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Topic Options
#1184952 - 04/21/09 11:27 PM Best Sight Reading books ?
NM Bill Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/20/09
Posts: 3
I'm a 3 year adult student (with a teacher), currently in John Thompson book 3.

I'd like to start practicing sight reading more consistently, and have come across 2 "methods" that seem worthwhile. Any recommendations ?:

1. 4 Star Sight Reading (Berlin) Books 1-8
2. Improve Your Sight Reading (Harris) Books 1-8

A structured method is better for me, and these seem to fit that criteria. Any thoughts or experience with these ?

Other ideas ?

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#1185066 - 04/22/09 07:27 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: NM Bill]
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2368
Loc: Denver, CO
Hi Bill,

Welcome to the forums.

My best suggestion on learning to sight read is to:
- Get a big stack of music.
- Arrange it from easiest to hardest.
- Put the stack of music on one side of your piano.
- Play each piece once, preferably with a metronome and not stopping.
- Once you have played it once, place it on the other side of your piano
- When you are done with this stack, get a new one and start all over again.

The only structure in the above is working from easiest to hardest. The diligence comes in playing each piece straight through, as close to tempo and without stopping. If you have to stop or if you are playing it too slow, then you should find easier pieces.

Any sight reading collection that I have looked at is useful in that it gives you a selection of pieces. IMO, they do not include enough music for most people to progress. If you are going to sight read just 3 pages a day, you would need about 1000 pages of material for a year of sight reading.

So where can you get this much sight reading material?

Borrow from you teacher or your library.
Look for used music.
Buy lots of big books of music. You may even find a few pieces you want to really learn.
Buy every method book in the store and work through these.
Do what college students do for sight reading (although, you will need to have a pretty good level of sight reading before you can start this) - play through Bach chorales, Mendelsohn's Songs Without Words, Grieg's Lyric Pieces, Betthoven Symphonies arranged for piano. (The latter would be for someone who is quite advanced. You will be sightreading JT Book 5 before you are ready for this.)

What I don't like about any of the sight reading books I have is that the music really isn't interesting to play. Granted, you are only playing it through once, but it is more fun to pick up a big book of songs and play through them.

Hope this gives you some ideas.
Rich
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#1185069 - 04/22/09 07:30 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: DragonPianoPlayer]
Gerry Armstrong Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 214
Loc: Cumbernauld, Scotland
Both my daughter (aged 7) and myself are using the Paul Harris Improve Your Sight Reading series. I like it and would recommend it.
_________________________
Gerry Armstrong

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#1185206 - 04/22/09 11:42 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gerry Armstrong]
NM Bill Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/20/09
Posts: 3
Actually, both these recommendations are great ideas. I think incorporating them both just might work !!

Thanks.

Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

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#1185241 - 04/22/09 12:26 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: NM Bill]
Devane Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 401
Loc: Ireland
Originally Posted By: NM Bill
Actually, both these recommendations are great ideas. I think incorporating them both just might work !!

Thanks.

Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated.


Definitely. I use both. I’m working on my sight reading at the moment. The sight-reading books are great because they isolate certain aspects like rhythm or intervals. If I didn't use the sight-reading books I'd be still trying to read one note at a time and I'd be unable to glance at a bar (or part of it) and know the rhythm of it instantly.

When I tried with even the easiest pieces I could find, I would still trip up/have to stop and identify the note because the interval was too large. It'll take time before I can read the larger intervals. But at least the numbers of times I have to ID a note has gone down from 100 times to about 3-4 times in a beginner’s 12-16 bar piece.


This blog is useful...

The Year of Piano Sight-reading
http://pianosightreading.blogspot.com/


2 hours a day for a year! I'll try to stick with 30 mins for the moment.
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#1185263 - 04/22/09 01:10 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Devane]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
This is a controversial topic. My view on this is
that these books are not beneficial. There are several
problems with this: "actually-practice-sight-reading-
with-material-below-your-level-in-order-to-
improve-your-sight-reading" approach, as I see it.

First, there is a basic misconception that people
who try this approach have: they want to get
on this type of program so that they can sit
down and play their repertoire at sight. But
this is not possible: you can never sight-
read at your current level, because your current
level defines what you can't sight-read and must
work up deliberately. You can only sight-read material
below your level.

But these types of sight-reading improvement books
contain material that is typically going to be
below most people's level. So going through a
set of these books is a completely waste of time
in my view, because you'll be doing what you can
already do, that is, sight-read material below
your level.

Moreover, if you do what these books suggest, that is,
deliberately practice sight-reading with material
below your level, you again accomplish nothing,
because you're doing what you already can do,
sight-read below your level.

The only way to improve your sight-reading is to
raise your current level, then, what is below
your level is correspondingly raised --simply practicing s-r with material below
your current level accomplishes nothing, because
your current level has not changed.

Furthermore, there is the implication in these
books that by practicing s-r with material below
your level, you can gradually improve to where
you can s-r at your level, but this is nonsensical,
because you can never s-r at your level. Only
by raising your current level considerably can you
then s-r at what was your previous level.

So forget about these books and concentrate on
your Thompson course. At book 3 you probably
can s-r material at the level of bk. 1 fairly
well. By bk. 4 you might then s-r bk. 2 level
material pretty well. By bk. 5 you might s-r
bk. 3 level material. And so forth. But if you're
on bk. 3 and you simply practice s-r with bk. 1
level material, you accomplish nothing.

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#1185278 - 04/22/09 01:33 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gyro]
buck2202 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/06/09
Posts: 216
Loc: Cleveland, OH
We seem to talk about sight reading a lot here. My take on it is that it just takes practice, and as Gyro (almost) suggests, a typical person is unlikely to sight-read a piece (that is, play something completely unfamiliar upon first reading) with the same level of interpretation, nuance, and understanding that they would achieve through deeper study. However, to call focusing on sight-reading below your level "accomplishing nothing" is nonsense. That's like saying that a child learning phonics or reading Dr. Seuss is useless for eventual reading at an adult level, or that exercises are useless for developing technical skill (and let's not start that argument here, eh? An "exercise" can be something as benign as a difficult measure in a piece that you're learning. It doesn't have to be as controversial as Hanon or Czerny). You practice, you learn, you get better.

Unless you're an accompanist and regularly need to perform works at first viewing, when a person says that they want to "sight-read," they usually just mean that they want to read music with less difficulty, so that they can concentrate more readily on dynamics, interpretation, phrasing, or memorization. For this class of sight-reading, the most frequent advice is to play many, many pieces that aren't at the top of their technical ability. That is, practice practice practice. It's never, never a waste to work on any of the skills that make up a good pianist, and if you're able to specifically practice sight-reading without getting bored, good for you!


Edited by buck2202 (04/22/09 01:42 PM)

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#1185342 - 04/22/09 03:06 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: buck2202]
Matt H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 170
Loc: Indiana
Another suggestion: try transposing pieces you sight read into other keys. This will force you to read intervals.

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#1185395 - 04/22/09 04:25 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: buck2202]
Scruffies Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/21/09
Posts: 58
Loc: California
I don't mean to hijack the thread, but along the lines of Buck's post, as a newcomer to learning to read music, I don't see the reason to spend any time worrying about sight reading; yet, I see so many posters asking about it, so I am wondering what benefits I am missing.

Yes, I think it's important to learn and improve music reading skills to make the process of working on pieces easier, more fun, less work, etc., but trying to play at first sight at tempo without errors (my understanding of what "sight reading" means).....why, other than to accompany or to perhaps impress friends?

Now if you are going to go the fake book path, and I mean absolutely no disrespect since I may end up doing this, I can see the benefit to sight reading the melody line since you will most likely have a huge book of popular songs in front of you and would want to be able to quickly play many of them.

But, if you are the typical piano student, working with a teacher on various measures of several hard (for you) classical pieces, working your way thru them over several weeks or even months, what is the benefit of devoting time to sight reading from a stack of music a couple of levels under your current work? How does being able to quickly read help your current efforts?

I am anxious to hear from our experienced students and teachers since I am sure I am missing something since it comes up so often. If you are a teacher and you have your students working on sight reading, what is the benefit you are hoping for from the effort?

PS: Basically I am echoing Buck's comments, but from the perspective of a very new student wondering if I should be adding sight reading efforts to my practice time.



Edited by Scruffies (04/22/09 04:26 PM)
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#1185425 - 04/22/09 05:10 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Scruffies]
Gerry Armstrong Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 214
Loc: Cumbernauld, Scotland
I know when I talk about sight reading, what I actually mean is reading music, not "prima vista" sight reading. My reading skills are very poor in relation to the level of music I can play either by ear or once memorised so I am working on improving my ability to read music.

Sorry for any confusion.
_________________________
Gerry Armstrong

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#1185672 - 04/23/09 04:43 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gerry Armstrong]
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2368
Loc: Denver, CO
Buck and Scruffies,

Keyboardklutz made a comment in another thread that "sightreading is what music is all about." From my perspective here are the advantages to spending time learning to sight read:
- It's a great way to increase your reading skills.
- It decreases the time it takes you to learn new music.
- It's a great way to explore new music.
- A quick play through on a piece will give you an idea of whether you want to spend time learning and polishing it.
- Can you really say that you play piano if you can't just sit down and play?
- Your friends how have never learned to play an instrument will constantly be asking you if you can play such and such a piece. They don't understand what it takes to really learn a piece. Forget about impressing them, isn't it nice just to be able to play it for them?
- Because of a lot of the above points, sight reading is part of being a well rounded musician.

Rich
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#1185900 - 04/23/09 02:40 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: DragonPianoPlayer]
buck2202 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/06/09
Posts: 216
Loc: Cleveland, OH
I think that kbk's comment was accompanied by a statement to the effect of not enjoying sitting down to play something already familiar. In that light, it's valid but just an opinion.

I didn't mean to downplay the value of sight-reading or practicing sight-reading...I specifically defended the usefulness of practicing it, and said that it was never a waste to practice any pianistic skill. My closing comment was just an allusion to my own personal experience...when you're just starting out, pieces that are a few levels below your technical ability can be quite boring. I don't dispute the value, but I can understand the difficulty of getting motivated to practice it. A certain degree of sight-reading ability will come naturally as your repertoire grows, and then it will probably be easier for sight-reading practice to stay interesting.

I'm not sure about your fifth and sixth points, though. I'm not very good at sight-reading, but I can certainly just sit down and play pieces that I've worked on. Sometimes from memory, and sometimes from a combination of memory and familiar sheet music. Can I sit down and passably play something brand new? No..maybe I could play it slowly, or maybe I could play it badly, but I haven't been playing long enough to expect that from myself. As far as playing for my friends goes, I wouldn't use them as a motivation for my learning. I took up piano for myself, and my friends' enjoyment is just a side benefit. You make me think of something that's in my edition of Schumann's Kinderszenen. "When you are playing, do not concern yourself with who may be listening." Followed by "Always play as though a Great Master were listening." Just opinions, of course, but they work for me. Unless I'm playing for my teacher or seeking advice from someone, I don't like for others to hear pieces that I'm not happy with yet.

But anyway, as I said before, if you can practice sight-reading without getting bored, good for you! And if wanting to play for your friends helps to motivate you in any sort of practice, that's a good thing too.

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#1186050 - 04/23/09 07:07 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: buck2202]
PianoTeacherKim Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 255
Loc: Kailua-Kona, HI
Here's my take on sight reading...

I may be in the minority, but I actually enjoy sight reading work using pieces below my current playing level, both on piano and on flute (my first instrument). Flute has an advantage; only playing one note from one staff at a time is inherently less complicated. smile My sight reading on flute is actually pretty close to my playing level. Piano sight reading is more challenging.

Why I like it and think it's useful -- aside from the fun of just sitting down and playing -- is that it's actually performance training. Performance anxiety is a pretty common thing, and one way to help overcome it is to build confidence in playing. Even simple pieces can help with this. It's really valuable to learn how to keep playing even if you make mistakes; this is something that is hard to learn to do! That's what I mean by performance training: how to not let a mistake at a recital throw your entire performance.

I think graded music books can be fun and helpful. I like the Piano Adventures supplementary books; they come in all kinds of styles and are thoughtful arrangements. It's not always easy for beginner pianists to look at a piece and know what level of difficulty it is, so compiling your own stack of graded music can be a challenge.

Best,

Kim
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#1186253 - 04/24/09 03:18 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: PianoTeacherKim]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Sight-reading at its most challenging is playing something you've never seen or heard before.

The problem is that most people think this is totally different from reading music, in general, but it really isn't.

It's just a matter of degree.

If you read through something you've heard many times, what you already have in your ear may help you a great deal, but you still have to read the music.

If you read through something you've read through a year ago and could play with no trouble then, but you stumble now, how quickly you are able to re-learn that old piece also shows you a great deal about what your reading level is.

The idea that it is necessary to read through things that are *way* below the difficulty of things that you can play with great effort and a huge amount of work is also misleading. Simply by reading through things that are below your "top level" will also improve reading.

Reading is about reading. You can roughly gauge your reading level by how well you can play your music before memorizing it. The amount of extra polish you need to "apply" to something you can read with score will tell you a lot about where you are.

I'm a very strong reader. I have always expected to have to work a great deal to get anything that is not very difficult (and usually fast) better than I can play it with the score. When I begin memorizing, things actually get worse at first, until I regain the ease I have with score and add to it the added ease of being able to look at my hands at all times.


Edited by Gary D. (04/24/09 03:19 AM)
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Piano Teacher

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#1186285 - 04/24/09 06:20 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gary D.]
Gerry Armstrong Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 214
Loc: Cumbernauld, Scotland
Gary,

You've summarised exactly the ability I am trying to work on. When I started out I couldn't play anything from the score. I had to memorise it first and then start to learn how to play it. That takes quite a lot of time, even for someone like me who can memorise fairly quickly.

It is also very frustrating to have piles of music around the house and not to be able to noodle my way through various pieces, even slowly, just to see what I might like to select to work on. That has proved to be very de-motivating in the past as you want to play something when you sit at the Piano so you end up playing the few pieces you've learned over and over again as it's so difficult and time consuming to learn new pieces, and that gets boring so you end up not sitting at the Piano at all.

For me, improving my reading ability is the no.1 priority on my list to enable me to get the most out of my time at the Piano.
_________________________
Gerry Armstrong

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#1186289 - 04/24/09 06:40 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gerry Armstrong]
gmm1 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/06
Posts: 1674
Loc: Spokane WA
Typical of us, we have floated away from the OP's question a bit. I, typical of me, did enjoy the conversation, though....

I use Richman's method, and he recommends Bach's two-part inventions and chorals as source material for sight-reading practice (away from the keyboard at first). They tend to be one-note progressions in in each clef.

Now, back to OT. It seems to me the better we can play at our current level, the harder it is to do the work sight-reading below that level. It's can feel like going backwards. I think the best course is to start the process at the very beginning, so it becomes engrained and part of the normal routine. It is a real battle for me to sit down and do the work to sight-read when the stuff I can figure out is right there, begging for my time....

Ah, well....
_________________________
"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro

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#1186582 - 04/24/09 03:21 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: NM Bill]
NM Bill Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/20/09
Posts: 3
Let me ask this of the "experienced" players;

How long did it take you to be able to pick up a piece of music and "sight read" it through on the first go ?

Elementary pieces
Intermediate pieces
Advanced pieces

I suspect all the answers will be in some value of YEARS, yes ?

Bill

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#1186629 - 04/24/09 04:15 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: NM Bill]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
There is apparently a knack to sight-reading (by
this, I mean picking up a piece of music you've
never seen and playing it fluently at sight) that
you either have or don't. Thus, some people are
going to naturally be good at it, while others will
always struggle with it. It is not uncommon for
classical players to be bad sight-readers. All
those highly-trained players who enter Juilliard
every yr. are not tested on s-r, or if they are,
it's just a formality, because most of them would
fail it. Many top concert pianists can't sight-read,
most notably, Emmanuel Ax. And then there is the
question of why a classical player who's an
amateur would even want to s-r, because in classical
you have to work up pieces note perfect and deliberately,
so s-r has no real place in this scheme.
I had many yrs. of classical lessons as a child,
at the end of which I could not s-r anything,
not even a beginner's piece in JT bk. 1. As an adult
restarter, who has made good progress
in repertoire on his own (I can play the Chopin op. 14,
learned by rote repetition over many yrs., at
better than 3/4 speed with errors, as compared to being
able to play only easier preludes and nocturnes
in my last yr. of lessons as a teen), my basic reading has
improved (I can plod through the score of anything
slowly, which I couldn't do as a teen), but
my pure s-r (picking up an unfamiliar
score and playing it fluently at sight) is not
much different from when I was a teen, that is,
I would barely be able to play JT bk. 1 level
pieces fluenty at sight.

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#1187217 - 04/25/09 02:53 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gerry Armstrong]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Gerry Armstrong
Gary,

You've summarised exactly the ability I am trying to work on. When I started out I couldn't play anything from the score. I had to memorise it first and then start to learn how to play it. That takes quite a lot of time, even for someone like me who can memorise fairly quickly.

It's a bit like having to memorize each sentence and each paragraph of each page in order to read a story or book.

The emphasis put on memorization when first learning is absolutely crippling.

The reason people look for sight-reading books is that the whole building process in learning has gone wrong somewhere.
Quote:

It is also very frustrating to have piles of music around the house and not to be able to noodle my way through various pieces, even slowly, just to see what I might like to select to work on. That has proved to be very de-motivating in the past as you want to play something when you sit at the Piano so you end up playing the few pieces you've learned over and over again as it's so difficult and time consuming to learn new pieces, and that gets boring so you end up not sitting at the Piano at all.

Yes. It's like being in a room of thousand of books but only being able to "read" the ones you already know. It's an awful feeling…
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#1187360 - 04/25/09 07:27 PM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gary D.]
Scruffies Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/21/09
Posts: 58
Loc: California
I have the opposite problem from Gary D's. That is, I am a poor reader but a good play by ear player.

In fact, I learned most of Beethoven's Sonatina #2 in F over fifty years ago, did not even own a piano for most of those fifty years so rarely had a chance to play it, totally forgot how to read at all over those fifty years, and yet I can still today play the piece from memory (since I can't read now) with a few errors here and there.

I think that "good ear for music" often gets in the way of reading since once my ear and hands decide they know the piece, my brain stops worrying about the score!

I would love to be a stronger reader so I could more easily sample the thousands of scores available, so although memorization is easy for me, I admire those who find reading easy.

PS: I injured my left hand a few weeks ago and I'm waiting for it to heal so I can resume LH playing.


Edited by Scruffies (04/25/09 07:28 PM)
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#1187509 - 04/26/09 01:45 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gerry Armstrong]
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 981
Loc: Oregon
Originally Posted By: Gerry Armstrong
,
It is also very frustrating to have piles of music around the house and not to be able to noodle my way through various pieces, even slowly, just to see what I might like to select to work on. That has proved to be very de-motivating in the past as you want to play something when you sit at the Piano so you end up playing the few pieces you've learned over and over again as it's so difficult and time consuming to learn new pieces, and that gets boring so you end up not sitting at the Piano at all.


You're describing me exactly! Exactly!


Edited by sleepingcats (04/26/09 01:48 AM)
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#1187514 - 04/26/09 02:09 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Scruffies]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Scruffies
I have the opposite problem from Gary D's. That is, I am a poor reader but a good play by ear player.

I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion. Before I pulled away from public performance altogether at about age 30, I performed long programs in public, entirely from memory, and my memory was rock solid.

The point was that I did not have to memorize in order to play many things well. Not that I couldn't.

While there are some very lucky people who have trick memories (they seem to memorize anything instantly because, among other things, they have photographic memory and may be reading the score, but in their head), most people find memorizing purely for the sake of memorization to be an added step IF they read very, very well.

However, while teaching students things that they want to learn and I've never seen or heard before, I demonstrate how I can use the same techniques I'm teaching them to learn the music faster to memorize the music while watching them, without touching the keyboard myself.

There is a huge difference between not having to memorize in order to play something well and not being able to.

The point is that people who read very poorly have no choice but to memorize anything they want to sound good. Otherwise it is painfully slow, full of holes, stumbles, and so on.
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#1187522 - 04/26/09 02:34 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: buck2202]
YadielOmar Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/08/05
Posts: 66
Loc: P.R.
Originally Posted By: buck2202


Unless you're an accompanist and regularly need to perform works at first viewing, when a person says that they want to "sight-read," they usually just mean that they want to read music with less difficulty, so that they can concentrate more readily on dynamics, interpretation, phrasing, or memorization. For this class of sight-reading, the most frequent advice is to play many, many pieces that aren't at the top of their technical ability. That is, practice practice practice. It's never, never a waste to work on any of the skills that make up a good pianist, and if you're able to specifically practice sight-reading without getting bored, good for you!


This is interesting, I in many occasions have been a accompanist, most of the time it's pretty easy to sightread, but sometimes it's damn near impossible especially when there are rhythmically complex phrases with complex voicings and counter melodies in the bass clef at first sight with no fake chords. It happened to me last week, and it wasn't fun. It's like the arranger had a personal vendetta against me. From an accompanist stand point, what materials would be best for sight reading? I imagine there are beginners taking piano lessons that want to accompany someone


Edited by YadielOmar (04/26/09 02:37 AM)

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#1187563 - 04/26/09 07:20 AM Re: Best Sight Reading books ? [Re: Gary D.]
kennychaffin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/19/09
Posts: 889
Loc: Aurora, CO
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Sight-reading at its most challenging is playing something you've never seen or heard before.

The problem is that most people think this is totally different from reading music, in general, but it really isn't.

It's just a matter of degree.
....



+1
_________________________
Kenny A. Chaffin
Art Gallery - Print Gallery - Poetry
"Strive on with Awareness" - Siddhartha Gautama

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