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#946811 - 05/25/08 05:23 AM Thoughts on Sight Reading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
As many ask about improving their sight reading skills, and it's probably a subject we teachers don't explicitly teach, here are some thoughts on the subject:

1 - Before playing a note, study the music silently, and for heaven's sake, check the key signature, the meter, key changes within the piece, double bars, repeat, da capo signs, etc. Look for repeated musical ideas, whether in the same key or modulated to a new key.

2 - Count out loud and clap the rhythm. See if there are any tricky rhythms anywhere which need extra attention.

3 - If the piece is tonal (not atonal), play through the appropriate scales and chords.

4 - Finally, as you read and play, some suggestions:

- Keep your eyes on the score, not your hands, and read ahead as much as possible.

- Remember, music is read from the bottom up, not top down, as English is. By this, I mean, read from the bottom of the grand staff to the top. (I cannot begin to tell you the number of transfer students I've had with whom I've had to break the bad habit of top down reading).

- Practice not moving your hands unless you have to and also practice using good fingering habits, such as using the next available finger rather than 1 - 3 or 3 - 5 like so many players do.

My guess is that students who know their scales and chords, with inversions, make for better sight readers than those who've skipped over this phase of their learning.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#946812 - 05/25/08 10:52 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
John, my face just went when I read about reading from the bottom up.

This is going to be long because I am trying to reach something longstanding with my questions.

I have a number of questions for you from this, and based on where I am coming from personally. Among other things, I want to get a handle on what it means to read piano music but in the context of my experience - specific angles - in order to get myself even more in the clear. I suspect that I have landed from another planet, and I will have to try to describe this planet to get at what ways of reading I am coming from.

Before that I have an essential question. When piano students read, does that reading go vertically before it goes horizontally - almost as though they were moving from chord to chord (even when there are no chords)? And so when you write about starting at the bottom, essentially people are doing a continual sweep from beat to beat of each perceived "chord" but going from top to bottom, while you recommend bottom from top? The context for this question unfolds below.

So, in playing Bach, for example, they would not be seeing four horizontal melodies and in part sweeping along the progression of each and putting that perception together as they sight read? So their (your) perception is vertical, then horizontal, while mine tends to be horizontal and then vertical when I am sight reading a Bach choral. It is different for me when I am playing something such as a typical Clementi.

The other planet: I self-learned when young, and when I returned to piano after 35 years, I had the way that I "read" music prima vista back then. After such a long absence, I had an excellent chance of breaking through to another way. Part of what I had serves me superbly, but another part does not. I have indeed broken through in the last 3 months and now I am pushing for clarification as per the above question. But I am also trying to understand better about my initial perceptions.

My violin teacher also teaches piano, and when I acquired the DP last year we switched to a few piano lessons. I gathered then that my approach to piano is not the usual one. I was told once "You play (read) as though hearing (conducting) an orchestra." It was said as though intrigued, not disapproving. Essentially I did, even when sight reading, though now I have something more conventional because I needed it.

I will try to describe what reading/playing music was for me previously:

The only references I had when young was a developed sense of solfege, hearing lots of classical music, and my grandmother's 1907 books of Czerny, Clementi, Mozart, Beethoven. I never imitated: didn't know the concept. I extrapolated the music from "reading". I could also play the melody to remembered music on any instrument, or inventions that composed themselves in my head.

When I returned to piano, I observed the following: 1. LH - Chords and Alberti Bass were simultaneously a sound and a shape in the hand that wanted to fit on top of certain keys. It was semi-conscious and automatic. I did not know what notes I was playing. This is for the individual chords. RH - melodic lines went by shape of adjacent notes (arpeggio is a staircase, scale is a straight line) so I would tend to read in sweeps as soon as I had fixed the tonic. In a sense I was "sight singing" and playing "by ear". A harmonizing was heard by ear, and as the notes spread apart in thirds or fourths I would hear the harmony and my fingers responded. I seldom ventured past one sharp or flat since key signatures were a mystery to me, and I only knew the notes enough to be able to find the tonic. My LH playing tended to be fluid with this kind of "sight singing reading".

LH as progression: The sequence of chords and Alberti bass tend to follow predictable patterns, and with the sweep of an eye I would take this in, again by the configuration of the notes geometrically. I would also be hearing how it would probably go, and associated that sound with the shape. (I had some sense of the structure of classical music) I also anticipated the bass by having swept through the RH melody as above. There was this panoramic view, anticipation of how the music should go, hearing it ahead of time as though I was playing what I remembered, and reflexes in my fingers. The whole thing was done unconsciously and freely. I could not read individual notes so mostly I played by "impression" I suppose.

Essentially I would "read" phrase-sections of music and was moving along a panorama, and I was looking ahead for exceptions to what should be there. A sharp as accidental indicated that there was probably a modulation ahead and these things, too, had predictable patterns to them.
* * *
If you have managed to follow this, that is what playing and reading piano music were about for me. I suspect that pianists do many of these things, but for me they were the ONLY things I had.

With this I could sight read music of the time of Clementi, Mozart, etc. that was structured this way, and play rather fluidly prima vista. I could easily play in the wrong octave or even the wrong key and never notice.

A year ago my son brought me an accompaniment, hoping that we could play together over the summer because he had a wonderful viola piece. I was utterly lost, as though I had never seen a piano before, even though the music was relatively simple. My son was mystified, because he knows what level of music I play, and that I use sheet music primarily.

Unraveling it: I have changed my approach to music and notes for violin, recorder, and voice. But I had spent long hours for over a decade when young on piano, and this was my first and primary experience in instrumental playing. So "all that" kicked in, and knocked my new knowledge out of the window. Plus piano is not single-note single-clef like the other instruments.

I have gone on a three-month disciplined journey "reprogramming myself" using the unlikely combination of preparatory level Czerny and the Bach chorals in Riemenschneider. I have not permitted myself ever to hear the music, knowing that it's there for me when I want to retrieve it, because as soon as I do, all the old associations will kick in.

I can now read music, knowing what I'm playing and where I am, I have a mental map of the keyboard which is mostly tactile, I can visualize Bb/A# and reach for it as such etc. I have broken through to what I need and I'm home free.

Now that I have gotten this far, I need to ask those questions I have posed in the beginning so that I can come into the rest of how piano playing / reading is commonly perceived and approached. The first of these is whether it tends to be vertically and then progressing. I think that is the case.

So if I am reading a Bach chorale, do I shift to a more vertical sense? Um? I can feel the notes as a chord-shape in my hands, and I keep shifting and changing those chords as I go along. That's what I suspect pianists usually do. Currently I'm following two melodies in each hand, with the tenor trading off between left and right, and I'm reaching for the changing notes of two voices with convenient fingers. There is a difference.

I would rather not hear "Do whatever works for you." because I would like to get beyond my paradigms, feel my way into how "it is done" and see what that does for me. Up to now, going into things that are more usual has helped me tremendously.

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#946813 - 05/25/08 11:44 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Hi Keystring - your questions are never simple, but as we're about to sit down to dinner, let me answer a short answer, and I'll study your questions and try to provide a longer answer later in the evening.

When reading intervals, chords, etc., especially blocked, but also melodic, you should learn to read from the bottom up. Why? Because harmony (and harmonics for that matter) are built going up, just like a house. The foundation tone is generally the lowest tone.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#946814 - 05/25/08 12:20 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Thank you, John. Your answer also tells me that pianists in general read vertically before horizontally, along lines or harmony. I understand your answer since I have begun the first steps of harmony theory.

What I am about to write next: I know I am asking a lot and will certainly understand if you don't want to do it. Could you read what I have described, try to put yourself in my shoes and into the perception of music that I held for 35 years? It is an odd situation, and I suspect unique in some ways. I have made giant strides in coming into a more regular world which I need.

I've deleted a longish description of the incident that brought this to light. I have already changed how I perceive and approach music in other areas and that serves me. I do not necessarily have to lose everything that I had before.

The main thing I would like to bring across is that there is a different way of perceiving to give context to my questions. The part about starting from the bass is clear, for example.

I'm going to spend the next couple of hours exploring some things on the piano and then I'll get back to this.

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#946815 - 05/25/08 01:29 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Dear John,

I'm surprised to hear you say: "....and it's (sightreading) probably a subject we teachers don't explicitly teach..."

Are you saying because of the level of the polished students you work with, or at all at any time of their study with us?

I think I'm preparing good sight reading skills, not to be independent immediately, they haven't learned enough just because they read the notes from the page, but when basic notation is finished and every thing comes together.

Finding notes from the music to the keyboard is only part of the quest. Without all the other things to pay attention to, it would be a disconnected, empty sound and jerky movement that never improves itself.

I'm not going to disclose my "concepts" and "techniques" here. I think a student has to work very hard following the thoughts on acquiring discipline, self-analysis, and readiness, much less all the things the music asks of us each step of the way.

I really believe in one-on-on piano education with enthusiastic, compatable partnership between a student and a teacher.

I have learned something here in PWF for myself, and that is when I provide involved answers to help someone along their path, I am spending my time in a different way then I would be if the discussion was with other teachers who are already ready for this discussion.

If I give my all to these kinds of questions where we are helping someone gain information to use, then it is a convincing thought that any teacher who does this efficiently and effectively in PWF is ready to be a "Video Instructor" and will find a new way to impart the knowledge and continue to earn a living.

I would want my students to have continuous access to a complete section on any learning project, and it can't be done by occasional pieces of info here in posting. For one thing, the success of it would be by who is available that day to answer the questions, and also the other factor of, is the student ready for this step.

This new attitude of mine has been a long time in coming.

In part it is for me a solution to the dilemna of wanting the teacher's forum to consists of teachers. Does anyone else notice how much work we are doing while we mingle there? When I respond to the many questions asked, it means that I have less time for the postings I am really interested in for myself.

Perhaps the forum needs a column called "Students ask questions of Teachers". That could be participatory of the benefit of helping others who have questions. Is this possible?

Betty

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#946816 - 05/25/08 01:49 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Experiment over. Not in any logical order. Can you do anything with this:

- known from before (violin, voice): My sense of tension and resolution has been melodic for a lifetime. But I also know that this melodic understanding is in a sense "the same" as that of chord progressions. They are the same thing, or part of the same thing. I also subconsciously had a sense of these chords, but from the vantage point of this melody that they were supporting.

To some degree this is scewed and I want to balance it out, rather than destroying anything. And for piano, I want to think pianistically.

- I broke off what I was playing, and did the exercises where you play a scale and finish with I IV V I and "felt" the progression and resolution of that. I tried to balance what my perceptions might be, and tried to imagine an overlaying melody, or even just the top notes, but from the vantage point of these chords. I DID manage to.

BACH CHORALE

- I sight read, prima vista, a Bach choral at random: # 26, "O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort" and tried to perceive it vertically. I must say that this shift in focus caused a significant improvement in my sightreading ability of these chorals. I can remember the feeling of the tempo, and it went smoothly at 55 bpm.

- I tried to read from the bottom up, but when trying to read vertically I seem to see all the notes as one unit that form themselves in my hands and on the keyboard ... Eureka! ... not "by ear" - it's direct finally.

- At best, I would say trying to read from the bottom made the vertical notes "centred" in some way for me. A melodic thought (soprano) may interfere with that (???)

- From my harmony theory I know how the base shapes or defines the chords. What I ended up with is hearing a bass, or bassoon, or trombone strongly defining that part - but not as chords.

- If I cut out in between notes so that I was playing only chords, paused slightly between each chord, played as unmusically as I could, I could manage to hear it as chord progressions for the first time. It was an interesting experience.

- I simply cannot read music in this one by one way. It comes to me as the movement that is inherent in music. As I play any note, whether as chords or melody, they move toward the next one and I cannot break up that flow. I don't think I should, in fact. This is not part of sight reading proper, it is within the properties of music which I guess is theory. Music is not static: it is constant motion toward something else. I sense this very strongly.

Having played "O Ewigkeit" 2 or 3 times to try to get what was happening, it was no longer new. It's coming at me as a whole. There is no bottom or top, or chords one at a time. I hear and play a "whole" of music, my "bassoon" sits at the bottom, the harmonies are in there somewhere, the top line is singing her melody, the rhythms of the meter are swaying. All of this is within the playing at once. This is how it has become for me.

I notice however that it is not how it was 35 years ago or even 4 months ago. There has been some kind of shift.

NON-CHORAL MUSIC

I picked up Clementi, and then picked up the "well known classical pieces" that my son passed on from university, and I put them down again. Strict verticality as chords is impossible. The Alberti bass in Clementi was so clear in its direction, and the melody likewise that I had each clef instantly as a melody and supporting harmony that I heard instantly. There were two separate sets of voices that had different tasks that were held together by an underlying beat. I couldn't read this vertically, and it was "there" to such a degree that I could have played part after glancing at it by anticipation without looking at it.

This facility is a handicap in trying to read.

What I have sensed is that pianists (maybe others, but pianists in particular) perceive music more along the perspective of chords, vertically. I hardly have a sense of chords or recognition beyond the obvious ones, and I'm very weak in chord progressions - I'll hear the melodic component. I think that I need to develop and strengthen this, and realign the direction of my focus. I would like to perceive movement more chordally, hear the supporting bass more, and I think that will balance things out.

What I experienced with the Bach today was a sharp rise in my ability to sight read because I changed that focus.

So those are the observations in the raw.

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#946817 - 05/25/08 01:55 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
Perhaps the forum needs a column called "Students ask questions of Teachers". That could be participatory of the benefit of helping others who have questions. Is this possible?
Betty, during your absense I proposed a "gray area" forum that would cover those areas where students and teachers meet. It is not only for the sake of "students asking teachers", but also that area which involves interaction between the two parties. Among other things, I believe there are areas where we can benefit from understanding each other's though processes better.

This proposal was dismissed unanimously by BOTH TEACHERS AND NON-TEACHERS. Everyone was of one accord. The sentiment was that it would scatter communications along too many threads. Several teachers have also expressed that the interaction of non-teachers and teachers had value, depending on how it came about, and they did not want to lose this interaction.

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#946818 - 05/25/08 01:58 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Hi Betty,

Actually, I teach sight reading constantly, I just don't tell the student, "Now we're going to work on sight reading," which is what I meant by "explicitly." Sorry for the confusion.

Now back to studying Keystring's posts!

John
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#946819 - 05/25/08 02:12 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
In regards to students receiving advice, I would like to interject a strong caveat. The nature of studying music is an interactive one-on-one affair. The Internet, and the spoken word, are very unnatural to this. When I am in the studio with my teacher, much of what he observes about me is subliminal and unfolds, and much of what I learn is also on this subliminal unfolding plane. This simply cannot happen on the Internet or by written word.

The further we get into abstract concepts, the greater the dangers of misunderstanding and misperception on both sides. Many concepts can only be reached through the action of going through exercises, and the guidance of a teacher bases itself on what he observes in real time.

Imho, we must accept that our impressions may be false ones, and that goes for all parties, and proceed with caution. I will assume at any time that I have misunderstood and can be misunderstood.

I am grateful to John for having opened the door through this thread. In this instant, I don't think there is room for misunderstanding because things have been presented without too much abstract and very clearly. I have already made a big leap by adjusting one aspect of my sight reading through what I read this morning.

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#946820 - 05/25/08 02:15 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Keystring,

I just posted a suggestion for a Q and A forum between adult students and piano teachers called "HOV LANE". Take a look.

My other suggestion is that you create a blog space and we come to you in one location, any one from any forum, who wishes to participate in your questions and things of interest to you. A lot of what I'm reading is how you are progressing in your theory and your piano study.

BLUE KEYS has done an excellent website of his own which covers wonderfully well all of his activitiy. I find it well written, humorous, and to be real. I know he says it is very, very helpful to him. His is a one in a million mind musically. He wants to show work ethics and outcome. He is going to have a "book" when he is done.

I suggest the same for you since your curiosity and learning takes you so many places you are in many of the forums. I would think you would profit from having the one place to write from. I am not advocating that you disappear from here - that is not the agenda - I am talking about having a more effective spot for you and your fans to participate.

Also I posted above in this topic just before your last two consecutive posts, about my reasons for not fully appreciating the constant questions you ask. The "experiment" one you just did is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Detail, detail, detail.

On the pianist forum, "Dame Myra" just uttered some words that I buy into to a new posted with one year of piano study wanting to play Rachmaninoff next.

You are one of our daily posters and post in many forums, I think you need to leave a track record behind, and also get a specialized interest group going.

Does any of that appeal to you?

My apology to the topic which is very off track with my concerns.

Betty

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#946821 - 05/25/08 03:26 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Keystring wrote: "When piano students read, does that reading go vertically before it goes horizontally - almost as though they were moving from chord to chord (even when there are no chords? "

We read horizontally, but as you read, your eyes see notes as intervals, chords, etc. When reading multiple notes, it's best to read up from the bottom, as the chord is more likely to be recognized properly when put into harmonic context.

As you play violin, I'm sure you know that when string players play chords, they play from bottom to top, so why would they read in reverse?

My suggestion for sight reading is directed at students who are developing their reading skills. I see chords as a whole, as do most accomplished pianists/readers. But when I was learning, I wanted to identify them correctly. You can, of course, learn to read upside down, but it slows the process and in piano, denies you the knowledge of where the music is going.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#946822 - 05/25/08 03:33 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Betty,

This thread involves advice on sight reading that I understood to be addressed to students, and as a student, that is what I would like to concentrate on.

While input from any teacher is welcome, my post was addressed to John. If the detailed nature of my post disturbs you, you are free to ignore it. If any other teacher is offended by the detail I will take note. If for your needs you would like me to summarize, I can try though I'm not sure I can.

In regards to the HOV LANE idea, this is a matter for all the members involved to discuss. Your proposal is different than my "gray area" proposal, in that you target objects of teaching and not relationships. It is a good idea in fact. I consider this current thread to be a Q&A type of thing, in fact.

Frankly, I find public discussion of my posting habits disturbing, and even more so the idea that I would have either fans or interest groups. I can extrapolate some underlying conjectures but it is prudent to say no more.

I would think that a teacher's blog or site would be much more fruitful. You have years of experience, and have developed a specific methodology that you would like to bring across. In fact, having had the privilege of following some of that instruction, I find such a thought exciting.

Out of respect for John, my subsequent posts in this thread will be on the stated topic. Thank you for your interest and concern.

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#946823 - 05/25/08 03:37 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Thank you, John, your initial post and your response has been very helpful. In some sense I am in the position of a beginner since my whole approach to music is under a revamp. Therefore an insight into the internal process helps me tremendously. I have had to do the same thing with violin. We did not discover how I was "reading" until entering the third year. 40 years on one's own can have some strange effects.

P.S. You seem to have grasped the essence of my question, and I note that with relief and gratitude.

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#946824 - 05/25/08 04:49 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
I think, John, that when I read the chorals, I was following four voices horizontally, and that was a strain. I had only part of it right.

Through your input and then feedback today, I have been able to bring this into line. The proof is the huge jump in the ease of sight reading the chorales. Following four lines of melody as I was doing was strenuous, and that's why it's "suddenly easy".

I cannot thank you enough.

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#946825 - 05/25/08 05:19 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5966
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by Betty Patnude:
I just posted a suggestion for a Q and A forum between adult students and piano teachers called "HOV LANE". Take a look.
[/b]
What on earth does HOV LANE mean? Someone's name? Short for "hover"? I'm totally mystified. And where is the post? (Perhaps it's sitting there being blindingly obvious and my aged eyes have missed it... \:\) ) Thanks.
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#946826 - 05/25/08 05:24 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Currowong: HOV LANE proposal here: HOV LANE thread

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#946827 - 05/25/08 05:35 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5966
Loc: Down Under
Thanks. No longer totally mystified \:\) .

Nice breakthrough of yours, btw. Just think, with all that practice you had reading horizontal lines, you'll have a head start with orchestral score reading \:D .
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#946828 - 05/25/08 06:07 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
Nice breakthrough of yours, btw. Just think, with all that practice you had reading horizontal lines, you'll have a head start with orchestral score reading
You mean for piano? I did get exposed to an orchestral score once just for reading along. My son plopped an open score in my lap, got the CD going for Wagner, and had me follow the viola line. It was so unbelieavably fast! Later I got to attend the production live.

With the breakthrough: I've had the sense for months that there was something about verticality. Everyone else seemed to be relating to music on a vertical plane and I wasn't at all. I was just waiting for a window and John played architect and created one.

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#946829 - 05/25/08 07:55 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13813
Loc: Iowa City, IA
 Quote:
Originally posted by Betty Patnude:

I'm surprised to hear you say: "....and it's (sightreading) probably a subject we teachers don't explicitly teach..."

Are you saying because of the level of the polished students you work with, or at all at any time of their study with us?[/b]
I don't want to put words in John's mouth, but I think it's because "sight-reading" isn't a skill, it's an activity that involves the coordination of several other skills.

You need excellent note-recognition skills, the ability to read by interval and contour, good theory skills, and the technique to make it all come out fluently and easily.

That's why it's so hard to help people with sight-reading over the internet. For some, it's the lack of opportunity - they are never in an ensemble or accompanying situation where they have to follow a conductor or stay with other musicians. For others, it's a lack of theory - they can't automatically recognize notes, chords, and other patterns. It's also a matter of technique - you could have the best theory skills in the world, but if your hands don't respond, the tone and rhythm are going to suffer.
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#946830 - 05/25/08 10:23 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
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Loc: Orange County, CA
I know I've posted on similar topics before, but I'll just echo some of my sentiments:

Students have to sight read something every day. I teach sight reading at almost every lesson, and more so as the state exam approaches.

Confidence is a big factor. Some kids who are afraid of pressing the wrong keys will have a difficult time with sight reading. Weekly sight reading "tests" can only get them so far.

Regarding bottom-up or top-down reading of notes--I used to do bottom-up. But as I get better at sight reading, I look at the entire chord simultaneously, or sometimes the entire measure simultaneously, depending on the type of music
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#946831 - 05/26/08 06:55 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
btb Offline
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Loc: Pretoria South Africa
There are obviously many ways to "skin a cat" (Mark Twain) ... as shown by the different responses to the teaching of sight-reading

Included is the first page of the Mozart Facile Sonata K545 to test suggestions ... see if it works for you.

k545

In my school we work from the TOP DOWN ... like a Manhattan skyline the top SOPRANO carries the RH THEME ... (forgive the generalisation) ... given support (where required) by the contralto ... and leaving the tenor and bass to provide the rhythmic beat ... but not forgetting to harmonize with the top gal .

My chappies wade straight in with their sight-reading ... identifying and getting the fingering sorted out for the RH theme ... then adding the LH rhythm ... once mastered we combine the two ... at first slow and then, with practice, brought up to speed ... at which stage aural and muscle memory will have started to kick in.

It will always amaze me how the professional accompanists like currawong manage to sight-read with little preparation ... their duties clearly don’t give them time to labour sight-reading.

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#946832 - 05/26/08 05:01 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
keystring Offline
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 Quote:

My chappies wade straight in with their sight-reading ... identifying and getting the fingering sorted out for the RH theme ... then adding the LH rhythm ... once mastered we combine the two ... at first slow and then, with practice, brought up to speed ... at which stage aural and muscle memory will have started to kick in.

This brings up a new question, especially from the practice side, which takes up 90% of time spent on a piece.

When and on what occasions do we use sight reading in the strict sense of the word, and when do we use what btb has described?

I understand sight reading to mean playing a piece through hands together, using the kinds of steps that John proposed in the beginning, and often it means prima vista. Btb's description is what I would normally do when working on a piece. When is sight reading used, and when shouldn't it be used?

I'm thinking that since professional musicians need to be able to sight read prima vista in various scenarios, students who might become professionals need to train to do that. So that's one reason.

The other: If I have a new piece I want to know what it's about and get a general idea. So I would play it through at a slow tempo from beginning to end, probably making mental notes, and trying to get a sense of it as music.

But when I'm actually working on the piece, I have a feeling that I would not want to touch sight reading again. I would work similar to what btb described, and it would probably be developed in stages over time with my teacher. Eventually I would be very familiar with the piece and even if I looked at the score it would no longer be sight reading.

Am I right that when working on a piece we would be approaching it differently than when we sight read? Or have I gotten off track?

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#946833 - 05/26/08 07:04 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
currawong Offline
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Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5966
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:

The other: If I have a new piece I want to know what it's about and get a general idea. So I would play it through at a slow tempo from beginning to end, probably making mental notes, and trying to get a sense of it as music.

But when I'm actually working on the piece, I have a feeling that I would not want to touch sight reading again. I would work similar to what btb described, and it would probably be developed in stages over time with my teacher. Eventually I would be very familiar with the piece and even if I looked at the score it would no longer be sight reading.
[/b]
That's pretty much how I approach it, keystring.

"sight reading" gets used in different ways around PW, I've noticed. I always use it in the way John obviously means it in his initial post, that is, reading and playing a piece at first sight. btb and others seem to use it to mean "reading the music at the piano", and then qualifies it by adding "prima vista" or something when reading at first sight is meant. If you know this, there are fewer misunderstandings \:\) .

Hey, btb, don't they build buildings from the ground up where you are? \:D Just kidding. While I encourage my students to read chords from the bottom up, I do a bit of both myself (up-down-up, or down-up-down quick flicks of the eyes. I think...)

btb, you're right when you say "their duties clearly don’t give them time to labour sight-reading". However, that's not all I do. I work hard on pieces a bit at a time as well. Just depends how much time I'm given!
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#946834 - 05/29/08 10:50 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
alglasser Offline
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Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Rhode Island
Hi, John.

Sightreading, being my undoing, I was interested in your comments and those of others who posted in this topic. Back a couple of years when I maintained a busy studio, sightreading was part of every lesson. True, it was not always easy to cram everything into 1/2 hour, but sightreading was a priority for me to teach to my students. Many became better sightreaders than I was(am). Sometimes I would assign a sheet just for sightreading..."you don't need to learn it...just show me that you can read it"...and in many cases, I would use Kjos West "Sightreading" series which I believe had 4 levels of short 1 or 2 line pieces of graduated difficulty. I wish I hadn't left my books in my music program when I retired from high school Music Theory/History/Keyboard. (I sure miss that teaching a LOT...the kids were fantastic...all 11 or 12th graders).

Now that I have started again (2 adult students), sightreading will again be part of the daily lesson for my beginner, but not necessary for the other adult who can sightread me under the rug. (Fortunately...there are so many things she doesn't know that I have LOTS of fodder to teach her.) Maybe at some point I'll write a post about my "sightreading adult student". She keeps me on my toes.

As I continue to ramble here, you know...I never gave it a thought if I sightread from the bottom up or conversely. I will observe this when I sit down for today's practice session. I am hell bound and determined (I hope I can say that here) to improve my sightreading skills and the help of you and many of the good teachers here has been most encouraging.

Alan RI AL

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#946835 - 05/29/08 02:00 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
alglasser Offline
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Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Rhode Island
So, there I am this afternoon, "improving my sightreading skills" and I THOUGHT I could detect a bit of improvement, moving somewhat easier through level 2 and 3 material...almost smoothly, until up pops a book "Piano Music for Children"..Stravinski. Now these pieces look innocent enough...but boy...did I struggle! I have learned how very dependant I am on my ear because these pieces are pretty darned unpredictable! Add to that the both hands in treble clef and different key signatures in each hand and I finally put the book on hold..(if we had the fireplace going...EVIL snicker....

Guess it's back to the more traditional stuff until I improve further. I just had to comment of this because someone suggested that to improve in sightreading, read the less predictable stuff. BOY...it that TRUE! I got a face slap in discouragement so I guess it's back to "Playful Poodle" and "Happy Little Train"...
Stravinski...I'll be back with a vengence!!

Alan \:\(

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#946836 - 05/29/08 11:39 PM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
musiccr8r Offline
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Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 270
Loc: Denver
Many of these posts are WAYYYYYY over my head!
\:\( But one point I've seen here, and other places, is being able to clump things together (reading from the bottom, or whatever), to recognize patterns/chords, etc. But as alglasser points out, how does that fly with odd contemporary stuff? Like, the sort of stuff where you can be hitting the right notes and it sounds about as good (or as bad) as when you hit the wrong ones? Where I find myself back in piano kindergarten.."OK, Lh is playing a g#, a#, d-flat.....hm.....rh is playing f#, ..etc....." ??? Doesn't this throw even the good sightreaders? And if not, WHY not????

On the happy side, there have been sightreading moments in the last couple months (playing much more this year than the past 14 or so! ha) when I felt like something took over...just sailed me over those odd sections/chords.... (not the severely odd, just the random occasional dissonance)...where my eyebrows went up but I just kept moving....it was almost zen-like. Is that what it's like for "real" sightreaders?? \:\)

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#946837 - 05/30/08 12:17 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
currawong Offline
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Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5966
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by musiccr8r:
But one point I've seen here ... is being able to clump things together (reading from the bottom, or whatever), to recognize patterns/chords, etc. But as alglasser points out, how does that fly with odd contemporary stuff? ..... Doesn't this throw even the good sightreaders? And if not, WHY not????[/b]
As one who accompanies (and often sightreads) for a living, I can say it's certainly more difficult than tonal music, that's for sure. However, there are still patterns, and you still recognise chords, intervals. I find annoying things about sightreading less tonal music include unclear print (have mercy on my eyes, someone!); unnecessarily complex notation. I almost find myself agreeing with btb here, perish the thought \:\) , but there are easy-to-read ways of writing a chord and not-so-easy ways. Blessings on the composers who choose the former. When you have double sharps in tonal music, for example, you know why, and they make harmonic sense. When there's no other reason than that it makes your score look pretty, you wonder whether the composer wants people to play their stuff or not! (I compose myself, and not always tonally, so I'm not having a go at composers en masse). It's helpful in music which is not tonal if the composer doesn't use a key signature. Then at least you know that every accidental will be marked for you. I like Poulenc because (his music is gorgeous, but also..) he doesn't use key signatures all the time. In tonal music of course the key sig helps you think in the key and is an enormous help, even if the key changes midstream.
Another thing that really helps when reading less tonal music is to home in on the rhythm. Get that right first. You will get a much better idea of the piece with correct rhythm and patchy note-reading than the other way round!

 Quote:
On the happy side, there have been sightreading moments in the last couple months (playing much more this year than the past 14 or so! ha) when I felt like something took over...just sailed me over those odd sections/chords.... where my eyebrows went up but I just kept moving....it was almost zen-like. Is that what it's like for "real" sightreaders?? \:\) [/b]
It is, actually. Once you've dived in, saying "well this is it, I can't stop now" you can get caught up in the music and actually forget you've never seen it before. This is more likely to happen, I've found, if the other physical aspects are good - decent light, clear print, and, most of all, interesting music, be it tonal or otherwise.
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#946838 - 05/30/08 09:08 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
musiccr8r Offline
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Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 270
Loc: Denver
yes, curra, very interesting thoughts, and I FULLY ECHO what you said about the print quality, and lighting....embarrassing how much that can make a difference, but it's true....it seems some publishers must not play themselves because they don't seem to to realize how making changes (like trying to squash four measures across when there should be 3, really) make it so much harder to read...and as an accompanist, doesn't it kill you when an acapella work is condensed for a pianist's "rehearsal only" part of the score at 50% smaller font??????????????? AGHHHH

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#946839 - 05/30/08 09:36 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
Minaku Offline
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Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 1226
Loc: Atlanta
The best is when there is no piano score, only open score, and it's written in SATB in "jazz font" that's impossible to read at speed. Just... *sigh*
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#946840 - 05/30/08 11:26 AM Re: Thoughts on Sight Reading
musiccr8r Offline
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Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 270
Loc: Denver
Open score=heaven (NOT)!

Anyone notice when playing choral stuff, if you play from the condensed score, then try and read the tenors their line by itself, (now written in the tenor clef, or whatever you call the treble clef with the 8 underneath it, instead of bass clef like the condensed version) it is almost like playing something "new"? Or, trying to drop off, say, just the soprano part and play the lower three, all of a sudden it gets messed up, as you are using different fingers (or different brain cells) than you were when you played the 4 parts together?

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