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#392287 - 10/05/06 02:12 AM How good are the best sight readers?
stephenc Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 693
Loc: Australia
I've been pondering this for some time, especially whilst slowly plugging my way through Liszt's Liebestraume.

Can great sightreaders pick up a piece such as Liebestraume (previously unseen) and belt it out pause/error free? That would truly be something to witness!

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#392288 - 10/05/06 06:11 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
jpw101 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/05
Posts: 631
Loc: UK
The best sight-readers can play from a new score as easily as you can read out loud from a new book. I've read about Roberto Szidon being presented with obscure concertos and playing them almost perfectly from the study scores, similar to the way Liszt surprised Grieg by playing his newly-composed concerto from the manuscript. It can be done!

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#392289 - 10/05/06 07:16 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
hi jpw101,
Are you able to support the claim?
“The best sight-readers can play from a new score as easily as you can read out loud from a new book.”

Amazingly ... any bland statement on this subject is always couched in words of reading about the sight-reading skills of the likes of a
Roberto Szidon
“playing them ALMOST perfectly from the study scores” with the usual reference to legendary Liszt and the equally legendary playing
of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

But strangely there is nobody on this Forum who is prepared to accept the challenge of playing a fresh piece of music off-the cuff without a
period of preparation ... even those who are blessed with a rare aural memory ( a minuscule minority) need time to identify the notes and
structure the correct fingering before being brave enough to venture a performance .

Quality performance relies on aural memory ... 99.9% of us have got “average” memories ... we need time to convert the score into a muscle
memory through dedicated practice.

Stephenc is obviously battling with the Liebestraume and is needing some boost to validate all the effort he’s putting into the playing of the seemingly easy and familiar Liszt work ... what he doesn’t realize is that the melody line in this composition is deceivingly hidden within the interweave of the broader fabric ... and has picked an extremely difficult work to sight-read and play with authority.

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#392290 - 10/05/06 08:01 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Bob Newbie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1549
then music becomes like typing a letter emotionless..like a savant technically plays everything correct..but lacks the soul to really emote a musical phrase..very "dry" listening experience.. Bob

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#392291 - 10/05/06 08:14 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Peyton Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/02/06
Posts: 2501
Loc: Maine
I've only heard of such things but never witnessed it first hand. My dad, a professional singer, says he works with a pianist that can do it. Looking at some of the scores out there I have a hard time believing someone could play them cold.

Even if that first time were lacking in soul it would be a heck of a skill to have....
_________________________
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#392292 - 10/05/06 08:18 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
stephenc Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 693
Loc: Australia
 Quote:
Stephenc is obviously battling with the Liebestraume and is needing some boost to validate all the effort he’s putting into the playing of the seemingly easy and familiar Liszt work...
BTB, just to clarify, I'm not trying to sight read this piece, I'm committing it measure by measure to memory.

I was just wondering whether pianists can get to such a level that sight reading such pieces from scratch is possible. I guess I'll be a disbeliever until I see it for myself. I just can't imagine someone being THAT skilful. Like you, I think 99.99% of us must diligently and repetitively practice pieces such as these to get close to mastering them.

BTW It would be great if someone on the forums took on such a challenge and proved that line of thought wrong!

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#392293 - 10/05/06 08:22 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
drumour Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/05
Posts: 829
Loc: Scotland
"But strangely there is nobody on this Forum who is prepared to accept the challenge of playing a fresh piece of music off-the cuff without a
period of preparation ..."


There are, I expect, plenty of people on this forum and elsewhere who, on a daily basis will do just this. When I was a school teacher I had to regularly play accompaniments at sight and be prepared to transpose them. I had to score-read at sight and, for choirs, be prepared to transpose them too. I would regularly sight-read chamber music with friends just for the fun of it.

Sight-reading is a requirement of the ABRSM exams at all grades from 1 to 8. The performing and teaching diplomas at the royal colleges have sight-reading elements.

I don't know of anyone, though, who would sight-read a formal solo performance (except as a circus trick, perhaps); that would be patently absurd. And yet people on this forum assume that if there is music on the piano the pianist is sight-reading - crazy. Sight-reading is not, and never has been in spite of Liszt and a very few others, about "quality performance".


John
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Vasa inania multum strepunt.

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#392294 - 10/05/06 08:27 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
stephenc Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 693
Loc: Australia
 Quote:
Sight-reading is a requirement of the ABRSM exams at all grades from 1 to 8
Drumour, are students given the oppurtunity to view/practice these pieces before their recitals?

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#392295 - 10/05/06 08:32 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
drumour Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/05
Posts: 829
Loc: Scotland
No - sight-reading means just that, right from the start.


John
_________________________
Vasa inania multum strepunt.

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#392296 - 10/05/06 08:36 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
jpw101 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/05
Posts: 631
Loc: UK
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
hi jpw101,
Are you able to support the claim?
“The best sight-readers can play from a new score as easily as you can read out loud from a new book.”
[/b]

I've seen it done, admittedly not to the level of a Liszt or Szidon but certainly with pieces more difficult than the Liebestraume.

 Quote:

Amazingly ... any bland statement on this subject is always couched in words of reading about the sight-reading skills of the likes of a
Roberto Szidon
“playing them ALMOST perfectly from the study scores” with the usual reference to legendary Liszt and the equally legendary playing
of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor.
[/b]
Your emphasis of the word 'almost' is interesting, it's as though anything less than perfection isn't worthy of consideration. I said I'd read about because I had - nothing amazing about that, surely. After some digging I found it:

 Quote:
Roberto must have the most fantastic "prima vista" ability of any pianist, dead or alive. He can play almost anything at first sight. I remember taking some Swedish music to him, music that I knew for sure he hadn't looked at before. From a small conductor's score he played Stenhammar's 2nd Concerto and Berwald's Piano Concerto almost perfectly! I was reminded of all those accounts of Liszt's fantastic reading abilities! I now know quite a lot of overwhelmingly talented pianists of very high international stature, but in this ability, Roberto is really something extraordinary. But of course, this was not the only thing important with him. He had so many new ways of looking at a score, an ability to really read what was there, and offered new technical solutions, new ways of phrasing and of using the pedal. But most of all, when you sat beside this truly great pianist, you were affected by the higher level of concentration, thinking, as well as the music-making.
Quoted from http://www.torgny.biz/Concerts_1.htm

Now, either you believe the author or you don't. Do you? If not, why not?


 Quote:

Stephenc is obviously battling with the Liebestraume and is needing some boost to validate all the effort he’s putting into the playing of the seemingly easy and familiar Liszt work ... what he doesn’t realize is that the melody line in this composition is deceivingly hidden within the interweave of the broader fabric ... and has picked an extremely difficult work to sight-read and play with authority. [/b]
Are you his keeper? Where do you get all that from, given the original post is only a couple of lines long? How do you know what he does/doesn't realise about the melody line? I've heard of reading between the lines, but this is ridiculous...

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#392297 - 10/05/06 08:42 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10297
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Look, the extreme statement about like "reading out of a book" provokes needless controversy. There are indeed people whose sightreading skills are very advanced. When I was sixteen I studied with a CP at the University of Miami. She could sightread pieces better than I could play them after months of study. As a teen, that was awe inspiring. As an adult, I realize just how training and work make this possible. It's not a preternatural gift unavailable to the rest of us. If music is your life, you listen to it all the time and you thumb through music to see how it is put together as part of your job.

Earlier this week my son went to a teacher friend's house to work on the Concerto in F two piano version. After eight pages she said that she hadn't worked on the rest and asked if Anthony wanted her to sightread a bit further. Note perfect? Nope. Yet to the average pianist it would have been an amazing tour de force. We're not talking easy music here. When you play for 5-8 hours per day you just tend to get good at it!
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#392298 - 10/05/06 08:45 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
btb,

I'm taking a sight-reading course at school. Last year, I tried reading through a few Bach chorales, and I could barely get through one measure.

Now, I am picking random 4-part chorales througout the book (371 chorales), and I can just play them perfectly all the way through, without spending a second looking at the score beforehand.


They aren't concertos, but then, I'm not technically good enough to play many concertos even with hours and hours of practice.


It is possible. Do you want a recording? Do you want proof? I won't be able to record until Thanksgiving when I go home for a few days, so I won't look at the last few pages of my chorales book until then, and record a few of them 'off-the-cuff' for you if you'd like.

Maybe someone who is a better pianist/sight-reader than I am might volunteer to record an "off-the-cuff" reading of some more difficult music.
_________________________
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#392299 - 10/05/06 09:22 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Peyton Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/02/06
Posts: 2501
Loc: Maine
Drumore and Pinaojerome, I know this subject has come up before but I'll ask none the less... If one would like to really improve one's sightreading ablility what would be a good regime?
_________________________
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www.youtube.com/Biffer5
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#392300 - 10/05/06 09:28 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
Practice, practice, practice.

Buy a book of 371 chorales by Bach, and just read through them, very slowly. (very slowly at first; as you get better you can speed up)

Count out-loud.

Don't look at your hands: keep your eyes on the music. If you have to look, glance with your eyes, but don't move your head.

Learn to look one beat ahead: quickly memorize each beat before you play it so that you can already be looking ahead while you are playing. As you get better, you will be able to recognize notes and chords faster, so you will be able to look farther ahead as you are playing. (This doesn't mean stop, memorize, go, stop, memorize, go... what it means is that you are constantly playing, but instead of always focusing only on what your fingers need to do RIGHT NOW, you are always looking ahead, having already quickly read and remembered what you are playing right now - that way, you have already seen every note that you play; albeit, you have only just seen those notes a few seconds earlier. Especially when you see that you have a rest coming up, that is a GREAT opportunity to look farther ahead and remember what you have seen.) It doesn't give you a lot of preparation time, as you really are only seeing for the first time what you will be playing in a second or five seconds or ten seconds, but it certainly helps.

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice scales and arpeggios and chords without looking at your hands, so that when you are sightreading, you don't have to look away from the score to play such passages. Practice scales and apreggios and chords so that you will recognize the patterns in music when you seen them, and so that you won't have to worry about fingering.

Learn to recognize patterns: see notes as parts of chords, not just as single notes.

Practice, practice, practice.

Remember what you have already played. Remember the key signature and time signature. Remember accidentals. Remember recurring patterns. Remember harmonic progressions (if you can recognize the progressions as you are playing: we actually have to do this in my class. As we are all sight-reading together, say, a Beethoven Sonata, one of the students is assigned to shout out the chord progressions as we (and that student) sight-read the music.)
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Sam

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#392301 - 10/05/06 09:31 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Brendan Offline



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5228
Loc: McAllen, TX
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:

But strangely there is nobody on this Forum who is prepared to accept the challenge of playing a fresh piece of music off-the cuff without a
period of preparation ... even those who are blessed with a rare aural memory ( a minuscule minority) need time to identify the notes and
structure the correct fingering before being brave enough to venture a performance.
[/b]
I do it every day. Instrumentalists and singers expect that their pianist should be able to play anything they put in front of them, be it a Schubert song or the Strauss Violin Sonata (which I finally agreed to play this year).

Like PJ said, once you get into the groove of sightreading a lot it becomes much easier. Like studying the piano, it's as much of a trained skill as it is innate ability.
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http://www.BrendanKinsella.com

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#392302 - 10/05/06 09:41 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
gmm1 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/03/06
Posts: 1674
Loc: Spokane WA
I agree sight-reading is/can be just like reading a book, if you are willing to discount the connection of hands/eyes to actually play.

Now, think back for a minute... When reading history or (dry) ecomomic text, I would have to re-read most of the material to "learn" it, sometimes many times, over and over. And even reading for fun would lead to re-reads at times. And this is just reading, no hand/eye stuff going on.

Not too different than music, eh? Add the "playing" to the reading and it becomes more like typing (maybe a bad analogy). I know some very good typists that cannot tell you what they typed when typing dicatation/copying, etc. They go on "automatic". I would think good sight-readers do the same thing.

So, now I have talked myself out of my point - reading a book and sight reading are totally different skills.
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"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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#392303 - 10/05/06 10:14 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Steve Chandler Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2628
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
Here's a story I heard from Orchestralist that'll blow your socks off. Ernst Von Dohnany was playing a recital at which Bartok was in the audience. Bartok brought him a score for a then new and unpublished piano sonata. Dohnany proceeded to leaf through it and handed the score back to Bartok. When it came time for an encore he played Bartok's sonata from start to finish. How's that for a feat of memory (and sight reading)????

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#392304 - 10/05/06 10:59 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
pianistical Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/04
Posts: 1377
Loc: Stockholm, Sweden
Brendan,

Would you be able to sightread an atonal work?
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1913 Blüthner model 6
1929 Blüthner model 9.
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#392305 - 10/05/06 11:27 AM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
Brendan Offline



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5228
Loc: McAllen, TX
That's my speciality! \:D
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http://www.BrendanKinsella.com

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#392306 - 10/05/06 12:11 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA
it depends on music styles as well. for example, most modern pieces are almost impossible to sight read for the 1st time, and Rach's music is quite difficult to sight read as well. but Clementi, Mozart or Beethoven is relatively easy for sight reading.

these are not my opinon, but my teacher's and he's a fantastic sight reader himself. for most accompanying works or gigs, he'd just sight read everything without preperation.

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#392307 - 10/05/06 12:20 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19097
Loc: New York City
A story I've mentioned a few times before. At a masterclass some years ago an Asian student brought in an obscure Szymanowski work and played it while Irina Morozova followed the score. Irina said she liked the piece a lot and had never heard it before although she had played other works by Szymanowski. After the student had played the work, Morozova proceeded to play lengthy passages of the work as if she had studied it for a long time.


Everything is relative when it comes to ability. I consider myself an excellent sight reader for an amateur but a talented professional pianist like Morozova was able to sight read a work that I could not learn in 10 years of daily practice.

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#392308 - 10/05/06 12:41 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
There are people who can sight read from orchestral scores and transpose if needed at the same time. And they can do it with performance perfect results. But don't get discouraged because these abilities may seem beyond your reach. We all have something different to offer. At the very least, you provide yourself w/the fulfillment that comes from pursuing a musical life. And, you also provide those in your proximity the opportunity to hear live music and interact w/it's performer - you! There are people whose only access to music will be through you, and that's an awesome position to hold. So keep practicing and keep bringing music to those who otherwise might miss out.

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#392309 - 10/05/06 12:55 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2587
Loc: Manchester, UK
Valentina Lisitsa is renowned for being a very good sight reader, due to the fact that she has photographic memory.
I am terrible at sight reading. I play at about grade 7-8 stadards but my sight reading is more grade 3. My new teacher is now making developing my sight reading first priority, and I am slowly getting better.
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#392310 - 10/05/06 01:11 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
laney Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 120
Loc: earth
Is there a difference between "sight-reading" and "faking it"? I play accompaniments at sight all the time; some of which are incredibly difficult. But, since the audience is focused on the soloist, I find it's usually okay to leave some notes out, follow the chord structure, etc. People tell me I'm a great sight-reader all the time, but I think I'm really just a good faker. I think it's a state of mind more than anything else!

By the way, doing this as often as I do makes it more difficult for me to sit down and learn a piece the right way. My teacher gets so mad when I "fake it" during lessons...

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#392311 - 10/05/06 01:14 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
I have known many people who were excellent sight readers. In fact my 1st wife was so good that I would have her play through my new assignments so that I could hear what they should sound like! The most authoritive accounts I know of in print are Dave Brubeck's brother(who was himself an excellent pianist and transcribed Dave's improvisations)'s description of a pianist's first playing of Brubecks 'Point's on Jazz'. (Sorry - that was a terribly convoluted sentence!) He (brother Brubeck) had been asked a question about how the piano part was considered by most musicians to not be idiomatic to the keyboard and perhaps not playable. He recounted in detail how the pianist for it's performance had played it effortlessly at sight. There are also the many descriptions and reviews of Peter Serkin sight reading recitals and concerts. When I was studying, it was not only comon but expected that the professors could sight read (although there were occassionally those who didn't/couldn't. I can only think of one who expressed to me his lack of sight-reading proficiency). It was also expected that we the students could sight read. And there were even many fellow students that could play anything you put in front of them - tastefully, expressively and w/appropriate interpretation. Now that I think of it, I've had students (early teens) who were excellent sight readers. It really is a skill that is considered a part of overall musical proficiency. It doesn't mean that we aren't musicians if we lack that skill or don't possess it to the same degree that we have other skills. But I don't think we should dismiss the fact that it's something we should strive for in order to be well rounded musicians. I learned to read fairly late and have always been very self conscious about my poor reading. As a result, I practice it as often as I can. And I have continually improved. I'm sure that if I had more time to devote to it, I'd get better faster. But I try to keep my sight reading situation in perspective. There are other areas in which I am strong, I'm able to function under whatever musical circumstances present themselves, and I'm always improving - not just at sight reading, but in every area where I need improvement. The one thing I don't do is kid myself that sight-reading is: 1)something that no-one can do perfectly, 2)not a part of musical profiency, or 3) not something I need to be able to do. So, in order to sum up, keep a healthy attitude about your abilities and inabilities, but don't ever stop pursuing all of the areas that will move you closer to being a totally competent, well rounded, and complete musician.

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#392312 - 10/05/06 01:22 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17666
Loc: Victoria, BC
When talking about sight-reading skills many tend to lose sight (whoops!) of the fact that we are not always necessarily referring to those who can take a complex score and play it at what would appear to be almost performance level the first time through. The emphasis always seems to fall upon those with phenomenal skills - stories apocryphal and true - about those incredible musical geniuses who play Liszt at sight, followed by the disclaimers and the disbelievers cries of "foul!"

Yet, on the other hand, there are those who have good sight-reading skills - referred to in previous posts in this thread - where they can take the accompaniment to a vocal or instrumental work or a solo piano piece of moderate difficulty, and play it almost flawlessly the first time through. These are people who, along with their talent have developed this skill through hard work and through the constant demands put on them to sight-read.

What I find disconcerting is that occasionaly those who don't have this skill are very often inclined to say that sight-reading at this level just isn't possible and that the claims are exaggerations of fact. Yet, it's done all the time by those who need sight-reading skills at this level to maintain their positions in their profession.

The "phenoms" who can read a Ligetti Etude at sight may be indeed rare and their skills may be hard to imagine and believe, but there are many, I say many, good sight readers who use their skills effectively and efficiently every day.

Regards,
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#392313 - 10/05/06 01:22 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
Laney,
For most of us, the ability to select things to leave out, or simplify, or make generic (faking if you like) is a big part of sight reading. If you can recognize an F maj arpeggio and then fill in a generic one of your own rather than to read each note of the composers F maj arpeggio, then that's a valuable tool for sight-readers. Likewise for knowing (or being able to find) the important elements to include while letting less important details go. It sounds as though that's what you do, so I'd say you are a good sight reader.

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#392314 - 10/05/06 01:30 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
It is also absolutely possible to learn (and teach) sight-reading. From the first lesson (and every lesson after that) I incorporated sight-reading into my students regimen. Regardless of their level, they took sight reading for granted. Of course it's more difficult to go back and pick up reading skills for students who developed technique and repertoire w/o addressing sight-reading issues. But it can be done.

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#392315 - 10/05/06 01:55 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
Bruce D has hit the nail on the head. Competent sight readers are everywhere. Go to any community and you'll find church pianists who can read anything put in front of them. Many can transpose it for you too! Of course we have to keep in mind that they are not required to play outrageously difficult virtuoso material at sight. But, piano accompaniments and the standard repertoire that most of us play (from Bach to popular piano sheets) are well with-in their ability to play perfectly at sight. It's an expected musical proficiency. And it's not that unusual to find people who LITERALLY can play anything you put in front of them. We need, however, to keep in mind that 'competency' doesn't necessarilly require the abilities of those have unimaginable super-human abilities. Those who can take the written page and simplify it to create an appropriate performance are also skilled (and competent) readers. We need to remember that there are many different approaches to sight-reading and many degrees of sight reading proficiency. The determination of whether or not a pianist is a good sight reader is not how he compares to phenomenal super-readers, but how well he can meet the needs of a given performance at sight.

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#392316 - 10/05/06 01:58 PM Re: How good are the best sight readers?
w_scott_iv@yahoo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/05
Posts: 1120
Loc: West Virginia
One thing that might bear mentioning is that when we say 'Sight-reading' we don't mean playing from the music. We mean playing from the music at FIRST sight. The second time you read it, it's no longer sight reading.

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