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#955496 - 05/19/08 03:01 PM sightreading
alglasser Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Rhode Island
Hello, all.

I am new here so hope I'm not steeping on any toes as a new member.

Briefly, I'm a retired school teacher and I have taught piano in my home (undergrad degrees in Piano, Music Theory/History from Florida State back in the dark ages...1975). I closed my piano studio because of a kidney transplant about 18 months ago and now I am just opening up my studio again to some adult students. (I have to be careful with exposure to "germy kids" so I think I will stick to a few adults.)

Anyway, my lifetime bug-a-boo has been sightreading. I compose and play by ear since I was a tot, and I relied heavily on ear during my college training. Sightreading has always been tough for me and I am wondering if there is any hope for a 57 year old "ear player" to improve my sightreading skills. I can read somewhat slowly, but I would very much like to improve. Is there a book or a course that anyone knows about that REALLY works? I get kind of discouraged when I try to sightread through early intermediate stuff and get bogged down...sometimes...even easier stuff throws me and I am tired having lousy sightreading skills.

Many thanks.

RI AL

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#955497 - 05/19/08 07:37 PM Re: sightreading
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by alglasser:
I am wondering if there is any hope for a 57 year old "ear player" to improve my sightreading skills.
[/b]
Yes, there is \:\) . There are books out there, and others may be able to tell you which are better than others (if you try a search here and on the adult beginners' forum you'll find the names of some).

But all you really need to do is practise. Find the level at which you sightread easily. Don't be embarrassed if it's ridiculously easy. Play pieces you haven't seen before for maybe 10-30 minutes per day. Once, or at most twice through. Keep your eyes on the music as much as possible (ie only peek at your hands for big leaps). Keep going, don't stop to correct mistakes. Let them go \:\) . If you start at your comfort level you won't find this a chore! THEN, gradually increase the difficulty. If you are patient and persistent, you will see improvement. Not overnight, but I'm not talking years either. Play as slowly as you need to in order to keep a steady beat.

Other things which will help:
[1] Try some ensemble playing: 4-hand piano duets with some willing collaborator, or accompanying. This makes you keep going.
[2] When you're playing pieces you do know, play from the music and keep your eyes on it. Try starting from odd places, just by reading, not by getting your fingers to remember.
[3] Practise reading rhythms alone, in your head, or by tapping. Start with easy ones and work onto more complicated.
[4] You could drill yourself on note positions, but I think letter naming is not so useful as actual position on the keyboard. I mean, one does have to know the letter names, but that's not what you should be thinking when sightreading. Someone somewhere \:\) posted a link to a cute little game where you click on a keyboard - it might have been etheory.com or something like that. Anyway, I thought it was quite useful.
edit: to include the link
[5] Don't think of your playing by ear as conflicting with sightreading. They should work together. You can hear a perfect 4th in your head and play it. With reading added you can see a perfect 4th and hear it in your head. And then play it. It's all about the music in the end. But while you're actually working on reading it's best to use music you don't know, so that you are practising that specific skill.
[6] Read music away from the piano, too. You can read a piece and concentrate on the rhythm, or on the pitch, or both. At the least you will get some idea of how it goes, and build up your feeling of being at home with the dots.

Anything else I've forgotten? Ah, yes. Enjoy the journey! Don't grit your teeth and think "must...improve...sightreading". Instead, pick up the music (very easy though it may be at first) and think "ooo, I wonder if this is a nice piece - I'll play it and see!".

I prepare little sheets for my students - a line of sightreading per day. Play it once, tick the box. Next day, another line. They do this from when they first start reading. Most are good sightreaders. Some are better than others, but none are terrified by it! I work as an accompanist and sight read a lot, but I still read unknown stuff for pleasure. I think it's a "there's so much music to discover and so little time" thing. I'm reading through the Schubert sonatas at the moment. Some I know, of course, but others I'd never heard or played, and it's such fun discovering them.

But I digress. Good luck. Sorry to be so long-winded, but it's one of my pet topics \:\) .
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#955498 - 05/20/08 02:19 PM Re: sightreading
alglasser Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Rhode Island
currawong..

Thank you for the encouragement. Sightreading has always been a struggle, I am maybe early intermediate level on a good day but I notice things like contary motion passages, left hand melody and difficult rhythms really throw me. it's discouraging at times.

When I was teaching 25 students, I was fanatic about daily sightreading for them and gave them specific assignments just for that purpose. some of them got better than I. I was always told that as a "by ear" player, sightreading would always be a challenge and I frequently catch myself playing what my head THINKS the music should do instead of what is written. I have got to overcome this. I have been sightreading almost daily and have a ways to go before I am any good at it but your words and suggestions are encouraging and very much appreciated.

Alan RI AL

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#955499 - 05/20/08 05:56 PM Re: sightreading
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by alglasser:
I was always told that as a "by ear" player, sightreading would always be a challenge and I frequently catch myself playing what my head THINKS the music should do instead of what is written.
Alan RI AL [/b]
I think we all do this (at least any of us who are musical at all) - I also catch myself playing what my head knows the music should have done when it didn't. Not my fault! \:\)

You might like to try reading things that are not quite so predictable if this is a problem you find. Bartok perhaps?

And as for the "I was always told" - self-fulfilling prophecy. There's no real reason this should be so, unless you avoid reading. I started out a much better play-by-ear player than reader. Now i think the skills are about level.
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#955500 - 05/20/08 06:11 PM Re: sightreading
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11174
Loc: Canada
Alglasser, I returned to piano decades later with all my old reflexes intact. I wanted to learn to truly read music. In remediation elsewhere I was taught to not fight what you don't want to do, but focus on what you do want to do. Like Currawong's suggestion, I avoided anything predictable or tunefully melodic. I was also taught that when acquiring a new habit, one must work mindfully with focus, so I did not allow my mind to stray from the purpose. It wasn't enough to play the right notes: for this my focus had to be in the right place.

I am a student, but one who has received some excellent guidance. I started 3 months ago and it's going very well.

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#955501 - 05/20/08 09:02 PM Re: sightreading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7200
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Al, my long time advice to adults has been the same as my wife's long time advice to book readers - you get better by doing.

Start out reading way, way, way below your playing level. Get hold of a repertoire series. There are several out there. One published by Kjos, Celebration Series is another. There are many, many more.

Read, read, read! You're improvement will be directly proportional to the amount of time you spend reading.

And just a reminder, if you cannot play the music nearly to tempo, and with dynamics and phrasing, at sight, then you're trying to read above your skill level. Get easier stuff.

Good luck,

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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#955502 - 05/22/08 10:19 AM Re: sightreading
alglasser Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 69
Loc: Rhode Island
Good morning all, and thanks for your excellent posts.I guess it is time to stop using the "lousy sightreading" excuse and as you suggested, just DO IT! It's frustrating because what I can play (compose) and what I can read are at such different levels, I get discouraged when sightreading. Maybe I should go back to easier material and gradually work up. Guess I'll scrounge through my teaching music and see what I can find to continue the process of improvement. Thanks for the comments and support.

Alan

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#955503 - 05/22/08 07:45 PM Re: sightreading
SantaFe_Player Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/31/08
Posts: 607
Slowly is the best way to improve your sightreading speed! Get a hymnal and a metronome. 4-part chorales in hymnals are fabulous sightreading exercises; you can increase your speed gradually (start out so slowly you get every note and rythm absolutely perfect, even if you have to have the metronome clicking on 16th notes), inching it up a tad every day. Once you've gone through the hymnal you can slip it back into the church pew then go find some other chorale collections.

I found that with many of my students who came from other studios and were unable to read, their sightreading problems were not really notes, but the rythms. I had them spend five minutes a day every week just reading through beginning drum books, with their weapon of choice (tambourine, castanets, maracas, cowbell - whatever appealed to them) to practice counting skills. The sightreading improved vastly as a result. It might help you, too - and you are probably mature enough not to require 'toys' for this if you don't have any ready at hand - you could just count and clap.
_________________________
SantaFe_Player

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#955504 - 05/23/08 12:17 AM Re: sightreading
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
4-part chorales bad, 2-part inventions good.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#955505 - 05/23/08 12:32 AM Re: sightreading
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7200
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Most likely, you'll need to start at a lot lower level than either. Don't be sucked in by the temptation to read close to your playing level. Go for the super easy so that your reading can be near perfect, then work you way up.

It'll take a little time, but surprisingly, if you follow my suggestion, it'll go faster than you think.

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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#955506 - 05/23/08 02:41 AM Re: sightreading
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5834
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by John v.d.Brook:
Most likely, you'll need to start at a lot lower level than either. Don't be sucked in by the temptation to read close to your playing level. Go for the super easy so that your reading can be near perfect, then work your way up. [/b]
What John said
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#955507 - 05/28/08 03:25 PM Re: sightreading
SantaFe_Player Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/31/08
Posts: 607
4-part chorales NOT BAD. Very important to be able to follow more than two lines at a time.
_________________________
SantaFe_Player

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