DONATION STATUS
Needed before 2016-12-31
$ 2,500
So far donated
$ 805

The worst sight reader ever

Discussion in 'Technique' started by Chopinesque, Feb 20, 2009.

  1. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    I’ve recently been told that I must be the worst sight reader ever. I’m not sure how the person meant it, but it has certainly made me think.

    I’ve been playing for over six years now and my sight reading ability has always been much worse than my playing, but this gap becomes even more noticeable as time goes on. To be able to perform a piece, I need to practise it over a long period of time until I learn it almost from memory, but sight reading doesn’t get any easier no matter how much I try.

    I’ve tried to start again from basics but this has not helped – I can just about manage grade one or two, but as the music gets more difficult I just play either more slowly or more wrong notes (and wrong rhythms, dynamics and the rest!). I’ve read various articles on sight reading and have followed some good advice systematically, but there are no small audible rewards for my efforts, let alone a miracle cure.

    It would be interesting to hear from any of you who are also bad at sight reading, or if you've managed to overcome it. If my condition is permanent, I might as well stop wasting so much time trying to acquire this elusive skill and concentrate on other aspects of playing, such as getting a small number of pieces to a high standard.

    Thanks.
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2006
    Messages:
    8,716
    Likes Received:
    1
    Last Name:
    Hart
    First Name:
    Monica
    We need to clarify something first: The term 'sight read' means when you put a piece of music you've never seen before up on your piano and play it. At least that is what I think it means. Perhaps you mean that you have trouble playing piano when you are reading the music?

    I play mostly with the music in front of me. I only memorize something when I want to perform it or I just want to have something in my head so I can play anywhere. My problem is that memorizing has become hard for me, but when I finally do get a piece memorized, then I can play it much better than if I were reading off the music. One can get into the music more when it's memorized.

    Playing with the music in front of you is hard because you look down at the keys often and then have to find your place in the music when you look back up. But in your case, if you've only been playing for six years, then I think the ability to play from the music will get better over time. It takes a while to get so comfortable on the keys that you don't need to look down so much.

    Just out of curiosity - are you an adult or a student or both? :wink:
     
  3. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    By sight reading I mean playing a piece of music for the first time, or after a very brief preparation. I'm 36.
     
  4. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2006
    Messages:
    2,388
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Obamanation, unfortunately...
    Last Name:
    Grocholski
    First Name:
    Julius
    LOCATION:
    Obamanation, unfortunately...
    You're not alone, buddy. I have to play through each hand separately and slowly before I can even stumble through a composition using both hands.

    Sight reading (playing a piece you have never seen or heard before) is a true talent.

    Don't be discouraged by someone insulting you, you should play music for yourself, at your own level, and at your own pace.

    Rambling,
    _jg
     
  5. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2007
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    programmer
    Location:
    toronto
    LOCATION:
    toronto
    You know I am not ashamed to admit I consider myself a poor to average sight reader.

    This might sound crazy, but I prefer to memorize music away from the piano.

    The first time I usually try to play music on the piano I have already memorized every note. The funny part is, it doesn't make playing music the first time all that easier. The first time I play a song after I have memorized it, it sounds lots like my sight reading. Although I tend to memorize every note, I don't memorize fingering or finger movements and it takes me a while to figure all that out.

    If you’re like me, reading the music isn't that bad, it’s just getting your fingers to do those crazy movements.

    One thing I have always suspected though, probably few people can become great sight readers, but I think most people can become average sight readers following simple rules.

    That is, not looking at the hands, feeling your way through the keyboard or knowing were to find notes without looking, always moving forward through a piece and avoiding spending too much time on the first bar and not enough time on the last (not sure what other people think of these basic tricks...)

    It’s probably comparable to having perfect pitch. While most people can develop very good relative pitch, few people will have perfect pitch or be able to know every note of a piece after hearing only once for example.




     
  6. Terez

    Terez New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2007
    Messages:
    1,418
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Student
    Location:
    Gulfport, MS, USA
    WLM:
    terez2727@hotmail.com
    AOL:
    terez2727
    LOCATION:
    Gulfport, MS, USA
    I'm good at memorizing, bad at sight-reading, though I get a lot better at sight-reading when I'm forced to do it a lot. I'm better at sight-singing than the vast majority voice majors, though, so that makes me feel a bit better.

    Part of what makes me bad at sight-reading is having to do it at tempo in front of people. I'm not so bad at it if I'm by myself and I don't have to keep a tempo.
     
  7. In-Flight Piano

    In-Flight Piano New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2008
    Messages:
    58
    Likes Received:
    0
    Home Page:
    WEBSITE:
    http://www.united-virtual.com
    I am also terrible at sight reading. When learning a piece, I am not able to play a piece at a reasonable tempo until I have it memorized, so I memorize everything that I play.
     
  8. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    Thanks for your replies. I can't really say that I'm glad that others might be just as bad (I can't wish that to anyone!), but it's good to know that you are still good pianists in other areas and are not too worried about this.

    I'm reading a book called "A Soprano on Her Head" by Eloise Ristad - I didn't think I was going to enjoy the book at the beginning but it does get better. She has the weirdest advice for people with severe sight-reading or coordination problems - some involve crawling exercises, and juggling for a few minutes before a piano session! I don't have any juggling or tennis balls at home, so I tried with sock balls yesterday. My husband came in the room and thought I had gone mad. I never told him the purpose of the exercise!

    I haven't gone into much detail on sight-reading chapter yet but will let you know if I find anything that works. The book was recommended to me by a piano teacher who heard me play a few weeks ago and thought I was extremely nervous. She said that this book helped her a lot with performance anxiety (more so than Barry Green's Inner Game).
     
  9. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2006
    Messages:
    8,716
    Likes Received:
    1
    Last Name:
    Hart
    First Name:
    Monica
    That's so funny. The same thing happened to me, except it was one of my sons who caught me juggling (or attempting to). I can't do it at all. But I learned about this idea also from a book. Except I think it was a different one than what you read, but in my case, I was trying to learn about 'memorizing' techniques, and the juggling was supposed to help with that.
     
  10. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2007
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    programmer
    Location:
    toronto
    LOCATION:
    toronto
    You know this might sound silly, crazy or even obvious to some, but I have found one 'trick' to help me both in my memorizing and my music reading.

    I am not exactly sure how to explain it, but the basic idea is to always move forward and not spend to much time practicing any bar within the same practice session (well not exactly.) That is, I have not found it very effective to practice the same bar of music 20 or 30 times within the same 10/20 minute interval. Instead I have found it more productive to simply practice it correctly once or twice and then move on. When I came back to the music a few hours later, or even the next day, I find I am already much more comfortable with the passage and I am at a point were I can practice it again. I can also learn a lot more music within a practice session this way.

    I have found this works for me when either memorizing music or just reading music at the piano.

    I say this because I think most people can manage to practice a comfortable amount of repertoire in a short period of time. Although it does take me a very very long time before I can actually record music.

    Anyway, not sure if all this is obvious or crazy? It wasn't always obvious to me....


     
  11. Lukecash

    Lukecash New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2009
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    student
    Location:
    Manteca, CA
    LOCATION:
    Manteca, CA
    Maybe you have dislexia, or problems with correlating a visualization and a sound? A lot of times the keyboard and fingering seem like an entirely separate entity then the sheet for me, and maybe you are the same. You know all the rules, but you just can't apply them quickly because you are trying to put two and two together. I never have memorization problems because of my autism, and can visualize things of high complexity in my head, but it's just plain difficult to read music at all. It took me an age to read Prokofeiv's 3rd concerto, which is pretty straightforward reading however technical it is. Maybe you have these problems?
     
  12. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    Hi,

    I'm not dyslexic - I'm just really slow at reading complex music (probably a bit thick!). I've decided to stop worrying about it - we all have limitations, and it shouldn't bother me too much if it takes me quite long to learn a new piece of music in the initial stages. After all, in my case it's only meant to be a hobby, not a competition! :)

    Thanks.
     
  13. Teddy

    Teddy New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    58
    Likes Received:
    0
    From what I understand (and I might not have understood correctly), your ability to sight-read is directly linked not only to your ability to quickly decypher the sheet, but also to your musical knowledge. Recognizing patterns you've seen (cadences, harmonies, modulations, melodic transpositions), and more importantly, predicting them. Understanding musical theory is hence key, so I guess a good sight reader also has a good grasp of things such as fugal writing, counterpoint, etc.

    One obvious example as a beginner is figuring the key at the start of the piece ; when I started I just memorized the sharps and flats, and went from there (I didn't do scales back then), and sight reading was hell, especially in keys like C sharp (thinking you're playing a F when there's a E sharp written is confusing). Then I learnt the major scales, and reading got much easier. Then I learnt the minor scales, and it got even easier, understanding the accidental sharps and flats. Then I learnt the modes, and it helped even more predicting the next evolutions of the melody.
    The same goes for the basic cadences, and obviously, chords ; when you know your chords, you can play them directly without thinking about the individual notes (also helps as you will memorize the progression quicker, a Cm chord is easier to remember than C-Eb-G obviously). I remember, when I started playing Scriabin, I was so confused by those huge foreign chords ; now that I'm familiar with them and their construction, it got much easier to sight read some modern pieces (though rythm is a major problem, especially when several voices entangle each other). Another example here are arpeggis ; a movement like Beethoven's moonlight third gets really easy to sight-read when you understand what's going on for instance.
    The more you play a composer, the more you can sight-read it too, for obvious reason.

    I don't think you have to major in composing to sight-read decently, since the more you play the more you'll experience and remember patterns, but if you have trouble, definitly try to look into the music. However, I think there's no escaping some form of memorization for harder pieces ; sometimes you can't predict or read ahead, you have to know "first hand" (for fingering reasons, or technical difficulty, like some huge leaps you can't make your eyed glued to the sheet). Obviously, the better your technique is the better you can sight-read too, since you don't need to look at your fingers and the fingering on some passages or runs becomes automatic.
     
  14. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    Hi Teddy,

    Thank you very much for your reply. Your advice is extremely good, but I'm not a beginner - I've been playing for just over 6 years now. I completed grade 2.5 years ago and have been considering a diploma since then, although I have started to think that I've been rushing into learning difficult music without consolidating basic musical skills. I'm also doing grade 7 music theory (LCM syllabus) and have completed a Diploma in Music (mainly analysis and interpretation) with the Open University. I've been trying really hard up until recently, but my sight-reading is truly embarrassing considering the exams I've managed to pass. Never mind ...
     
  15. Teddy

    Teddy New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    58
    Likes Received:
    0
    I was just using beginner examples to convey what I think, since everybody can understand what it represents, didn't mean to judge of your level :)

    I think it still stands valid even at "higher level", though if you really find yourself incapable to sight-read decently there might be something else troubling you ; I know I have horrible pitch recognition despite my best efforts (I mean really horrible, anything that is not played on piano I can hardly even get the most basic melody), so I guess one could have the same fault in sight-reading.

    Also, sight-reading is really dependent on what music you are used to play ; someone who plays a lot of Bach would have troubles sight-reading Scriabin for the first time I guess. In the same way, not every music asks the same of the sight-reader ; some have many modulations and accidentals, some have huge chord clusters, some just have huge chords, some have complex polyrythms, etc. So I think evaluating what kind of music you want to sight read (at first) is a good start, so you'll know what are your specific weakness ; I guess you have no problem reading individual notes on the staves (plenty of flash minigames on the net, I think Juufa linked one somewhere, that are really great for that. I learnt a fair part of Japanese writing that way, really fast), so there must be something else. Sight-reading requires a bit of memorizing too, being able to look forward and remember during easy passages so you can prepare ahead, remembering chords and how they looked like on the sheet (so you don't have to read them whole again, in a way tying the hand form to the sheet drawing). Maybe you could simplify the sheet you want to sight-read first, maybe use jazz notation for some chords if you're familiar with it ; many complex looking chords that are hard to decypher have simple names and can easily be played. When there's many voices in a piece, I try to sing them first, or even play them separatly and modulate them on the keyboard first.

    I'm no great pianist, but the otherday I was sight reading through Prokovief's Montagues and Capulets for fun, and the first thing that came to mind glancing at the sheet was "that beginning is just like an alberti bass (with chords) with rocket start (you know like in that first Beethoven F sonata), and it made the whole playing much easier (I could focus on other details and on the following section). Apart from that, you mentionned hard pieces - usually, when there are technical difficulties, I sight read the easy parts, and just memorize the hard parts ; trying to sight read hard parts will make it harder to learn the piece, as you will slow down on both your playthrough and technique acquisition, eventually not ever playing it correctly and - worse - learning it wrong in your hand memory. I've always wondered if virtuosos can just take any sheet and play it ; like you know, "Scriabin 10th sonata ? Never heard, I'll sight read it", and bam they do it right there. I know some people have great ears, so they have a good part of the sheet memorized before seing it too, that might help...

    So, what pieces are you trying to sight-read ? Could you learn them easily (note wise mostly) if you wanted ?
     
  16. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    What I meant to say in my post above is that I did grade 8 about 2.5 years ago (I deleted the 8 by accident)

    For examination purposes (if I ever get there), I'm supposed to be able to sight read music of about grade 6 standard in any style. This is just a nightmare - it could take me about a month to play some of these pieces correctly, depending on the style, but will only be given 1 minute's preparation at the exam. You're right that I probably have to "specialise" a bit more in a particular style at a time rather than try everything in one go. This is a good idea I'm going to take up. For example, I've never played much Bach so find it almost impossible to sight read anything with counterpoint. I probably ought to learn some music in this style in the first place.

    I don't find Mozart and Clementi so terribly difficult to sight-read by comparison, but this is because I've already learned several sonatas in this style. Apart from some very difficult Mozart, this type of music is oftern linear, with certain patterns that I can recognise.

    Liszt is a composer I can't play at all (I'm trying to learn the lovely Consolation No. 2 but am getting nowhere with it and have started to despair despite the title!). However, I find Chopin more intuitive in general.

    Recognising chords is a particular problem. I am probably being really dense about the whole thing because I'm assured chord recognition is really simple, but despite the best advice in the world, I have this terrible habit of perceiving chords as independent superimposed notes (or a mass of black dots at first!), so have to think individually about what each note is, and this takes a long time. My teacher recommended that I learn to play some cadential sequences in different keys, and I've been doing this for weeks, but it's been mostly pointless because I've never come across these specific combinations in real music.

    I shall be looking for some intermediate Bach to start this evening and see how that goes...

    Cheers
     
  17. coqdorysme

    coqdorysme New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2009
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    A good tip to speed up sight reading (by Raymond Lewenthal): Train your left hand to do the things that the right hand does, so it can cope with things like counterpoint and big leaps - as well as the usual accompanimental figures ranging half a keyboard like in waltzes and stuff.
     
  18. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2008
    Messages:
    56
    Likes Received:
    0
    Occupation:
    Systems Developer
    Location:
    UK
    LOCATION:
    UK
    The nightmare is over. I took the DipLCM exam (the one with a sight reading component) last month and managed to pass. The sight reading test was easy compared with the sort of music I've been trying to sight read: I could even hear a tune!

    I'm not planning to take any more exams in the near future or become a good sight reader, so my next interest is going to be in learning new music at a faster rate and improving my technique - I will have to investigate the forum for existing posts as I'm sure it's all been discussed before, but sometimes it just feels good to talk about it.

    Thanks for all the advice so far.
     

Share This Page