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 Post subject: The worst sight reader ever
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:19 pm 
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Location: UK
I’ve recently been told that I must be the worst sight reader ever. I’m not sure how the person meant it, but it has certainly made me think.

I’ve been playing for over six years now and my sight reading ability has always been much worse than my playing, but this gap becomes even more noticeable as time goes on. To be able to perform a piece, I need to practise it over a long period of time until I learn it almost from memory, but sight reading doesn’t get any easier no matter how much I try.

I’ve tried to start again from basics but this has not helped – I can just about manage grade one or two, but as the music gets more difficult I just play either more slowly or more wrong notes (and wrong rhythms, dynamics and the rest!). I’ve read various articles on sight reading and have followed some good advice systematically, but there are no small audible rewards for my efforts, let alone a miracle cure.

It would be interesting to hear from any of you who are also bad at sight reading, or if you've managed to overcome it. If my condition is permanent, I might as well stop wasting so much time trying to acquire this elusive skill and concentrate on other aspects of playing, such as getting a small number of pieces to a high standard.

Thanks.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:49 pm 
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We need to clarify something first: The term 'sight read' means when you put a piece of music you've never seen before up on your piano and play it. At least that is what I think it means. Perhaps you mean that you have trouble playing piano when you are reading the music?

I play mostly with the music in front of me. I only memorize something when I want to perform it or I just want to have something in my head so I can play anywhere. My problem is that memorizing has become hard for me, but when I finally do get a piece memorized, then I can play it much better than if I were reading off the music. One can get into the music more when it's memorized.

Playing with the music in front of you is hard because you look down at the keys often and then have to find your place in the music when you look back up. But in your case, if you've only been playing for six years, then I think the ability to play from the music will get better over time. It takes a while to get so comfortable on the keys that you don't need to look down so much.

Just out of curiosity - are you an adult or a student or both? :wink:

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 3:37 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
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Location: UK
By sight reading I mean playing a piece of music for the first time, or after a very brief preparation. I'm 36.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:42 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 13, 2006 1:03 pm
Posts: 2388
Location: Obamanation, unfortunately...
You're not alone, buddy. I have to play through each hand separately and slowly before I can even stumble through a composition using both hands.

Sight reading (playing a piece you have never seen or heard before) is a true talent.

Don't be discouraged by someone insulting you, you should play music for yourself, at your own level, and at your own pace.

Rambling,
_jg

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 Post subject: Re: The worst sight reader ever
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:08 pm 
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Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:59 pm
Posts: 322
Location: toronto
You know I am not ashamed to admit I consider myself a poor to average sight reader.

This might sound crazy, but I prefer to memorize music away from the piano.

The first time I usually try to play music on the piano I have already memorized every note. The funny part is, it doesn't make playing music the first time all that easier. The first time I play a song after I have memorized it, it sounds lots like my sight reading. Although I tend to memorize every note, I don't memorize fingering or finger movements and it takes me a while to figure all that out.

If you’re like me, reading the music isn't that bad, it’s just getting your fingers to do those crazy movements.

One thing I have always suspected though, probably few people can become great sight readers, but I think most people can become average sight readers following simple rules.

That is, not looking at the hands, feeling your way through the keyboard or knowing were to find notes without looking, always moving forward through a piece and avoiding spending too much time on the first bar and not enough time on the last (not sure what other people think of these basic tricks...)

It’s probably comparable to having perfect pitch. While most people can develop very good relative pitch, few people will have perfect pitch or be able to know every note of a piece after hearing only once for example.




Chopinesque wrote:
I’ve recently been told that I must be the worst sight reader ever. I’m not sure how the person meant it, but it has certainly made me think.

I’ve been playing for over six years now and my sight reading ability has always been much worse than my playing, but this gap becomes even more noticeable as time goes on. To be able to perform a piece, I need to practise it over a long period of time until I learn it almost from memory, but sight reading doesn’t get any easier no matter how much I try.

I’ve tried to start again from basics but this has not helped – I can just about manage grade one or two, but as the music gets more difficult I just play either more slowly or more wrong notes (and wrong rhythms, dynamics and the rest!). I’ve read various articles on sight reading and have followed some good advice systematically, but there are no small audible rewards for my efforts, let alone a miracle cure.

It would be interesting to hear from any of you who are also bad at sight reading, or if you've managed to overcome it. If my condition is permanent, I might as well stop wasting so much time trying to acquire this elusive skill and concentrate on other aspects of playing, such as getting a small number of pieces to a high standard.

Thanks.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:42 pm 
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Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:35 am
Posts: 1418
Location: Gulfport, MS, USA
I'm good at memorizing, bad at sight-reading, though I get a lot better at sight-reading when I'm forced to do it a lot. I'm better at sight-singing than the vast majority voice majors, though, so that makes me feel a bit better.

Part of what makes me bad at sight-reading is having to do it at tempo in front of people. I'm not so bad at it if I'm by myself and I don't have to keep a tempo.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 26, 2009 4:17 am 
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Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 6:13 am
Posts: 57
I am also terrible at sight reading. When learning a piece, I am not able to play a piece at a reasonable tempo until I have it memorized, so I memorize everything that I play.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 2:46 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
Posts: 56
Location: UK
Thanks for your replies. I can't really say that I'm glad that others might be just as bad (I can't wish that to anyone!), but it's good to know that you are still good pianists in other areas and are not too worried about this.

I'm reading a book called "A Soprano on Her Head" by Eloise Ristad - I didn't think I was going to enjoy the book at the beginning but it does get better. She has the weirdest advice for people with severe sight-reading or coordination problems - some involve crawling exercises, and juggling for a few minutes before a piano session! I don't have any juggling or tennis balls at home, so I tried with sock balls yesterday. My husband came in the room and thought I had gone mad. I never told him the purpose of the exercise!

I haven't gone into much detail on sight-reading chapter yet but will let you know if I find anything that works. The book was recommended to me by a piano teacher who heard me play a few weeks ago and thought I was extremely nervous. She said that this book helped her a lot with performance anxiety (more so than Barry Green's Inner Game).


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 3:50 pm 
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Chopinesque wrote:

I'm reading a book called "A Soprano on Her Head" by Eloise Ristad - I didn't think I was going to enjoy the book at the beginning but it does get better. She has the weirdest advice for people with severe sight-reading or coordination problems - some involve crawling exercises, and juggling for a few minutes before a piano session! I don't have any juggling or tennis balls at home, so I tried with sock balls yesterday. My husband came in the room and thought I had gone mad. I never told him the purpose of the exercise!
.


That's so funny. The same thing happened to me, except it was one of my sons who caught me juggling (or attempting to). I can't do it at all. But I learned about this idea also from a book. Except I think it was a different one than what you read, but in my case, I was trying to learn about 'memorizing' techniques, and the juggling was supposed to help with that.

_________________
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." ~ Frederic Chopin

my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano
my personal website: http://www.monicaalianello.com


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 Post subject: Re: The worst sight reader ever
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 9:37 pm 
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Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:59 pm
Posts: 322
Location: toronto
You know this might sound silly, crazy or even obvious to some, but I have found one 'trick' to help me both in my memorizing and my music reading.

I am not exactly sure how to explain it, but the basic idea is to always move forward and not spend to much time practicing any bar within the same practice session (well not exactly.) That is, I have not found it very effective to practice the same bar of music 20 or 30 times within the same 10/20 minute interval. Instead I have found it more productive to simply practice it correctly once or twice and then move on. When I came back to the music a few hours later, or even the next day, I find I am already much more comfortable with the passage and I am at a point were I can practice it again. I can also learn a lot more music within a practice session this way.

I have found this works for me when either memorizing music or just reading music at the piano.

I say this because I think most people can manage to practice a comfortable amount of repertoire in a short period of time. Although it does take me a very very long time before I can actually record music.

Anyway, not sure if all this is obvious or crazy? It wasn't always obvious to me....


Chopinesque wrote:
I’ve recently been told that I must be the worst sight reader ever. I’m not sure how the person meant it, but it has certainly made me think.

I’ve been playing for over six years now and my sight reading ability has always been much worse than my playing, but this gap becomes even more noticeable as time goes on. To be able to perform a piece, I need to practise it over a long period of time until I learn it almost from memory, but sight reading doesn’t get any easier no matter how much I try.

I’ve tried to start again from basics but this has not helped – I can just about manage grade one or two, but as the music gets more difficult I just play either more slowly or more wrong notes (and wrong rhythms, dynamics and the rest!). I’ve read various articles on sight reading and have followed some good advice systematically, but there are no small audible rewards for my efforts, let alone a miracle cure.

It would be interesting to hear from any of you who are also bad at sight reading, or if you've managed to overcome it. If my condition is permanent, I might as well stop wasting so much time trying to acquire this elusive skill and concentrate on other aspects of playing, such as getting a small number of pieces to a high standard.

Thanks.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 12:12 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2009 1:45 am
Posts: 113
Location: Manteca, CA
Maybe you have dislexia, or problems with correlating a visualization and a sound? A lot of times the keyboard and fingering seem like an entirely separate entity then the sheet for me, and maybe you are the same. You know all the rules, but you just can't apply them quickly because you are trying to put two and two together. I never have memorization problems because of my autism, and can visualize things of high complexity in my head, but it's just plain difficult to read music at all. It took me an age to read Prokofeiv's 3rd concerto, which is pretty straightforward reading however technical it is. Maybe you have these problems?


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 11:39 am 
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Location: UK
Hi,

I'm not dyslexic - I'm just really slow at reading complex music (probably a bit thick!). I've decided to stop worrying about it - we all have limitations, and it shouldn't bother me too much if it takes me quite long to learn a new piece of music in the initial stages. After all, in my case it's only meant to be a hobby, not a competition! :)

Thanks.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 12:26 pm 
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Joined: Sun Oct 12, 2008 4:03 pm
Posts: 58
From what I understand (and I might not have understood correctly), your ability to sight-read is directly linked not only to your ability to quickly decypher the sheet, but also to your musical knowledge. Recognizing patterns you've seen (cadences, harmonies, modulations, melodic transpositions), and more importantly, predicting them. Understanding musical theory is hence key, so I guess a good sight reader also has a good grasp of things such as fugal writing, counterpoint, etc.

One obvious example as a beginner is figuring the key at the start of the piece ; when I started I just memorized the sharps and flats, and went from there (I didn't do scales back then), and sight reading was hell, especially in keys like C sharp (thinking you're playing a F when there's a E sharp written is confusing). Then I learnt the major scales, and reading got much easier. Then I learnt the minor scales, and it got even easier, understanding the accidental sharps and flats. Then I learnt the modes, and it helped even more predicting the next evolutions of the melody.
The same goes for the basic cadences, and obviously, chords ; when you know your chords, you can play them directly without thinking about the individual notes (also helps as you will memorize the progression quicker, a Cm chord is easier to remember than C-Eb-G obviously). I remember, when I started playing Scriabin, I was so confused by those huge foreign chords ; now that I'm familiar with them and their construction, it got much easier to sight read some modern pieces (though rythm is a major problem, especially when several voices entangle each other). Another example here are arpeggis ; a movement like Beethoven's moonlight third gets really easy to sight-read when you understand what's going on for instance.
The more you play a composer, the more you can sight-read it too, for obvious reason.

I don't think you have to major in composing to sight-read decently, since the more you play the more you'll experience and remember patterns, but if you have trouble, definitly try to look into the music. However, I think there's no escaping some form of memorization for harder pieces ; sometimes you can't predict or read ahead, you have to know "first hand" (for fingering reasons, or technical difficulty, like some huge leaps you can't make your eyed glued to the sheet). Obviously, the better your technique is the better you can sight-read too, since you don't need to look at your fingers and the fingering on some passages or runs becomes automatic.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 3:21 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
Posts: 56
Location: UK
Hi Teddy,

Thank you very much for your reply. Your advice is extremely good, but I'm not a beginner - I've been playing for just over 6 years now. I completed grade 2.5 years ago and have been considering a diploma since then, although I have started to think that I've been rushing into learning difficult music without consolidating basic musical skills. I'm also doing grade 7 music theory (LCM syllabus) and have completed a Diploma in Music (mainly analysis and interpretation) with the Open University. I've been trying really hard up until recently, but my sight-reading is truly embarrassing considering the exams I've managed to pass. Never mind ...


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 10:58 pm 
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I was just using beginner examples to convey what I think, since everybody can understand what it represents, didn't mean to judge of your level :-)

I think it still stands valid even at "higher level", though if you really find yourself incapable to sight-read decently there might be something else troubling you ; I know I have horrible pitch recognition despite my best efforts (I mean really horrible, anything that is not played on piano I can hardly even get the most basic melody), so I guess one could have the same fault in sight-reading.

Also, sight-reading is really dependent on what music you are used to play ; someone who plays a lot of Bach would have troubles sight-reading Scriabin for the first time I guess. In the same way, not every music asks the same of the sight-reader ; some have many modulations and accidentals, some have huge chord clusters, some just have huge chords, some have complex polyrythms, etc. So I think evaluating what kind of music you want to sight read (at first) is a good start, so you'll know what are your specific weakness ; I guess you have no problem reading individual notes on the staves (plenty of flash minigames on the net, I think Juufa linked one somewhere, that are really great for that. I learnt a fair part of Japanese writing that way, really fast), so there must be something else. Sight-reading requires a bit of memorizing too, being able to look forward and remember during easy passages so you can prepare ahead, remembering chords and how they looked like on the sheet (so you don't have to read them whole again, in a way tying the hand form to the sheet drawing). Maybe you could simplify the sheet you want to sight-read first, maybe use jazz notation for some chords if you're familiar with it ; many complex looking chords that are hard to decypher have simple names and can easily be played. When there's many voices in a piece, I try to sing them first, or even play them separatly and modulate them on the keyboard first.

I'm no great pianist, but the otherday I was sight reading through Prokovief's Montagues and Capulets for fun, and the first thing that came to mind glancing at the sheet was "that beginning is just like an alberti bass (with chords) with rocket start (you know like in that first Beethoven F sonata), and it made the whole playing much easier (I could focus on other details and on the following section). Apart from that, you mentionned hard pieces - usually, when there are technical difficulties, I sight read the easy parts, and just memorize the hard parts ; trying to sight read hard parts will make it harder to learn the piece, as you will slow down on both your playthrough and technique acquisition, eventually not ever playing it correctly and - worse - learning it wrong in your hand memory. I've always wondered if virtuosos can just take any sheet and play it ; like you know, "Scriabin 10th sonata ? Never heard, I'll sight read it", and bam they do it right there. I know some people have great ears, so they have a good part of the sheet memorized before seing it too, that might help...

So, what pieces are you trying to sight-read ? Could you learn them easily (note wise mostly) if you wanted ?


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