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Sight reading music: the highest form or reading music?


gliderproarc

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I am one of those keyboardists who started with a Radioshack Casio keyboard and never had any lessons. I learned to play chords and then songs. Played melody first with just my pointer, then three fingers, now all of them.

But now, I am getting serious. I practice scales, run through exercises, and now my biggest hurdle of all... learning to read music :freak:

 

I have been at it a while now and I recently was rather pleased with my progress. I was able to take a written melody (simple piece. nothing harder then a doted eighth. not even triplets) and was able to play it in about 5 minuets. Compared to not even knowing what notes were in the bass clef, this was pretty good. But I didn't sight read it. I could not just sit there and be handed a sheet of music and start playing it. and thank fully I did not have to read the chords, that would have taken maybe half an hour.

I realized I have a ways to go before I can sight read, and I know the way to get there is to practice, practice, practice. My question though is, is there anything after sight reading? Once you can sight read a piece off a piece of paper, have you 'arrived' as far as your reading goes? And further more, how many musicians actually get to the place where they can sight read?

GIGO
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"My question though is, is there anything after sight reading? "

 

Well, you then need to turn the notes into music, and this is really the important bit - making the music is so much more than just reading the notes.

My own feeling is that sight reading is an overrated skill in that, while being extremely useful for a session musian, its completely irrelevant to any kind of performing musician, who should know the music inside out before performing it. Reading music is a fantastic and useful skill and well worth learning well, but being able to read it correctly the first time is less important than being able to play it with feeling on the umpteenth occasion. Great if you can manage both together, but it is rather difficult.

cheers, David

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There's sightreading, and then there's sightreading. Which is to say, there are many levels of difficulty when it comes to sightreading. I know it comes easier to some people (or maybe they just work harder at it). But I've been reading music for 50 years now, and I still have difficulty sightreading some pieces. It depends on the difficulty level of the piece - certain things I can read cold, and others are challenging to me.

 

So, I would say, don't worry, I doubt that you will run out of sightreading challenges in your lifetime.

 

Beeboss, I can't agree with your comment. Sightreading may not be relevent for some kinds of performers, and memorizing music "inside and out" is a very good thing. But in fact, there are many kinds of live performance situations where sight-reading is desirable and useful.

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Originally posted by gliderproarc:

My question though is, is there anything after sight reading? Once you can sight read a piece off a piece of paper, have you 'arrived' as far as your reading goes?

Depends where you want to get. Some folks learn to sight read string quartets at the piano.

Gig keys: Hammond SKpro, Korg Vox Continental, Crumar Mojo 61, Crumar Mojo Pedals

 

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Well, if you get bored sight reading for piano, you can always go to the music sheet store and buy a few scores for orchestra. Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps / The Rite of Spring will probably keep you busy for a little while. :)
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..sounds like Im at about the same level of reading, I can read it, but very slow,....lets see, every..good.. boy.. does.. ...

 

Anyways, though I would like to get to the point of site reading, if I could muster up the disipline to practice it,...

 

For now, I basially cheat. To learn songs, I simply look at guitar tab, ( no, not the fretboard type ) just the type that has the lyrics and the chord 'letter' above. Once I know the chord (if I couldnt figure it out on my own) I simply sorta 'roll' through the chord to find the right way to play it, ( or at least close ) . --- similar to what stepay was talking about in a recent post.

 

Im basically trying to be the singer/songwriter/player and I was actually suprised at how well this method seems to work for learning songs rather quickly.

 

One of my biggest problems is simply, 'remembering' the song, as in being able to play it without looking up at what chord comes next. Very bad short term memory.

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Sight reading four clefs of choral music at once was more than I could handel - er handle. Never got to the point where I wasn't spending all my time darting the eye up and down and losing my place as I went.

 

With those parts on just two clefs, I would not in general have a problem, as long as it was not too fast.

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Originally posted by Beeboss:

My own feeling is that sight reading is an overrated skill in that, while being extremely useful for a session musian, its completely irrelevant to any kind of performing musician, who should know the music inside out before performing it.

Well, you are of course entitled to your feelings, but you should perhaps try painting with a thinner brush. :rolleyes:

 

"Any kind of performing musician"? Ever gotten a call to sub in on a theater gig? How about playing accompaniment for a casting (cattle) call for singers?

 

There are plenty of situations that lend themselves to a musician needing to be able to sightread, to some degree, in order to pull off a gig.

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When I was taking piano lessons as a kid, I did reach the point where I could sort of muddle through a sight-reading of very simple pieces. But I have completely lost that skill now, through lack of use.

 

As a teenager I played trumpet, and I was actually quite good at sight-reading trumpet music, I could pretty much play anything you plopped in front of me, with the exception of maybe a few super difficult pieces. But of course sight-reading single lines is much easier than sight-reading piano music.

 

I'm working with a teacher now, trying to develop the discipline to re-learn some of the traditional basics. What I mostly accomplished so far is a full recognition of how much I've lost those skills. :( I can't read bass clef without mental gymnastics, and while I can still somewhat sight-read single lines, the idea of sight-reading anything complex is laughable at this point.

 

Of course, none of the bands I play with have any written music for anything. On rare occasions there might be a chord sheet, but that's as far as it goes. So I haven't been forced to re-learn that skill, I'd doing it for the learning, not for any specific short-term need.

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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But now, I am getting serious.
Why not study with someone who has already gone through what you are going through. You'll save yourself a lot of time.

 

Studying theory will also help tremendously with sight reading. You'll come across many 'things' you won't be able to nail (playing) the first time but you'll be able to 'see' what it is and perhaps simplify it on the spot.

 

Get a teacher.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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When I joined a 12 piece band ,who read every piece.It became very apparent to me how important sight reading skills are.And how much I was lacking.

As Sven noted, when they call you in ,they expect you to play it.

 

It also amazes me that people think sight readers are robotic in the way they play. They will get the tempo and phrasing right the first time. What are you going to do if there is no cd to listen too and you really don't know what your part sounds like or feels like? Ever had someone count the tempo for you by clapping thier hands ,because you are throwing off everyone else ?

 

I have nothing but respect for guys who can walk right in an sit down ,look at the page, and play it.

 

Now ,I want music to read. Learning is so much easier. How many hours have I plugged away trying to listen and decipher a piece.Not only that ,I think my ears,which were good ,got better after reading.

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Ironically, just last night I was plopped into a situation, (for me THE situation) which demands top-notch sight-reading skill. I went to choir practice, and the normal accompanist was out sick.

 

So, on the spot, I was asked to sit down and accompany our choir on a series of pieces that I had heard before (and sung tenor on), but had never played note one on the piano. All but one of the pieces had MULTIPLE key changes to boot.

 

Familiarity with the rhythm and song structure was helpful - but jumping around from Eb to D to B, while turning pages, and keeping a steady beat, is no easy chore.

 

Heck, the "trivial" part is playing the individual vocal parts for each section, (the only time you get even think about fingering).

 

But, here's the thing about sight-reading. While it *can* be precise, it doesn't *have* to be spot-on perfect in most cases. The "trick" to improving sight-reading is having the mind adapt to the concept that some portions of the score are critical (and playing those correctly is mandatory), while others are more maleable.

 

Typically, if the melody line is in the score, one needs to play it dead-on perfect (especially when playing with others). But, the chords and underlying rhythm tracks are typically open to 'fudging' and interpretation. That's how *I* survive when sight-reading is imperative -- I concentrate on the critical paths - and let my instincts (honed by 35 years of playing) figure out what parts of the score *NOT* to play.

 

When sight-reading, the trickier the piece, the more likely I simply won't play any notes (outside of the melody) with accidentals. My mind knows which notes fit which chords in a given key. But accidentals are an "extra" thought process for me -- so rather than risk screwing up the accidental, I've developed the ability (over time) to simply not play that note. This means instead of playing C minor (C,Eb,G), I just play the open C chord, (C,G with no third). The end result is that while the chord isn't right - it doesn't sound BAD.

 

As I get subsequent passes, (and have to concentrate less on what I'm getting comfortable with), I can then begin adding in the accidentals the next time thru - (if it's a song with multiple verses, I might start adding them as a given section (verse or chorus) is repeated.

 

The single biggest key to being PERCEIVED as an outstanding sight-reader is rhythm. The ability to not have to THINK about the rhtymic pattern of dotted-quarter, quarter, quarter, eighth, whole -- is actually more critical to sightreading (IMO) than actually getting every tone perfect the first time.

 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of instruction and theory is targeted solely at tones and tone combinations - and reading rhythms gets the short end of the stick. But it's the ability to glance at a staff and immediately feel the rhythmic cadence that makes the biggest difference in sight-reading quality.

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It also amazes me that people think sight readers are robotic in the way they play.
My experience is that there is a contingent of people here at KC that feel obligated to shoot down any traditionally accepted pianistic skill, such as sightreading, learning harmony, theory, etc. It boggles the mind... :freak:
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As Dave said, get a teacher, get some theory, and like Sandy you'll find you don't actually need to read every note on all four lines of a choir sheet. If you know a bit about how four part harmony works that knowledge allows you to anticipate notes. You actually end up reading a little ahead of where you're playing which enables you to prepare for changes in mood, pace, dynamics etc.

Gig keys: Hammond SKpro, Korg Vox Continental, Crumar Mojo 61, Crumar Mojo Pedals

 

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My view on sight reading is this:

 

1) Do it. Get really good at it even. If you want to be a musician, this skill can only help you -- it cannot hurt in any way...UNLESS you stop with a great ability to read and don't pursue other avenues of being a PLAYER too. There are many musicians out there who can ONLY play if the music is written down, and they never develop an ear for music. Developing an ear for music will get you as many gigs (if not more depending on the type of music you want to play) as being able to sight read.

 

2) I'd say you could probably never fully arrive at sight reading. I have a friend who can put any foreign piece of extremely difficult classical material in front of him, and he can play it flawlessly immediately. THAT takes tons of practice, some inate ability, and will. Maybe he's arrived, but the vast majority of sight readers don't get anywhere near where he is. Good goal though.

 

3) I agree with Dave that learning theory is a good thing. Maybe you've done that already? Learning theory though does not have to include reading notation AT ALL. It CAN, but it doesn't have to. Rock, pop, and blues musicians rarely read sheet music, and some of the best of the best can't read a note. To be a great PLAYER, you need to focus on PLAYING.

 

4) Reading sheet music is great if you want to play something you've never heard before or if you don't have a good enough ear to listen to it and play it as it should be played (not a slam in any way on sheet music readers as I read sheet music). It's also necessary to get certain jobs. SOME musicians will only deal with other musicians who can read sheet music. Certain kinds of music are more geared toward that way of thinking -- classical, jazz, orchestral music, church music. And I'm not saying it isn't without reason, just saying that it is.

 

5) If you want to play blues or rock or pop music with a band though, good luck finding a band that uses sheet music. I was once shackled to sheet music like you would not believe. I started to play with a band in my early 20s that was very gracious in teaching me how to play without it, and slowly but surely my horrible ear for music turned into a finely tuned ear for music. I haven't bothered with sheet music other than just for fun now (and I do that once in a while) for at least 15 years.

 

Just know that being a great note reader doesn't mean you're a great player. I know some GREAT note readers who can't play nearly as well as I can, and I am not a sight reader -- good note reader, but not a sight reader.

 

Technique, theory, practice, feel the music in your soul, and then PLAY.

 

How'd you like to be somewhere where people are taking turns playing a piano somewhere and someone says, "hey, gliderproarc plays piano", and you have to say "anyone got any sheet music?"

 

I realize you've said you've learned to play without sheet music. My suggestion is that you don't abandon that and think that reading is the end all be all because it isn't. Playing well is.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

My experience is that there is a contingent of people here at KC that feel obligated to shoot down any traditionally accepted pianistic skill, such as sightreading, learning harmony, theory, etc. It boggles the mind... :freak:

This seems to extend to all areas of life, not just musicianship. This is the darker side of our age of technology. The arduous path of self-development that cultivates depth and "soul" is superseded by the immediacy of getting what we want, when we want it via a few mouse clicks.

 

But I digress... What was the question again? :)

Reality is like the sun - you can block it out for a time but it ain't goin' away...
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There's been probably enough said already, but I'd like to make a point. Glider, REALLY sightreading (playing more or less right as you go) a medium classical piece is really difficult and I know very few people that do this. If you're not into classical, then maybe it's not so important, but I think you should at least be able to sight read the melody. It will save you from errors in the melody and the rhythm. To me at least, reading rhythms and recognising them on the spot has been extraordinarly important and I think it has helped me to internalise them (if you know how a certain rhythm looks, then it will be easir for you to recognise it).

 

(I'm not a great sight reader, but I enjoy picking up classical sheet music and just playing trough it, sometimes really slowly, but feeling the changes, even though I won't play most of them in a decent manner. Later I hear those pieces on CD and I have a better listening experience)

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I would add that there should be a point to what you are trying to achieve... sightreading to become a better musician is well and good but you should have an actual application and goal in mind, otherwise you probably wont put your heart into it.

 

Speaking of heart, there is one level that is above either sightreading or ear training: the ability to convey emotion. IMHO this is the ultimate goal in musicianship and not everyone who studies music reaches this level. I've met people who studied music for many years that never "got it" and ultimately gave up. Whether you use your eyes or your ears to provide the input for your motor skills to turn something written into something heard, you are really trying to hardwire your soul to your hands. As with all wiring, you should make that connection as short as possible.

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My experience matches closely to Dave Pierce. In high school band I could site read trumpet, sax and drums, even transposing trumpet or sax first time through. Piano was different. I would struggle to site read piano. Granted, Hungarian Rhapsody on piano has much more going on than Basin Street Blues on trumpet. My piano teacher told me that I would eventually learn to read ahead on the line below the line I was playing. I never reached that point.

 

I see two big factors that affected my site reading.

1. Site reading is a separate talent. Good musicians may not be good site readers, and good site readers may not be good musicians.

2. When taking lessons students usually push themselves to learn harder music and improve technical skills. The focus is on trying to get the fingers and the mind to play music that is considered hard. You cannot site read what you struggle to play.

This post edited for speling.

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Hey "The Pro"; well said. I would also consider the following:

 

This subject also has a lot to do with how you envision your own personal musical world. If your own goal is to just have fun and jam with a bunch of like-minded untrained players, then all the aforementioned skills and the years of practice and study probably won't interest you. The same goes for those who sit in front of a computer and create stuff strictly for their own personal enjoyment.

 

If on the other hand, you intend to reach the more advanced stages of musicianship; to be able to write music on a page to communicate non-verbally with other musicians; to write out full-blown arrangements for orchestras, big bands or horn sections; to be able to transcribe and read other's transcriptions; to better comprehend harmony, theory and ear-training, then availing ones self of the traditional skills is invaluable.

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

Hey "The Pro"; well said. I would also consider the following:

 

This subject also has a lot to do with how you envision your own personal musical world. If your own goal is to just have fun and jam with a bunch of like-minded untrained players, then all the aforementioned skills and the years of practice and study probably won't interest you. The same goes for those who sit in front of a computer and create stuff strictly for their own personal enjoyment.

Each to their own, I guess, but not being able to play or create great stuff to me isn't really much fun. I mean, sure, it's always fun to mess around but in this view only as a stopping point or learning* on the way to greater things.

 

(*Yes, I know there is that crippling idea that "perfect practice makes perfect," but making lots of MISTAKES is part of learning. Watch kids with sandpits learning about gravity.)

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Regarding "untrained" musicians...

 

Just because someone doesn't read sheet music doesn't make them untrained. Just makes them differently trained.

 

Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and Jeff Healey are hardly untrained musicians.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Originally posted by stepay:

Regarding "untrained" musicians...Just because someone doesn't read sheet music doesn't make them untrained. Just makes them differently trained.

True, but neither can they avail themselves of the vast amounts of written music that is available to them. I'm not saying that you can't be a musician without these skills; but boy does it make the process easier.
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