn to associate the written notes with the hand position, fingerings, etc....
    you practice and memorize scales and arpeggios, intervals of all shapes and sizes. these become programmed in, so when you see those note configurations you automatically know what the fingering pattern read whole groups of notes at one time...
    Christine - a possible suggestion - it seems that the keyboard itself is creating a distraction for you.....see if you can latch onto a recorder. learn the different notes, and try reading some basic simple won't be looking at your fingers, you'll be looking at the music, and feeling the correct position and combination...that should help you focus on the music you are reading....start with simple tunes....of course, your ear will tell you what pitches you should be producing as well....

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    It's never too late to begin learning to sight read. In fact, it may be required for most organist positions in a church as part of the audition process ... every church position I've applied for in the past 59 years has required me to sight read hymns and/or choral anthem accompaniments.

    I learned sight reading in my first two years of organ lessons ... has been very valuable for me over the years.

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