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#1771455 - 10/16/11 08:21 AM Sight reading
sail Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/06/10
Posts: 10
I'd like to get opinions on just what exactly "sight reading" means to others. In reading the posts the term is thrown around in many differnt ways. When I think of someone who can sight read I think of some one who can sit at a piano with sheet music they have never seen before and play it as if they have played it a thousand times. Is this off base? If I am learning a new piece, sitting at the piano and figuring out what notes I'm looking at and what keys to hit to play them, am I not practicing and learning how to sight read? Sometimes I use flash cards and run through them to identify notes. Sometimes I'll open up my lesson book (Alfred's Adult book #2) and look at pieces and try to identify notes while I'm sitting in my easy chair. Would this be considered learning to sight read?

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#1771471 - 10/16/11 10:03 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
PaperClip Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/21/09
Posts: 522
Loc: Amsterdam, Holland
Hi Sail,

I agree on your definition of sight reading. Playing a piece for the first time at normal tempo without losing it, with dynamics and all.

Decoding sheet music when learning a new piece and just identifying notes in your easy chair, will certainly help to sight read new pieces better. But sight reading is in my opinion doing a lot of stuff at once.

There could be more than one definition of sight reading though, but you're not far off base.
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Playing since May 02 2009

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#1771481 - 10/16/11 11:00 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
packa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/05
Posts: 1397
Loc: Dallas, TX
There is often some ambiguity in the way the term is used in this forum, but there is little confusion in the general literature of music about its meaning.

According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music:

"Sight-reading, sight-singing. The performing of a piece of music on seeing it for the first time."

From the Oxford Companion to Music:

"Sight-reading, sight-singing. The performance of music from notation that the singer or instrumentalist has not previously seen. . . . A good sight-singer or -player knows that what is required is not so much fine accuracy of performing detail, but a general impression of the piece that is nevertheless musically convincing."

The important part of these definitions is the concept of first-sight performance. This doesn't mean just sitting down to begin to learn a new piece; it means performing the piece fairly accurately and at a convincing tempo the first time through. Church musicians and frequent accompanists are often astonishingly good at this.
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#1771498 - 10/16/11 11:48 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
Evan R. Murphy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/11
Posts: 42
Loc: Austin, Texas
Hi Sail,

Originally Posted By: sail
When I think of someone who can sight read I think of some one who can sit at a piano with sheet music they have never seen before and play it as if they have played it a thousand times.


I think your definition is fine, except for the "thousand times" part. A good sight reader will get through the music pretty well, but everyone plays better with rehearsal.

Also, even good sight readers don't expect to sight read music that's as difficult as music they'd prepare for performance. If you really intend to get through a piece the first time playing well, it can't be music that pushes your technical ability the same way a prepared piece might.

Originally Posted By: sail
Sometimes I'll open up my lesson book (Alfred's Adult book #2) and look at pieces and try to identify notes while I'm sitting in my easy chair. Would this be considered learning to sight read?


When most people say sight reading, what they mean is playing music at first sight. However, some scholars like to make the distinction between "sight reading" and "sight playing", where the former is silent reading of music.

In any case, what you're doing is a good exercise that will help with sight reading. If you want it to translate more directly into sight reading piano, you might try doing it while playing at the piano, or still sitting in your chair but practicing piano fingerings in the air.

Don't forget to practice sight reading with music that's easier than the music you'd prepare. You can also slow down the tempo or just do one hand at a time to make a piece easier for sight reading practice.

Hope this helps,
Evan
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#1771623 - 10/16/11 03:37 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 970
Agree with others here, it's trying to get as close to performance level on the first read. Great sight readers can play a song at first look and seem like they've practiced it already. It's not just hitting right notes, but having interpretation as well. Goal is to not be stiff or robotic (especially sight-singing). I also agree that you can't read at your highest playing level. However, the better your sight-reading skills, the less you have to practice on harder pieces, probably because you are making fewer mistakes as you learn it.

Also, sight-reading usually brings up the thought of classical music, but pop players sight-read all the time too. Usually either chord charts or number charts. Same concept, but you have more freedom in the actual notes that you play, so I think it requires one more step of thought. Different skill. I've known some great notation sight readers that couldn't read a chord chart, and vice versa.

Evan, I'd be curious about their method and how well it works for you. I don't believe in the old "Every Good Boy..." mentality of learning notation. I think it's way easier to learn than a ton of memorization. Have you gone through it much yet? Is their approach a departure from the norm?
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#1771642 - 10/16/11 04:02 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: packa]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: packa


"Sight-reading, sight-singing. The performing of a piece of music on seeing it for the first time."


Originally Posted By: packa


"Sight-reading, sight-singing. The performance of music from notation that the singer or instrumentalist has not previously seen.


For my part, I don't like this definition. I don't see why limit the idea of sight-reading to prima vista, as if the natural goal is to memorize and not to re-read. In fact, I generally don't use the term sight-reading, I use simply "reading" and, because it is obvious that if you are reading music it is by sight.

If you read through a Shakespeare soliloquy for the second time, the third time, the 50th time, are you any less reading it than the first time? Even if you know it, you always discover something new and you penetrate to ever deeper levels of the work.

The dictionary definition of sight-reading, which I agree corresponds with the generally used sense of the term, is kind of perverse. It discourages reading and sends the emphasis to memorization and performance.

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#1771653 - 10/16/11 04:21 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
findingnemo2010 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/17/09
Posts: 1491
if your reading at alfred level 2 chances are your mostly sight reading
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#1771659 - 10/16/11 04:34 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: landorrano]
Evan R. Murphy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/11
Posts: 42
Loc: Austin, Texas
Landorrano, could you elaborate on this?

Quote:
The dictionary definition of sight-reading, which I agree corresponds with the generally used sense of the term, is kind of perverse. It discourages reading and sends the emphasis to memorization and performance.


I think that musicians who struggle with reading early on often become dependent on memorization to learn pieces. If they haven't built up a strong coordination between reading and playing, they may still look at the music for vague reminders, but they're not really reading as much as they are playing what they've practiced and memorized.

For musicians with the memorization crutch, sight reading helps by forcing them to engage in real reading. Since they haven't seen the piece before, they have no opportunity to rely on what they've memorized, and instead must really try to read.

Quote:
Evan, I'd be curious about their method and how well it works for you. I don't believe in the old "Every Good Boy..." mentality of learning notation. I think it's way easier to learn than a ton of memorization. Have you gone through it much yet? Is their approach a departure from the norm?


Brian, whose method were you talking about here that you wanted my comment on?

Evan
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#1771683 - 10/16/11 05:17 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Hi landorrano,

<<for my part, I don't like this definition. I don't see why limit the idea of sight-reading to prima vista, as if the natural goal is to memorize and not to re-read. In fact, I generally don't use the term sight-reading, I use simply "reading" and, because it is obvious that if you are reading music it is by sight.>>

"prima vista" sight-reading is unique, think of it as without practicing. Once you've played it once, you are into practice and rehearsal and the situation then changes. I don't think your Shakespear metaphor works (since we are mostly all "fluent" English readers).

However, I do agree that there doesn't appear to be a term for reading a piece the second and subsequent times (when we are into "practicing").

I tend to think of this as "Rote-Reading". When you're practicing a piece from the score, I believe it's a sort of memorisation. However, it's 'incomplete memorisation', and you can't play it without the score. But swap the score for another similar piece that hasn't been seen before and it's back to square one. Personally, if I'm going to put significant effort into studying a piece I'll memorise it.

I do believe though that the "prima vista sight-reading fluency level" is very important, since it determines how long it will take to study pieces at higher levels.

i.e the importance of studying and improving "prima vista sight-reading" is that it reduces the time to study and learn pieces at higher grades. So the aim would be to learn pieces in 5 to 10 hours that currently take 50 to 100 hours etc etc



Edited by EJR (10/16/11 05:21 PM)
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#1771685 - 10/16/11 05:20 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Hi Evan. Interesting post, and I agree with everything. However, just look at the OP:

Originally Posted By: sail
When I think of someone who can sight read I think of some one who can sit at a piano with sheet music they have never seen before and play it as if they have played it a thousand times.


Who can live up to that? It is so big that it is terribly discouraging.

Besides, there is so much more to being able to play a score than the simple recognition of notes. It is the result of a many things, not the least of which is a good knowledge of musical literature.

To take up again my analogy with reading Shakespeare, you can give a passage to a child who reads very well, and they just won't know how to begin and if they manage to pronounce the words it will be in a way that is totally inconcruous to their sense. There is no point.

Re-reading the dictionary definitions of sight reading, I remark that they both use the word "performance". That is exactly where it acts as a trap.

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#1771690 - 10/16/11 05:29 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: EJR]
Evan R. Murphy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/11
Posts: 42
Loc: Austin, Texas
Originally Posted By: EJR
I don't think your Shakespear metaphor works (since we are mostly all "fluent" English readers).


Interesting to note though that there is an analogue to sight reading in theatre. It's called "cold reading" (Wikipedia).
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#1771695 - 10/16/11 05:37 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: EJR]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Hi EJR. Maybe it is just bone-picking, but I would say that I disagree with the following:

Originally Posted By: EJR
"prima vista sight-reading fluency level" is very important, since it determines how long it will take to study pieces at higher levels.


In my view, to learn a piece it is important to be able to read and re-read and re-read. In any case, someone who cannot re-read at his ease the pieces that he is studying cannot sight-read them very well either, and is surely missing a lot.

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#1771700 - 10/16/11 05:50 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: landorrano]
Evan R. Murphy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/11
Posts: 42
Loc: Austin, Texas
Originally Posted By: landorrano
Hi Evan. Interesting post, and I agree with everything.... Who can live up to that? It is so big that it is terribly discouraging.... Re-reading the dictionary definitions of sight reading, I remark that they both use the word "performance". That is exactly where it acts as a trap.


Hi Landorrano, I think I see what you mean now. You're saying that the dictionary definition of sight reading focuses on performance rather than reading. And by doing so, it introduces the intimidation factor and a lot of pressure that's unnecessary.

Is this what you meant, or am I still not getting it?

Evan
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Piano World members get 40% off their first month using this link.

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#1771704 - 10/16/11 05:55 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Hi Sail,

"I'd like to get opinions on just what exactly "sight reading" means to others."

Playing a piece a second and subsequent time from the score is not sight-reading your "practicing" (unless of course, you read i fluently the first time).

<< In reading the posts the term is thrown around in many differnt ways. When I think of someone who can sight read I think of some one who can sit at a piano with sheet music they have never seen before and play it as if they have played it a thousand times.>>

You hit the nail on the head. This occurs with pieces at (or below) your "Sight Reading Fluency level".

<<If I am learning a new piece, sitting at the piano and figuring out what notes I'm looking at and what keys to hit to play them, am I not practicing and learning how to sight read.>>

No, you're not sight-reading, you're practicing (decoding and decyphering the score and using repetition and muscle memory).

<<Sometimes I use flash cards and run through them to identify notes. Sometimes I'll open up my lesson book (Alfred's Adult book #2) and look at pieces and try to identify notes while I'm sitting in my easy chair. Would this be considered learning to sight read?>>

Perhaps helping to sight-read but not sight-reading.

Here's a good explanation from Margaret Fabrizio (and references the English Lit metaphor).

Bottom line is that to practice sight reading, you need to find your fluency level, which may be simple pieces (or lower ie simple sight-reading method books vol 1).

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#1771710 - 10/16/11 06:06 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
Studio Joe Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/28/07
Posts: 1803
Loc: Decatur, Texas
How do you practice sight reading? It must be very expensive to buy virgin (unseen) sheet of music for each session.
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#1771711 - 10/16/11 06:07 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Evan R. Murphy]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: SightReading
Originally Posted By: landorrano
Hi Evan. Interesting post, and I agree with everything.... Who can live up to that? It is so big that it is terribly discouraging.... Re-reading the dictionary definitions of sight reading, I remark that they both use the word "performance". That is exactly where it acts as a trap.


Hi Landorrano, I think I see what you mean now. You're saying that the dictionary definition of sight reading focuses on performance rather than reading. And by doing so, it introduces the intimidation factor and a lot of pressure that's unnecessary.

Is this what you meant, or am I still not getting it?

Evan


Well yes, that's right. But beyond the dictionary definition, the problem is that the focus for most people is on practising, memorizing and performing that which they are not able to read well. They struggle and suffer terribly because they don't and really cannot read.

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#1771714 - 10/16/11 06:10 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: landorrano]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Hi
<<in my view, to learn a piece it is important to be able to read and re-read and re-read. In any case, someone who cannot re-read at his ease the pieces that he is studying cannot sight-read them very well either, and is surely missing a lot.>>

I agree. When playing/studying the piano we operate between two limits. The first is our 'sight-reading (prima vista) fluency level', the second (upper limit) is our 'decoding/decyphering physical limit'.

Clearly, you can re-play and improve pieces at the lower level fluently at any time. However pieces that have been learnt by reading and studying from the score (and without memorisation) at higher levels ("read and re-read" as you say), will slip from memory and have to be re-studied (although this shows that it's a form of memorisation rather than 'reading' per se).

It's possible to learn pieces many grades above the SR level, but they tend to fade quicker from memory and take longer to get back.
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#1771720 - 10/16/11 06:15 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Studio Joe]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
<<How do you practice sight reading? It must be very expensive to buy virgin (unseen) sheet of music for each session.>>

Yep. This can be a problem.

My solution is to get most of my sight-reading scores from the local Public Library (which is truly excellent!).

I guess it depends on how these services are organised in your neck of the woods....
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#1771724 - 10/16/11 06:22 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Evan R. Murphy]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Originally Posted By: SightReading
Originally Posted By: EJR
I don't think your Shakespear metaphor works (since we are mostly all "fluent" English readers).


Interesting to note though that there is an analogue to sight reading in theatre. It's called "cold reading" (Wikipedia).


I agree!

Off the top of me head... Perhaps the decoding/decyphering and practicing of pieces at grades above the sight-reading fluency level is more akin to a native English speaker/reader learning a Shakespear sonet in Mandarin phonetically? i.e without any of the linguistic cognition of the language it's written in itself?


Edited by EJR (10/16/11 06:22 PM)
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#1771728 - 10/16/11 06:28 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Studio Joe]
Evan R. Murphy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/11
Posts: 42
Loc: Austin, Texas
Originally Posted By: Studio Joe
How do you practice sight reading? It must be very expensive to buy virgin (unseen) sheet of music for each session.


Yes, it would be very expensive. Fortunately, unless you have a phonographic memory (forgive the pun grin), music you haven't read in awhile will make almost as good sight reading as music you've never read before at all.

So if you buy sheet music for sight reading now, you can probably re-use it for that purpose again in a few months. Or if you really like the piece, you can practice to make it a part of your repertoire. Either way you get more bang for your buck than if you bought it, just sight read once and then never used it again.

I really like EJR's point too. Take advantage of your local library when budget is a concern. And don't forget you can find some sheet music for free online, for example at IMSLP.

Originally Posted By: landorrano
But beyond the dictionary definition, the problem is that the focus for most people is on practising, memorizing and performing that which they are not able to read well. They struggle and suffer terribly because they don't and really cannot read.


Quite well said.

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Piano World members get 40% off their first month using this link.

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#1771754 - 10/16/11 07:19 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Evan R. Murphy]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 970
Originally Posted By: SightReading
Brian, whose method were you talking about here that you wanted my comment on?

Evan

Sorry, I think I'm confused by your signature. Are you going through a course or creating a course? Either way, would love to hear about it.
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BM in Performance, Berklee College of Music, 23+ year teacher and touring musician
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#1771883 - 10/16/11 11:32 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
TheodorN Offline
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Registered: 07/16/10
Posts: 1193
Loc: Helsingborg, Sweden
I don't believer there exists a piano player who can play a piece whose notes he/she has never seen before (or heard it played) with little or no advance.

Even a very experienced and skilled player must have to study the piece, what key it's in, chord progressions, dynamics (crescendo, decrescendo, legato, allegro and all them Italian friends) and so on. Get a feeling for the work.
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#1771953 - 10/17/11 02:36 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
A question for the OP:

Sail: if you have a score that has the grand staff and only C's and G's but lots of them, going from two ledger lines below to two ledger lines above the grand staff, can you read through it at ease? For example, "C G G C G G C C G G C G C C ... ", simply pronouncing the note names with your voice, steadily, one after the other.

In my opinion, you will advance more surely if you worry less about sight-reading and instead undertake a systematic study of reading in general away from the piano !

In your easy chair sounds like and excellent place to undertake this study!

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#1771995 - 10/17/11 06:31 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
sail Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/06/10
Posts: 10
Wqw! Lots of interesting and informative responses to my question! Thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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#1772090 - 10/17/11 09:44 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
PianoStudent88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 3181
Loc: Maine
landorrano, I am mystified. Simply reading the notes away from the piano, without simultaneously playing them, does nothing to foster the eye-hand connection which is necessary for playing music from written notation. How does your easy-chair method help someone to play?
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#1772106 - 10/17/11 10:03 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: TheodorN]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2391
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Pianotehead
I don't believer there exists a piano player who can play a piece whose notes he/she has never seen before (or heard it played) with little or no advance.


A quick "what if" should show you this is false. If I gave almost any person on this forum a four measure piece that each had one whole note in each hand in each measure, we could all play it at sight with expression.

What is the difference between this and Grieg's Piano Concerto? The length and the complexity. Yet Listz is famously reported to have played that at first sight - one of a number of astonishing sight reading feats of his.

No, any musician can learn to play pieces up to a certain level at first sight well. Up to what level will depend on their own technical skills and the time they have spent specifically working on sight reading.
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#1772115 - 10/17/11 10:17 AM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
Studio Joe Offline
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Registered: 03/28/07
Posts: 1803
Loc: Decatur, Texas
As a church musician I have played many pieces at first sight. I can remember singers handing me the music on their way to the stage. I had maybe 30 sec. to study the score before starting to play.

While the music was not very complicated, it still requires considerable skill to play with confidence at first sigtht and unheard.
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#1772214 - 10/17/11 01:16 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: sail]
thurisaz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/11
Posts: 73
Loc: Finland
I think there's some value in "reading on an easy chair" and in landorrano's distinction between "prima vista" sight-reading and reading more generally. I get that it "does nothing to foster the eye-hand connection which is necessary for playing music from written notation", but I think that it still does something useful (at least for me).

I think the analogy with reading Shakespeare is actually quite good. I'm fluent in English, so I have no trouble reading through a Shakespeare soliloquy. I've also done some amateur theater work and there is definitely a difference between "cold-reading" and reciting something I've looked over. I would like to become similarly "fluent" at reading sheet music and I think that reading away from the piano can help with that. I find it's very useful for learning to identify notes reflexively, especially on ledger lines, rather than slowly figuring out what's written on the score; similarly, it can help learn patterns of notes, either vertically (chords) or horizontally.

I think this kind of fluency is different from "prima-facie" sight-reading. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to 'perform' a piece of music at first sight (that is, play it musically, expressively, etc); at the moment, though, my goal is simply to become fluent at reading sheet music, even if that doesn't (yet) map directly to an eye-hand connection and smooth playing.
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#1772255 - 10/17/11 02:21 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: Studio Joe]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 970
Originally Posted By: Studio Joe
As a church musician I have played many pieces at first sight. I can remember singers handing me the music on their way to the stage. I had maybe 30 sec. to study the score before starting to play.

While the music was not very complicated, it still requires considerable skill to play with confidence at first sigtht and unheard.

Yep. I've played too many times to count with the same experience. Just enough time to scan the piece for anything weird. I've played for lots of auditions, and you basically sit there and sight-read every piece the singers audition with. Maybe occasionally you get one you already know.

Like any other skill, this can be developed. I had a conducting teacher in college who could reduce a full orchestral score into a condensed piano part on the fly, transposing the various parts into concert C. It was amazing.
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#1772361 - 10/17/11 04:58 PM Re: Sight reading [Re: PianoStudent88]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2469
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
landorrano, I am mystified. Simply reading the notes away from the piano, without simultaneously playing them, does nothing to foster the eye-hand connection which is necessary for playing music from written notation. How does your easy-chair method help someone to play?


Hi PianoStudent88. Mystfifed ? I love that ! And "easy-chair method", I love that too, I ought to try to market it !

Seriously, though. Studying reading away from the piano will help you a great deal when you have to read at the piano. And studying a score that you are going to play -- that is to say, reading through it, "in your easy-chair" (patent pending ) -- before trying to play it will help you greatly.

If you cannot read it "in your easy chair", that just brings out how overwhelming an effort you are making at the piano.

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