Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead?

Posted by: Akira

Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 04:30 PM

To anyone who considers themselves to be a good sight reader (doesn't matter what level):

I know there are two schools of thought about good sight reading; eyes on the notes or eyes just ahead of the notes.

I'm trying to figure out what commonalities good sight readers share with each other and it occured to me that this might be one of them.

Which do you do and, more importantly, please share why you do it.
Posted by: Mr_Kitty

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 04:45 PM

eyes ahead, hands down.
but don't listen to me, my sight reading is a joke. Getting better though!
AS I get better I notice my eyes starting to be just ahead. I assume the better you get, the further ahead the eyes can go (to the point where you instantly memorize one bar or even line at a time and, while you play it, your eyes are on the next bar/line looking for potential difficulties \:D )
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 04:46 PM

Also you need to ask - eyes above or eyes below as you can't see both staves at once.
Posted by: pianistchik91

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 04:51 PM

My piano teacher says I'm a natural sight reader. I recommend looking ahead, especially when it comes to things like LH/RH switching and other tricky stuff. But before you even start on a piece, take a few seconds to look it over and notice everything!
Posted by: Betty Patnude

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 04:52 PM

No, No, No. I really don't think so!

How can you be here in the present moment depressing certain chosen keys with a particular touch and duration, while also looking ahead. That is being in two different places at the same time.

I think people believe they do this, but I ask why? What is the necessity? THe music comes out of me on the beat I am playing, each and every time. Why would I want to look ahead and mess everything up?

I see and read both staves at once, reading from the bottom of the bass up through the top note of the treble with my hands responding in the distance of the intervals and pick up the notes precisely all at once for that vertical moment in time.

I know, each to his own.

Betty
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 05:01 PM

Betty, I tried very hard to see both staves - even bought the glasses but to no avail. I do agree you can only be in one place at a time - in which case you need to be ahead, having left the present to the non-conscious mind to carry out. I know, sounds weird.
Posted by: Mr_Kitty

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 05:04 PM

As I said before I'm a crap sight reader.... but when trying to read in the faster tempi you just have to look ahead... otherwise you'll fall behind. I'll ask my aunt though-she can sightread the pants off of just about anyone!!
Posted by: Alexander Hanysz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 05:28 PM

Sorry, I'm really not conscious of my eyes when I'm sight reading, so I can't answer this question. I do believe that the way to improve sight reading is just to look at a very large amount of music (although it also helps if you have good technique and understand theory). Your eyes will do whatever they need to of their own accord.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 05:57 PM

I consider myself a good sight reader (trade off: I can't play by ear worth rubbish), yet I definitely agree with Alexander that it helps to be armed with a good technique and solid background in theory. And like memorizing, sight reading can be immeasurably improved just by doing it.

Agreed with Betty that one can't be in "two different places at the same time", yet I don't quite think it that simple. When sight reading, my eyes are usually on the notes actually being played, but I often find myself snatching glances ahead to prepare for a change of pattern, a leap in hand position, key change, etc. One needs to be on the lookout for these things... otherwise the process can come to a grinding halt.
Posted by: Betty Patnude

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 07:44 PM

The eyes do not stop they are in movement to the next note - they pick up the notes and execution almost instantly - I stick with a note until it's duration is over, then my eyes move again.....so I will try to examine this more closely and find what kind of a delay is actually there for me. It feels instantaneous, but perhaps it's an eyelash behind.

On machines that track your playing (at the retailer) I ace them as being with the music and the "record" of comparison shows that...and I did a lot of accomplanying, so I don't think I have lapses...I would hear about it.

I get what you are saying, Keyboard and argerichfan.
Posted by: Hikari

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 08:20 PM

I always keep my eyes ahead, so I can read the notes before my hands play them. If I do it that way, I find that I make less mistakes, and it goes rather quickly.
Posted by: wdot

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:11 PM

I'm not the best pianist in the world (I'm a lawyer, for Pete's sake), but I'm a really good sight reader, and I definitely read ahead. I can't describe how I do it. But I definitely do it. I think it's a function if seeing patterns in the music and reading ahead for material that doesn't fit the patterns. I'm never more than a measure ahead of what I'm reading, but it's really impossible to both read, process, and play music at the same time.

Example. Yesterday in church I was called upon to play two anthems with the choir. No warning. The substitute organist was a disaster. She couldn't play the hymns, much less the anthems. I had sung the pieces before, which was an obvious advantage. but I'd never thought about playing them. We rehearsed them once, and then I played them on the Steinway in front of 600 people. My daughter turned pages for me. I had her turn the page at least a measure before the end of each page. While the choir was still singing and I was still playing the material on page x, my "mind's eye" was just itching to see what was coming up on page x +1.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:21 PM

I read ahead, but it's not a mechanical "play bar 1 whilst reading bar 2" thing - that really is trying to be in two places at once, a bit like circular breathing. I read and take in the phrase I'm playing (flicking from stave to stave as keyboardklutz says - you try it, you CAN'T focus your eyes on both staves exactly simultaneously), whilst flicking ahead and back. This doesn't mean that I'm not with the music, as Betty's post might suggest. I don't have to have my eye on a note to be concentrating on it, nor have all my focus on one note. In fact, you can't play a phrase musically if you haven't seen where it's going, surely, just as when reading prose aloud you need to flick to the end of a phrase or even sentence to grasp the structure so that you know which words to emphasise - if you are to read with meaning that is.
I really can't believe Betty never looks ahead. If you have a bar consisting of a held chord, followed by a very busy bar of semiquavers, you can't tell me that you keep your eyes glued to the chord and don't allow yourself to glance at the busy passage until it's time? Perhaps an extreme example, but if you do it there, why not elsewhere?
And when accompanying, remember you are not only reading the 2 staves that are the piano part (if you're any good, that is) - you are also reading (though not playing) the soloist's part. Try to do that without moving your eyes from the note you're playing! \:\)
Posted by: wdot

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:36 PM

Beautifully said, currawong. Your thoughts mirror mine, but you stated them much more artfully than I did. I guess that's the difference between someone from "Down Under" and someone from "Down South" in America.

I do think that trying to tell people how to sight read in writing is somewhat akin to trying to tell people how to walk. I don't think about doing it. I just can. Frankly, I think anyone who wants to develop her sight reading abilities should buy a protestant hymnal and just read. Read. Read.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:48 PM

The other thing I meant to say, too, was this:
If as an accompanist you have a bad page-turner (wherever humanly possible I do my own turning so as to avoid this), most I've spoken to would rather have them turn too early than too late. Why is this? Because they are reading ahead.
If the page is turned too late, so that the next bar appears at the exact moment when you should play it, it's rather difficult. You actually need that quick flick of the eyes before you play, in my experience (which, if not vast, is at least considerable \:\) ).
Posted by: Age_of_Anxiety

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:50 PM

You here me complaining a lot about my slow progress, but I am decent nonetheless.

I find that forcing yourself to look ahead doesn't work. It should come naturally, and you get better at it with practice.

One way I have sort of been practicing this,though, is to bust out the ol' hymnal, put the metronome 'round 60-70, depending on how hard the particular piece looks, then look at a measure for the length of a measure (by the 'nome) and then look away and play it. That's only half of it, though, you have to play what you just read while taking in the next bit.

And, I'm always told by my mentors that good sight readers don't always play all the right notes, this is where theory knowledge comes in. Think about how structurally predictable a lot of classical is, like mozart.
Posted by: Disciple

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 09:56 PM

Reading music should be approached no differently than reading this sentence. However, tempo will affect the rate at which, and distance that your eyes need to drift ahead to preview the musical contours of what's to come, just like in speed reading.

The key to demystifying music reading is to view the music as sounds, not notes, just like we read words and in doing so, they are immediately translated by our brains into action that can be pictured.

HEAR the music on the page. The shapes or contours of the lines. Hear the distances of the intervals. Let the notes represent SOUND plotted on the staves rather than notes that must be translated to sound by your eyes and fingers.

Also, reading through a piece of music before you set it on the piano to play it is invaluable to engrain the music before you play it. Once read through, it shouldn't have any serious surprises for you, like reading the same paragraph twice in a book.
Posted by: BruceD

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 10:22 PM

currawong :

Your post has saved me a great deal of time that I would have spent trying to express how I "read ahead" of where I am playing when I am sightreading or, indeed, when I am just playing from the score. It's not something I do by forcing myself to do it; my eyes are always at least a fraction of a beat ahead of what I am actually playing. The extreme example you cite is a good illustration of how this principle is applied to any sightreading situation I have found myself in.

To illustrate the opposite extreme: If I did not read ahead then there would be "gaps" or disruption of tempo in my playing. Read this note (chord), play it; read the next note (chord), play it, etc. If your hands don't know where they are going to go because you don't read ahead, how can you play the next note (chord) in tempo if you have to stop and read it when it's already time to play it?

Being in the situation of having at my side a page-turner who waits until the last note of the page is played before turning to the next page reinforces - indeed proves - for me, that I read ahead.

The analogy of reading a text aloud applies, for me, also to playing music from scores.

Regards,
Posted by: wdot

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 10:37 PM

Again, currawong, your point is "on the nose." I always tell page turners to watch me as the page break approaches, and then I give them a nod. I even do this with my daughter, who has played for 11 years. Unless the turner is really on top of things, the urge to read the music like a book is just too much.

I know I should turn pages for myself, but I'm enough of a spastic that I always worry that I'll throw the music on the floor. I should copy accompaniments and put them in a binder, but my "jobs" (I never ask for payment) tend to come out of the blue, I'm just not that organized.
Posted by: Akira

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/21/08 10:58 PM

 Quote:
However, tempo will affect the rate at which, and distance that your eyes need to drift ahead to preview the musical contours of what's to come, just like in speed reading.

The key to demystifying music reading is to view the music as sounds, not notes ...

HEAR the music on the page.
That's a pretty interesting concept. My first thought would be how do you deal with two sets of unsynchronized music; the one emanating from your piano and the one in your head, just a few notes ahead. How do you get your brain to pay attention to both simulatenously?

Would love to hear more.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 12:11 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Akira:
My first thought would be how do you deal with two sets of unsynchronized music; the one emanating from your piano and the one in your head, just a few notes ahead. How do you get your brain to pay attention to both simultaneously?
[/b]
Akira, for me it isn't a matter of making my brain do anything - it just all becomes part of the flow of music. And it's not one bit of music competing with another, rather one flowing into another. I think that's partly what I meant in my first post about it not being a rigid "play bar 1, read bar 2" thing, which does imply some sort of competition. I'm finding it a little hard to describe, but I just went to the piano and played a random page from a Haydn sonata to see if I was really doing what I thought I was doing, and I am \:\) . It can't be as complicated as it sounds, because I'm a person who finds it very hard to play and count aloud at the same time. Truly. \:D
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 01:25 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by wdot:
Frankly, I think anyone who wants to develop sight reading abilities should buy a Protestant hymnal and just read....
Excellent advice, wdot. Any Protestant hymnal will do -for sight reading at least- but there are hymnals and there are hymnals.

For us Brits the New English Hymnal is just too classy for its own good. Blimey. You know what? One of the greatest hymn tunes ever written is Sir John Stainer's Rest -NOT[/b] to be confused with Frederick C. Maker's awful tune for "Dear Lord and Father..." - and that supreme tune by Stainer has been omitted from NEH. Who the hell was calling the shots here?
Posted by: Alexander Hanysz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 01:53 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Akira:
My first thought would be how do you deal with two sets of unsynchronized music; the one emanating from your piano and the one in your head, just a few notes ahead. How do you get your brain to pay attention to both simulatenously?[/b]
It's something that brains do automatically, unless you're so tense that you interfere with the process. I think it's the same sort of thing that's going on when you catch a ball. You're looking at where the ball is now, and at where it's going to be in two seconds' time, and if you want to catch it then it's best not to think too hard about the process :-)
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 02:04 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Akira:
That's a pretty interesting concept. My first thought would be how do you deal with two sets of unsynchronized music; the one emanating from your piano and the one in your head, just a few notes ahead. How do you get your brain to pay attention to both simulatenously?

Would love to hear more. [/b]
It's just like driving. How do you live in that world 20 yards ahead (the only safe way to drive) and still operate the vehicle where you are? The non-conscious mind does the operating for you. It also does a lot of other things, but that's another story.

It probably makes more sense to call it 'peripheral hearing'. You're hearing the part of the page your staring at and are, at the same time dimly aware of what you are playing. If you think carefully about it you'll realize you are much more aware of the music that is going to happen.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 02:32 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
It probably makes more sense to call it 'peripheral hearing'. You're hearing the part of the page your staring at and are, at the same time dimly aware of what you are playing. If you think carefully about it you'll realize you are much more aware of the music that is going to happen.
But I think I said it better in my first post on this thread. IMHO, it makes more sense than the rather opaque observations above. Did not I mention "snatching glances ahead"?

And a delectable Starbucks coffee for you too.. ;\)
Posted by: Akira

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 02:56 AM

It seems you are saying two different things, argerich fan. Your peripheral seems is in the future ("snatching glances"), whereas keyboardklutz's perpheral ("dimly aware of what you're playing") seems to be in the now.

I guess my next question is that if one is only dimly aware of the music being played, one would one know they are playing it as they intended to (i.e. how they heard it in their head)?. Is dimly aware enough to make that determination, as opposed who put their entire focus upon the sounds (like perhaps, when you have something memorized)?

Keyboardklutz, I'd like to explore the 'hear the music on the page' concept a little further, if you wouldn't mind indulging me. Are you saying that you can pick up a piece of music that you've never seen before, look at it for the first time and hear what the entire piece will sound like in your head, without hitting a single note? If so, I'd like to ask how one might acquire a skill like that.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 02:58 AM

I'm afraid the reality is rather opaque, so deep water can't be avoided.

Starbucks? I get a double espresso for 80p at my local. A discount on 90 as I'm a 'regular'.
Posted by: whippen boy

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 03:39 AM

Most of my professional career involves sight-reading, which is my particular strength.

I might say that - conversely to what others have said - I am dimly aware of what is ahead, but tend to focus on what I'm currently playing. My 'pre-cognitave envelope' \:D is probably one or two beats ahead.

I don't know how I do it, but I can nearly instantaneously play what I see. If the music is easy, I might look ahead; if it is difficult (complex chords, accidentals) I will not look ahead but will focus on the difficulties more intently.

As Alexander Hanysz and Argerichfan mentioned, a good knowledge of theory really helps, along with the realization that most music progresses in a predictable fashion. Logic and muscle memory do help me decide where the next notes are likely to occur.

Being an organist has also helped me a great deal. When you regularly play three staffs at sight, then two seem like a piece of cake!

My biggest challenge remains open score. I had to sightread some Poulenc and Duruflé motets yesterday, and it was at the edge of my comfort limit. Yet I know that if I regularly sightread this sort of material, my skills will improve.

So, while I endorse doing lots of sightreading (including reading lots of four-part hymns), I would add that most pianists would benefit from additional challenges, such as playing from open score (especially if one part requires transposition).
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 04:10 AM

I may be wrong. Perhaps the non-conscious is looking ahead? Another thing to investigate. After all, I suppose you can drive, see ahead and analyse a tune on the radio all at the same time.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 04:12 AM

It depends on the type of music and level of difficulty.

1) Easy, chordal music (e.g., hymns)--I look one or two chords ahead, not much more than that. Pedal does the legato for me, so I don't worry about finger substitution and finger legato.

2) Easy/intermediate popular music--I look at one group of notes at a time, usually one "chord" at a time. I don't look ahead as I play.

3) Easy classical music--I just play what's written. I don't look ahead at all.

4) Harder classical music--I multi-task! My eyes are all over the place. I look at the chords I'm playing. I look at the keys to make sure I'm at the right place, especially after large leaps. I look ahead to the next chord or hand position to figure out the best finger legato to get there. In this case I constantly look ahead whenever possible, usually when one hand has a long-held note or a long rest. When there are too many notes in a chord or cluster, I have to decide which ones to omit. I also have to figure out where I need to use legato pedal when it's impossible to do finger legato, so looking ahead here is crucial. Finally, when there is a lot of dotted rhythm, I always look at the long notes after the quick short notes, so I don't end up holding down a short note and waiting there to read the next chord.

I think the way I typed that last paragraph is how I sight read--doing a bunch of stuff and eventually (hopefully) what comes out makes sense.
Posted by: wr

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 05:03 AM

I sight read OK, but I never think of myself as reading ahead. But I must do that in some fashion, since like others, I need the page turned just a bit before the music actually arrived at that spot. It seems to me, though, that instead of reading ahead, what I really do is look at a wider area of the score than just a vertical slice. That area can shrink or expand depending on how dense the information in it is, but (except for the final note of a piece) it always includes more than just the instant of music that is sounding. It is, after all, visual information, not the sound, and so it doesn't have to have an exact linear relationship in time to what is being played. And I think that I rarely look at just one staff at a time; the grand staff appears like one thing to me.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 05:27 AM

I'm just getting into this. Betty, the bit of Clementi I sent you was prima vista sight reading to see what it is that I can do now, and how I do it.

Decades ago when I was self-taught I went by what I heard in a pseudo-solfege fashion, fixing the tonic "doh", hearing the melody go up and down by the pattern shapes of notes (staircase-like arpeggios, linear runs), while chords and inversions were pattern shapes and sounds in my hands. But I could well be playing a piece written in G major as C major and never notice, except that a note here and there sounded like it should be a semitone up or down and I'd adjust to what it "should sound like". That was 30 years ago.

What I have now: Learned that the first thing you do is to scan the piece quickly. Fix what the key signature is, whether it's major or minor, be conscious of what positions on the keyboard the hands will be traveling and audiate ahead of time if you can. After a while that sequence should become natural (said the book) and will only take a long moment. Apparently I've learned to do that. So I'm in the right key signature starting with the right finger off the bat, and I can use some of what I used to do, including hearing what I'm playing. I'd say that I see the notes in handfuls, and then move on to the next handful of notes while I'm playing, and that while scanning the handful I must be scooting along both clefs in turn, making note of significant things.

I'm aware that Clementi seems to use predictable patterns that I'm familiar with so that there is less to watch for. That Alberti bass is so often there and if my right hand is playing a C then I practically anticipate that my left will be playing something like CGEG depending on the key, and the cluster of notes have that "look" to them. If I see a sharp coming up in the LH I'm anticipating a modulation, hear it, and sure enough, there it is. I don't know how I would fare trying to read something wildly unpredictable. I chose that snatch of Clementi because it seemed to have a modulation, had large intervals somewhere in it, and I started in the middle of nowhere as it changed themes to make it as unpredictable as possible.

I suspect that having scales and arpeggios in different keys under your belt makes sight reading easier, because then those patterns are in your hands. Music is made up of the stuff of scales, chords, arpeggios. I'm a babe in the woods for chord progressions - have some of it by instinct - but I imagine that practising the I IV I V I see in Cooke's scale book will end up creating a familiarity in all the keys, that will find its way into sight reading. I imagine that in a sense you prepare for the ability to sight read by internalizing patterns you get through working with things like scales, and that you also draw on these internalized patterns once you start to sight read. Is this plausible?
Posted by: Age_of_Anxiety

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 06:51 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by whippen boy:

So, while I endorse doing lots of sightreading (including reading lots of four-part hymns), I would add that most pianists would benefit from additional challenges, such as playing from open score (especially if one part requires transposition). [/b]
Does an open score mean a score for multiple instruments that is not transcribed for piano? Would multiple instruments be on the same staff?

Also, what if playing all of it is humanly impossible? Leave notes out?

And wow...transposing one staff and not the other sound very complicated. But, I suppose theory knowledge might come in here as well.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 07:01 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Akira:
It seems you are saying two different things, argerich fan. Your peripheral seems is in the future ("snatching glances"), whereas keyboardklutz's perpheral ("dimly aware of what you're playing") seems to be in the now.

I guess my next question is that if one is only dimly aware of the music being played, one would one know they are playing it as they intended to (i.e. how they heard it in their head)?. Is dimly aware enough to make that determination, as opposed who put their entire focus upon the sounds (like perhaps, when you have something memorized)?

Keyboardklutz, I'd like to explore the 'hear the music on the page' concept a little further, if you wouldn't mind indulging me. Are you saying that you can pick up a piece of music that you've never seen before, look at it for the first time and hear what the entire piece will sound like in your head, without hitting a single note? If so, I'd like to ask how one might acquire a skill like that. [/b]
Sorry, Akira I seemed to have missed your post. No, I'm not very good at hearing the whole score but to be honest we only focus on one element at a time, don't we? I've been practicing hearing 2 and some 3 part species counterpoint. Also Bach 2 part chorales. It's a wonderful experience to hear more than one part in your head.

You'll have noticed I'm now not sure which, conscious or non-conscious, is ahead and which 'in the common now' . I'm rethinking that one.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 07:03 AM

In an open score each instrument and voice is on a separate staff. You may have your usual treble clef and bass clef, as well as the C clefs in alto and tenor for such instruments as bassoon, viola and cello (which can be changing clefs within the staff).

My question: would transposed instruments be in that form in an open score, or brought into concert pitch? (Not that I have any ambitions to learn to play from open scores this late in life. Just curious.)
Posted by: Alexander Hanysz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 07:27 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Age_of_Anxiety:
Does an open score mean a score for multiple instruments that is not transcribed for piano? Would multiple instruments be on the same staff?

Also, what if playing all of it is humanly impossible? Leave notes out?

And wow...transposing one staff and not the other sound very complicated. But, I suppose theory knowledge might come in here as well. [/b]
Yes, like an orchestral score, or a string quartet, or a piece for choir. One staff per instrument or voice.

Score reading and transposition used to be considered an important part of a general musical education. Yes, you have to be able to scan the whole score, decide what's most important, and leave things out.

There's a nice book called "Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading" by Morris and Ferguson; I think it's been reprinted.


 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:
My question: would transposed instruments be in that form in an open score, or brought into concert pitch?[/b]
Traditionally, yes. Nowadays, many composers write everything at concert pitch in the full score, and trust computer software to transpose it to the right pitch for the orchestral parts.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 07:40 AM

 Quote:
...Nowadays, many composers write everything at concert pitch in the full score, and trust computer software to transpose it to the right pitch for the orchestral parts
Which also tells me that it is originally written in closed score, with harmonic patterns etc. in the composer's mind, and I suppose that in reading an open score you are recreating that process and trying to keep the same patterns in mind in order to know what is important and what to leave out. Fascinating.

I am also beginning to understand why people on this board are writing that knowledge of theory helps. It seems that sight reading can in part be a kind of intelligent anticipation which you verify by actually reading what should logically be there and see whether it varies, and how. Would that be part of the process?
Posted by: playadom

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 09:38 AM

I'm really not consciously aware of the sight-reading process, I just look at the notes, and I end up playing, analyzing, and whatever happens.

If I were to pay deep attention to my eyes, I'd say that I were looking about 3/4 of the way ahead, but not too far to the point where I can't see exactly what the current measure is.
Posted by: PoStTeNeBrAsLuX

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 11:23 AM

If pushed to analyse it, I reckon I look at entire 'chunks' at a time, patterns and shapes being translated pretty much directly into finger/hand/arm movements. Once a 'chunk' in under way, I would start looking towards the next one, whilst still peripherally viewing the one currently being 'processed' and being 'dripped' out of the 'buffer' as it were. E.g. in a medium pace 6/8 piece a 'chunk' might be a whole bar (if mostly quarter and eighth notes) or perhaps half a bar (if there are lots of 16ths). Despite what others say above, I don't believe I dart between the staves, but see and digest both at the same time[1]. Whatever the actual mechanics and processes involved, it seems to work OK, as I scored 13/15 in the sight-reading element of my recent DipABRSM examination; the minimum for a pass is 6/15.

Michael B.
[1] Recently I have been playing quite a lot of music with passages written across three staves (e.g. Albéniz's Almeria) and find that I can read all three, just the upper and lower one perhaps more peripherally given the wider distance the field of the eye's vision has to cover.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 11:59 AM

Michael has a point. When you reach cadences you know what they sound like but you don't hear them in time. There was this bogus letter by Mozart where he talks of experiencing an entire piece in one moment. The letter was forged but there is some truth there - much of what you sight read is done in chunks i.e. taken out of time. So, where do the chunks go between being seen and being heard?
Posted by: whippen boy

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 12:22 PM

The 'chunks' go into the memory buffer - that is a good description. I also like the rest of Michael's description, as I think he describes the process very well.

When I mentioned open score with transpositions I was mainly thinking of vocal music, in which the tenor part is transposed down an octave (relatively easy). I believe just about any pianist who accompanies a choir will encounter this sort of music, so learning how to do it is extremely valuable.

Here is one of the pieces I had to sightread this week, the tenor part must be played down one octave: Poulenc

Organ pieces sometimes use alto clef, which creates the interesting situation of needing to read three clefs simultaneously. It becomes easier with practice.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 12:42 PM

whippen boy, how do you increase the size of the buffer?
Posted by: whippen boy

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 12:54 PM

I think it only takes systematic practice: read that hymnal from cover to cover. \:\)

And then try my other suggestion, to read things that are increasingly difficult so you are challenged. I might suggest reading a Mozart sonata; once you can do those fairly well, try some Beethoven sonatas, then (eventually) something like Prokofieff sonatas.

As a kid I used to read through a different prelude & fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier every day. I think that helped a lot, especially as these pieces go systematically through the key signatures and they can be tricky.

Playing for singers and/or instrumentalists is helpful, only because they demand you keep the beat steady and can play up to tempo. If you only play solo piano music, you might want to use the metronome to help you with this.

I also throw open score into the mix, only because it can be so challenging.
Posted by: Gyro

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 01:21 PM

I personally believe that it is "eyes on," not
"eyes ahead." The "eyes ahead" apparently comes
naturally as you get very good at it, but
if you try to do this from the start, that's
wrong. You see a similar type of faulty
thinking in "flat-fingered" playing. This
apparently comes naturally as one gets
more advanced and needs to employ it in
certain advanced pieces, but to see advanced
players doing it and then reasoning that
you should do it from the start is just plain
wrong--curved fingers for novices. Other
examples of this kind of slovenly type of thinking
are: seeing a concert pianist play a
difficult piece seemingly without effort and
then reasoning that the way to become good
is to just relax all the time when
playing; watching a showboat writhing about
on stage and then reasoning that the way to
become good is to become a "whole body"
player; watching a concert pianist play
with beautiful legato and then reasoning
that one needs to develop "the legato touch"
above all else, even neglecting hitting
the right notes in the right time in favor
of it; watching a concert pianist play
a lengthy piece from memory and then
reasoning that one should try to memorize
from the start and not bother with trying to
painstakingly read the notes; and so forth.
Posted by: epf

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 01:35 PM

Although I'm certainly not the best sight-reader in the world I think I'm okay. The approach I use is to actually scan an entire measure (both staves and the n looking ahead) as I play. As currawong noted, it's like reading words. We don't read letters but, rather, whole words. I do not read music by the note (I used to, but moved beyond that). My eyes are constantly moving up and down, right and left and, sometimes, even looking at the keyboard.

I'm not good enough to grasp whole phrases, but I can usually get a full bar in, and this allows the music to flow.

AS Betty noted, however, most of this happens below the conscious level so I'm describing what I think is happening.

Ed
Posted by: keystring

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 01:50 PM

Do people do things in a monkey-see monkey-do fashion, Gyro, or because they are systematically taught until they come on the right thing the right way? Imitation rarely works, because you are imitating the result of a process. In fact, I cannot imitate myself (I don't know if that makes sense). By learning to sight read and practicing it, eventually you see patterns, anticipate, have your eyes go forward or whatever. If you try to mechanically force it to happen you are so busy watching this mechanical action that the results end up not happening. If I am drilled in scales and theory, it may be that I am acquiring tools that will support me in sight reading. Then the fingers and eyes do what they should. Another person trying to imitate will in their turn be trying to imitate a result - but it is the practice, theory, and familiarity with keys and patterns that they are seeing. The only way to imitate is by imitating the process, if you will, whatever that might be.
Posted by: wdot

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 02:03 PM

Well, I'm impressed, whippen boy. We've sung that Poulenc Motet in my church choir, and I wouldn't want to tackle reading those odd harmonies from a choral score.

I agree with your ideas about starting with Mozart and early Beethoven and then working from there. I also think material like the Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and the Grieg Lyric Pieces is excellent sight reading fodder. While reading Bach fugues is going to be beyond most people, selections from the Partitas and French and English Suites are also good material for reading practice.
Posted by: PoStTeNeBrAsLuX

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 04:47 PM

John:
I think it only takes systematic practice: read that hymnal from cover to cover.

Indeed, whilst, at least from a melodic and harmonic point of view, adding Bach (inventions, suites, WTC in easier keys) and Mendelssohn Songs Without Words, Haydn and Mozart Sonatas, easier Beethoven sonatas, Chopin Mazurkas, etc. Once you get an idea for a variety of key signatures, chord structures, accompaniment figures, etc, and the accidentals that you will most likely encounter (due to standard modulations, etc), then try something a bit more 'accidental-intensive' like easier Brahms and perhaps Debussy. Then once you gain in confidence pull out a few pieces by Bartók, Ravel, Prokofiev and Hindemith. Once happy with some of those, then go back and play the D#/G#/Bb minor and C#/F# major WTC preludes and fugues from both books, and there'll be no dinner for you until modulations towards e.g. A# minor (complete with Fx and Gx, etc) don't scare you any more ;\) .

For a few years now I spend at least 4hrs (and sometimes double or even more) with WTC per week. It is a practically inexhaustible treasure trove, and arguably forms the basis of so much that came afterwards in terms of harmonic and melodic structures, sometimes not obviously, but the roots are often there. These days my favourites always have at least 4 sharps or flats, and often many more... the D# minor P&Fs are particular beautiful, and I wonder how often they are passed over due to the apparently intimidating notation/reading issues.

However, melody lines, chords and accompaniment figures are one thing, but rhythm is (and isn't, as it is all bound up in the notes as well!) another. Play as many pieces with different rhythmic patterns as possible, don't just pick out the simple time signatures from your stack of sheet music, but dive into 6/8, 12/8, 12/16, 9/8, etc WTC and other pieces. And don't busk over those dotted, double dotted, triplet, sextuplet, etc, rhythms in classical slow movements. Work them out exactly, playing half tempo and counting out loud if necessary. Accurate rhythmical playing is IMO a huge part of making a piece sound musical[1]. Don't even think about phrasing details until your conception of rhythm and articulation, how it is notated, and most importantly how this translates into finger/hand/arm movements, is solidly ingrained. Once comfortable in the basics, pull out the Bartók again, and try all those odd ones (5/8, 5/4, 7/8, etc.) as well.

If music is a language, the above are some of the essentials of grammar and vocabulary without which no-one else will understand your attempts to communicate[2]. The years I spent playing in church and for choral societies as rehearsal pianist certainly helped exercise my sight-reading. However, the majority of my experience was hours on my own, playing as much sheet music as I could lay my hands on; this is a practice/obsession which I still continue to this day \:\) .

Michael B.
[1] What often defines a 'musical', or for want of a better word, 'professional' performance is a certain fluency in rhythmical feel; not metronomic, but an innate awareness of the metrical structure of phrases, sections and whole pieces. I think this often goes unnoticed, but it becomes very apparent when one hears the opposite, i.e. the sloppy and inaccurate rhythm (often caused by unsurmounted technical difficulties, but sometimes just plain unawareness) of many amateur players. Often too many amateurs worry more about playing the right notes, even if they then struggle very obviously to play them in the right places. The piano is a percussion instrument after all, and when played unrhythmically it is a obvious as when a drummer can't keep a straight beat either.
[2] Often the language metaphor is used, but it is not misplaced. When I first came here from England, I was reasonable proficient in French, but not really what you might call fluent. After eight years of working and living in a francophone environment, I no longer have to translate (either to or from) into my mother tongue, but the ideas, concepts and general information just go straight into (what I like to call) my brain, without having to bypass the 'translation' stage. These days I no longer remember what language I spoke to someone in a particular meeting, as what was important was the content, not the means of transmission. Similarly I don't have to hesitate and search for vocabulary from English to express what I wish to say to someone in French. Reading musical notation is similar in the sense that total immersion is pretty much the only way to gain fluency. To my eyes the marks on a page of sheet music convey concepts, sounds and movements (and in 'chunks') rather than individual notes and chords, in the same way as what I am writing here plugs directly in the minds of fluent English readers, rather than being a bunch of words and phrases that need to be translated into another language before being transformed in 'mentalese.' How one conceives of the musical notation and how it relates to the physical reality of playing a musical instrument is of paramount importance when learning new pieces, or indeed working on or revisiting ones that you are already familiar with. So, if one can remove the need to 'translate' and plug those dots, lines and dashes as directly as possible into the part of the brain that then instructs what you do physically, then sight-reading starts to become a different experience entirely.
Posted by: whippen boy

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 05:02 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by PoStTeNeBrAsLuX:
For a few years now I spend at least 4hrs (and sometimes double or even more) with WTC per week. It is a practically inexhaustible treasure trove, and arguably forms the basis of so much that came afterwards in terms of harmonic and melodic structures, sometimes not obviously, but the roots are often there.
Absolutely! After one has 'mastered' the hymnal \:D the next step is the WTC. I can think of no better sightreading material; not only that, I think it is good for musicianship, stimulating for the mind, and perhaps even food for the soul!

 Quote:
Originally posted by wdot:
Well, I'm impressed, whippen boy. We've sung that Poulenc Motet in my church choir, and I wouldn't want to tackle reading those odd harmonies from a choral score.
Aha! I bet you had a pianist teach your choir how to sing that piece - he or she would have had to play that open score in order to train the choir - you should ask your accompanist about it sometime. They might be greatful for someone to notice how difficult their job is. \:\)
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 10:30 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
After all, I suppose you can drive, see ahead and analyse a tune on the radio all at the same time.
But you do this on the M25 all the time, right? ;\) (Even when BBC3 play Brigg Fair yet again?) whippen boy can tell us plenty about I-80 from SF to Oakland... (do you approach it from 280 or 101?)

Whatever. Very interesting responses on this thread, all of them worth a read. I don't inhabit the rarefied realms of whippen boy's sight reading abilities, yet we're both church musicians and sight reading is simply the order of the day. How often has the DoM said "I fancy we'll do a different anthem this morning!" (Usually because some choir member was sick or hung over.)

Then, plop. It's a new anthem I haven't seen before. My good mates, I cannot say for certain just how I sight read, I only know that two time frames are involved: the "now" of the notes I'm playing, the "future" of what notes I will be playing.

Does that make any sense?
Posted by: currawong

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/22/08 10:51 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by argerichfan:
My good mates, I cannot say for certain just how I sight read, I only know that two time frames are involved: the "now" of the notes I'm playing, the "future" of what notes I will be playing.
Does that make any sense? [/b]
It does to me.
Saying "I'll play bar 1, and at the same time read bar 2. Next I'll play bar 2 and at the same time read bar 3" seems to be trying to squeeze it all into one time frame. I'm certain I read ahead, but I'm also certain I don't do it rigidly like that. Your description of two time frames seems to go further to describing what's happening for me. Perhaps after all it's indescribable. Or is that a cop-out ...
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 02:03 AM

 Quote:
I no longer have to translate (either to or from) into my mother tongue, but the ideas, concepts and general information just go straight into (what I like to call) my brain, without having to bypass the 'translation' stage. These days I no longer remember what language I spoke to someone in a particular meeting, as what was important was the content, not the means of transmission.
This, I think, is the nail on the head. The content of music is not the sound. The sound is just the medium. Those players with more experience are working from within the content far more. They find the meaning of what they are doing/hearing is far more accessible.
Posted by: Age_of_Anxiety

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 07:08 AM

Whipped boy:

You think that reading WTC would be of use to me even if I can't play them fluently? I can't even S-R inventions up to speed, but you think that once I finish the hymnal, I just just "sight-read" WTC anyway?

You think if you choose a particular composers music that is not too far from your s-r level and play a lot of it, you get used to it, even if you're slow starting out?

Thanks
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 07:40 AM

AofA, don't be afraid to play WTC very slowly. It's music that deserves a lot of attention. I prefer WTC II.
Posted by: whippen boy

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 03:45 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Age_of_Anxiety:
You think that reading WTC would be of use to me even if I can't play them fluently? I can't even S-R inventions up to speed, but you think that once I finish the hymnal, I just just "sight-read" WTC anyway?
If you've sightread an entire hymnal, I think you might be ready for the WTC. \:\) The WTC contains pieces of widely varying difficulty - it is possible to find a grading of these pieces, which will allow you to start with the simplest ones.

You mentioned the Inventions - the two-part ones are excellent, and may be your best bet for now. You don't have to play perfectly AND up to speed. Try playing slowly enough in order to get most of the right notes.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Age_of_Anxiety:
You think if you choose a particular composers music that is not too far from your s-r level and play a lot of it, you get used to it, even if you're slow starting out?
Yes, something like that.

Look, you have to start somewhere. I think it might as well be Bach.

If you don't like Bach or if you find his music just too difficult there are plenty of other options.

If you have a teacher they should also have some suggestions.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 04:14 PM

The talk about translating words of a foreign language first into your mother tongue made me think of this (follow me now)...

We often talk about how someone who has become fluent in a foreign language doesn't have to first translate things into English. But realize this: if someone came up to you on the street and said "Bonjour!" most of you would know immediately what he meant, without first translating ("Let's see. Bonjour means Hello -- oh he's saying hello."). The point is that for very simple phrases, even someone just learning a new language can understand without translating first.

How does this relate to sight-reading? Well, we newbies are often asking the experts "How do you do it? What are you thinking?" etc.

But maybe, if we simply look at how WE OURSELVES do it for a very simple piece, we can understand better. For example, if we examine how we sight-read a single line of quarter notes, we might get an understanding of how more proficient readers handle a more complex piece.

Or maybe not.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 04:19 PM

Good one Al! I think our bonjour are the cadences. Or is it au revoir?
Posted by: PoStTeNeBrAsLuX

Re: Sight Reading : Eyes On or Eyes Ahead? - 01/23/08 04:42 PM

The last cadence I play at the end of a piano session is often a Santé!

-Michael B.