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Sight reading music: the highest form or reading music?


gliderproarc

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Originally posted by Sandy Hemenway:

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.

Sandy, those are very good points. When we are put into a performance or recording situation where we have to sight-read, and knowing that we most likely will not get it 100% right, the trick then becomes knowing how much of it you *can* play, choosing the critical parts to play, and the best ones to leave out, and then "just doing it", and keeping the rythm strong. This is indeed "the trick"! :)

 

In fact, when people say "I know this guy/gal that can sight-read perfectly the most difficult pieces you put in front of him/her", I suspect that is mostly likely what has happened - rather than play it note-for-note, and rythm-for-rythm 100% perfectly, the 'miracle perfect sight-reader' person played what they able to play, and chose well which parts to leave in and leave out.

 

Also, your point about rythm being paramount is also well-taken.

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

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.
I'll give you that (the part about availing oneself to all the great written music out there). Knowing how to read sheet music has it's place. Stevie Wonder though can listen to anything and play it pretty much note for note. I saw him do this once with a classical piece. Of course not everyone is Stevie Wonder. Musicians who have made a living out of writing their own stuff generally don't care too much about playing music that someone else wrote. Maybe in one sense they miss out, but in another sense I'm glad there are people out there like that because that's how some GREAT music gets written (or played if you'd rather) -- eventually someone writes it down for those who need it to be.

 

Pretty sure though that for many musicians, it's much easier to hear the music and then play it rather than read it. Some people just have that talent -- myself included.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Originally posted by Sandy Hemenway:

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.

The hardest thing for me about sight-reading is reading the rhythms, so thanks for touching on that. I had private lessons on several instruments, but I didn't learn useful tricks on reading rhythms until I spent some time in community orchestras. Tricks like treating a 3/4 measure as if it were 6/8, so you count 2 beats instead of 1 per quarter note, 1 beat per eighth note, 3 beats per dotted quarter note. To the listeners, nothing changes, but for me as the player, this really helped me get a handle on those pesky dotted notes.

 

Does good sight-reading skills means you've "arrived" as a musician? I'm tempted to use a sports analogy, but I'll try to stick to music. You still have to keep working on your listening skills, even if you do nothing but classical music. We rarely improvise in orchestra, but if you want the orchestra to sound good, the players have to listen to one another. I've played with plenty of musicians with superior technical skills, who still got scolded by the musical director for playing too far ahead of the beat, too loud, too soft, or just plain out of sync with the other instruments.

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Blind folks notwithstanding, I was referring to the skill of being able to read transcriptions of solos, songs and solo pieces as a learning tool. If Stevie isn't given audio to listen to, then there's nothing that he can do to learn something that has come before.
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Originally posted by cnegrad:

Blind folks notwithstanding, I was referring to the skill of being able to read transcriptions of songs and solo pieces as a learning tool. If Stevie isn't given audio to listen to, then there's nothing that he can do to learn something that has come before.

Right. There are also lots of books on playing that make use of written music.
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I for one am of the group that never quite got the feel for sight-reading. It's actually what I consider the big flaw in my musical skills. I've studied classical off and on since I was 5 (which was a LONG time ago), and I have studied theory for years, but no matter how well I can read sheets of music in order to analyze them, once I sit down to make my hands play it there is a huge disconnect. I can only assume that it requires more practice, but man is it a frustrating feeling (especially when sitting in front of two classical performance professors), when you know what the notes are, but can't seem to translate them fast enough to play fluently at first sight. I know in the classical world there is definitely a stigma that to be a "true" musician you have to know sight-reading inside and out. For classical music that is a TALL task, particulary with piano pieces.

 

With that said, I would say if you have a chance to do it, learn and practice the skill until you are at least confident in your abilities. If I had more time I would certainly make that a priority. Is it the true calling sign of a musician to have this skill? No, but it will absolutely help you learn certain pieces faster, as well as add to your credibility with certain peers.

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Well said. I remember back when I was 16, taking a summer job playing 7 nights a week in a nightclub show band. The acts that we played for showed up half-an-hour before the gig with professionally written charts in hand. No rehearsals whatsoever; just count it off, and dive right in. My job was made more difficult because in those circles the arrangements were always written for Pianist/Conductor; so my responsibilites extended beyond playing to reading and cueing brass parts, and conducting out-of-time sections and tempo changes. Suffice it to say that at the start of the summer I was sweating bullets, but by the end of the summer I was much more relaxed.

 

But yeah, sightreading classical is the hardest of all, and beyond my abilities.

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Originally posted by dv8.Maker:

I know in the classical world there is definitely a stigma that to be a "true" musician you have to know sight-reading inside and out.

Definitely a failing of the classical world if you ask me. I'm not even sure why that attitude exists as for most classical music competitions, no sheet music is allowed. I played several as a younger lad, and it was never allowed.

 

I'm impressed with those who can read well, but it is a completely different skill from being able to play (as someone else said earlier). I view reading sheet music as evidence of being a good musician as much as I view being able to read Spanish as evidence of being a good musician.

 

If you can play an instrument or sing well then you are a good musician. If you can't, then you aren't.

 

If I'm walking down the street in a touristy town (Prague, New Orleans, you name it) and from around the corner I hear some GREAT live music being played, I don't need to wait until I see if they're using sheet music or not to determine if they are great musicians. I also don't need to ask them if they learned the song by using sheet music. No matter how they learned it, if they play it exceedlingly well, they are great musicians.

 

A musician is a player.

A note reader is a note reader.

A player CAN also be a note reader.

A note reader CAN also be a player.

 

The bottom line for greatness though is playing -- always and without question. That's what a musician is -- a good\great PLAYER of music.

 

Great note readers who can't play can be the one standing there turning the page for the one who can play.

 

Musician -- a composer, conductor, or performer of music. Note reading isn't required to do any of that.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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dv8.

 

 

I'm in the same boat. I started piano lessons when I was 5...about 38 years ago.

I know how to read music. I can look at a piece of music and call out the notes on the page instantly.

 

HOWEVER: As you said, I have a big disconnect for some reason on getting the notes on the page through my fingers in "real time" as far a sight reading is concerned. Again, it's not that I don't know the notes or the time signautres, and so on.

 

I just have never been able to throw a piece of music in front of me and just start playing it on first sight.

 

Again, I don't know why this is. Especially since if you give me a few minutes of tinkering, I will have the song down, and will play it with ease.

 

With a lot of modern pop or rock songs I learn, I tend to just look up the guitar charts and get the chord changes. With just that I am able to play the song note for note.

 

Again, I wish I knew where the disconnect comes from that makes my brain not transmit the note I see on the page to my hands right away. As I said, I KNOW how to read music.

David

Gig Rig:Depends on the day :thu:

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

Blind folks notwithstanding, I was referring to the skill of being able to read transcriptions of solos, songs and solo pieces as a learning tool. If Stevie isn't given audio to listen to, then there's nothing that he can do to learn something that has come before.

Not quite true... there is Braille sheet music . :thu:
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While I don't consider myself any sort of virtuoso or "classical" expert I have plugged away at my reading for many years despite few occasions where I actually needed to read.

 

These last couple of years I've returned to playing in church and there is SOME sight reading that pops up from time to time.

 

Twice since starting this gig I have rehearsed the wrong music and have had to scramble to learn the music right there during the service.

 

While most Hymns aren't too difficult, I have found myself looking at a piece of music just struggling to sus out the rhthym and melody in my

head hoping to get at least a credible version when it was time to play.

 

At times like that I usually wish I WAS a better sight reader!

"Music should never be harmless."

 

Robbie Robertson

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In my opinion it does not matter at all whether one can play straight from reading music notation. The purpose of music sheet is that one can read and understand composition that has been written in musical notation and then to learn how to play it. You can read it first without using your instrument to see what kind of a song or a music piece it is tempo, genre etc. Then, sit with your instruments and the music sheet in front of you and play it. When you learn how to play it by heart you will use music sheet just as a reminder and you'd probably just flicking through it on some parts.
Davor
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So Davor,

 

You are denying the existance of people (like myself) who claim to have to be able to instantly sightread in order to make a living as a professional? Try to look beyond your own personal world and acknowledge other people's circumstances.

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Wow. Post a topic about sight reading and spend a day away from your computer playing with your new Novation 61SL and what happens? You get a two page thread with with as many new questions as answers... This is such a great forum :thu:

I did see someone out there ask me what my goal with sight reading is. Well I want to be a composer. Not necessarily for the concert stage and huge orchestras (although that too), but not a writer or pop tunes either. I am thinking of looking into film scoring and music for video games. I don't think I will need to sight read a piece in order to have the orchestra play it, or sight read a nice ambient pad intro to a techno flavored car chase scene. But I am still going to pursue sight reading as as Stepay said, It's not going to hurt.

My Ear is great. I regularly sit down at my computer and play random songs, trying to figure out the melody and sometimes chords. Usually by the second chorus, or second stating of the head I have it figured out. Chords take a little longer, but I can follow most of the chords I run across. Except for the Jazz stuff, I still need to learn how to smell those changes.

Reading and writing sheet music is going to be a big part of my music career as a composer, and that being so I intend to focus on it as much as I can.

Dave, I looking for a teacher, but Hawaii's big island is a small island. And the town of Waikoloa is even smaller. There does happen to be a lady in the Waikoloa that does teach "all levels" of piano and I am thinking of paying her a vista just to see what she is like. I'll probably end up starting a new thread with first impressions sometime.

 

Thanks for all the input guys! I really appreciate it.

GIGO
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Sight-reading music is just like sight-reading a language. You're "sight-reading" this printed-word message right now. The only reason why you don't have to stop and figure it out word by word now, the way some people have to figure out printed music, is because by the time you were ten years old you had probably already devoted literally tens of thousands of hours to "sight-reading" english. Devote anywhere near that same amount of time to sight-reading music and I predict you'll get just as good.

 

Whenever I hear musicians suggesting that reading ability is divorced from musicianship, I inagine an actor explaining that he can't/doesn't read english because it might get in the way of his/her acting. Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me?

 

Being able to read is no guarantee of musicianship or acting ability. But I can't imagine why you'd want to try making a living at either endeavor without being able to read.

 

Just a few thoughts.

 

Larry.

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Larry,

 

Acting and playing a song are very different things. But to your point, there are lots of actors who play parts in a foreign language country (let's say English to a non-English-speaker -- Jackie Chan for example) who are helped a lot by directors and handlers who didn't read a script in English.

 

Secondly, if you talk about a short acting piece (improv or sketch comedy), a lot of that is done without reading a script, but rather just talking about the idea. My favorite movie of all time -- This Is Spinal Tap -- was mostly improv -- basic ideas were written down more than likely yes, but it wasn't necessary for that movie. Thank goodness that Harrison Ford decided not to stick to the script in some of his movies as his improv ideas were often the better scenes in the movie.

 

Musicians who want to play a song that lasts 3-5 minutes and have heard said song hundreds of times on the radio, on a CD or whatever, do not need to know how to read sheet music to play it -- if they have the ability to do so that is.

 

My band plays songs that I've NEVER heard before, and even for the most difficult of them, it doesn't take me long to figure out how it goes. Theory knowledge and playing ability enable me to do this. Would take MUCH longer to do it with sheet music in most cases. What if we wanted to change the key? I can do that on the fly, but with a printed piece of sheet music, we'd have to all go get another version in the key we wanted it in.

 

I'm not putting down sheet music readers (as I am one), but definitely defending those who don't read. I could list stellar musicians all day long who never read a note. Reading is a fine skill, but it is not what defines a musician as good or not.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Gliderproarc,

 

I find that the best way to learn and practice reading music is to write music. This is especially true if your ultimate goal is to be a composer. The more you transcribe musical ideas on paper, the faster you will get at reading music.

 

Sight reading music is the same as sight reading any other language. The more you do it, the better you become at it. Obviously, there is no one on this forum who can't read language but there are many people in the day-to-day world that can't read and they have a difficult life.

 

I sight read music a couple of times a week every week because I do a lot of subbing and speacialty one-time shows. Two weeks ago, I subbed with an all-original band and played 3 hours of music that I had never heard before. Even though it wasn't especially difficult music, imagine trying figure out and learn each song while it is in progress without charts.

 

Being good at sight reading requires that you have enough mechanical facility at the keyboard AND a firm enough grasp of rhythm, harmony and melody, AND enough experience to be in a position to let your unconcious mind figure out how to play the music that your concious mind is sight reading.

 

Good sight readers have the ability to: focus their attention on the task at hand (without getting nervous or anxious), fill-in the missing parts without thinking about the process and, most importantly, keep their ears open the whole time.

 

One last piece of advise: find a friend or two or a group to sight read with that are close to your developmental level and have similar interests and sight read together. That's how it works in the real world. You're all just trying to arrive at the end at the same time and (hopefully) on the same chord.

 

Good Luck,

JC

Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer. W. C. Fields
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Also, sight reading music (which means reading it AND playing it immediately) is different from reading English words printed on a page. With reading words, all you have to do is read. With sight reading music, you have to read AND play instantly -- much more difficult skill and not comparable to a ten-year-old's reading English ability.

 

To be good at sight reading, it takes lots of work AND talent. I know lots of people will disagree with this, but there is a definite talent (talent defined as something you have inately; the SKILL is what is developed; the TALENT is what limits the development of the SKILL...well that and practice) that goes along with being able to sight read really well. This is why some (even in this tread) have said they've tried for years and years and spent hours and hours trying to better their sight reading and they can't get past a certain level. Has to do with talent. Not everyone can be a great sight reader no matter how much they try. I'm a distance runner and have made this same argument on a distance running message board. Lots of them don't like that idea either, but it is true. Time on task does not necessarily equal greatness -- in distance running or in sight reading sheet music.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Steve,

 

I suspect we agree on far more than we disagree. For example, we both ended our messages by pointing out that reading does not define or insure musicianship.

 

The thing I find frustrating in threads like this one is the implicit or explicit suggestion occasionally heard from some that musical illiteracy (by which I mean simply the inability to read) is somehow beneficial. Just as improvisational ability and ear-training are unquestionable benefits to the successful musician, so is reading ability.

 

Larry.

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stepay, you sure like to go on and on and on and on repeating the same point over and over. we get your point, ok? yes, we agree with you that reading is not the be-all and end-all of music. ok? but it is a valuable skill in some circles, and being able to read will make you eligible for certain kinds of gigs that you could not get otherwise. it's one of the skills that a musician can have, among many other skills.

 

as for reading english (or whatever language), have you ever heard of a script read-through? it's part of the development of a play or movie where actors get together around a table and read through a script together. not just reading, but they have to say their part as they're reading. it's very analagous to sight-reading music. if an actor couldn't read english, he'd have to be given a tape of someone else reading it, so that he could learn it and memorize it. that's not practical, scripts might be re-written until the last minute. so being unable to read english would mean you'd never get that kind of a gig.

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Originally posted by iLaw:

Steve,

 

I suspect we agree on far more than we disagree. For example, we both ended our messages by pointing out that reading does not define or insure musicianship.

 

The thing I find frustrating in threads like this one is the implicit or explicit suggestion occasionally heard from some that musical illiteracy (by which I mean simply the inability to read) is somehow beneficial. Just as improvisational ability and ear-training are unquestionable benefits to the successful musician, so is reading ability.

 

Larry.

You're right that we mostly agree. I wouldn't go so far though as to say if you can't read that that is called musical illiteracy. Maybe notation illiteracy. I do agree though that the absence of the ability to read is not beneficial. I think where some people get on different sides of the fence is that they will pick one way or another as the better way (reading vs. good ear and improvisational skills). I think you and I agree that both are valuable, and that you can actually posses both skills.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Floyd,

 

Actors often work with other actors where there is not a common language. When that's the case, someone has to tell them what they are to do so that they can understand what to do. The same is true in music. Some may be able to use the notation and some not. For those that aren't able to, someone (who understands both) needs to tell them how to play it in the way that they understand.

 

I've said repeatedly (apparently not enough) that reading sheet music is necessary for certain kinds of gigs in certain kinds of circles, so you and I agree there. Not sure why you're presenting it as if I don't agree with that.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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glide,

 

If your goal is to compose - then sight-reading, while having potential benefits (as noted above), wouldn't be IMO a particularly valuable talent.

 

To compose, and score - you have to compose and score.

 

I'm regarded by most musicians I encounter as a brilliant sight-reader. However, my ability to sight read had zero impact on my ability to create music. I started writing songs when I was 16 - and the bulk of it was schlock. But the more I did it, the better I got. And when I started analyzing what I was doing - I began to see strengths and weaknesses in what I was creating.

 

While I hand-wrote a piano score for one or two pieces back in high school - the time and effort required was more than I was willing to invest -- so until very recently it was record the song on tape - and then create a lyric sheet with chord charts.

 

Only recently have I finally started scoring my own music. I bought a copy of Finale:Songwriter ($49.95), and began scoring some of my material. And my first couple of songs were rife with mistakes. While the knowledge base is similar, I have to THINK about each note (especially in terms of rhythms) before clicking it into place -- because I haven't done it before.

 

There's a huge difference between composition and playing. My advice for you in regards to expanding your composing abilities is to get one of the cheaper scoring packages (at least to start with), and start scoring. Concentrating on music theory will likely be far more beneficial in your composition efforts than sight reading will ever hope to be.

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Aw C'mon, Steve,

 

I wouldn't go so far though as to say if you can't read that that is called musical illiteracy.
So now you're redefining the English language?

 

Main Entry: il·lit·er·a·cy

Pronunciation: (")i(l)-'li-t(&-)r&-sE

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural -cies

1 : the quality or state of being illiterate; especially : inability to read or write

 

If one can't read music, then that person is a musical illiterate, period.

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

Google schmoogle. ;)

LOL.

 

Actually, I've long been curious as to what was available for sightless musicians; I knew that there was some braille music available, and if you've seen the movie Ray (or perhaps it's on the DVD extras?), you can see Ray at the piano with a binder of braille sheet music.

 

I did have to Google to get the particular URL I referenced, though... ;)

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

So Davor,

 

You are denying the existance of people (like myself) who claim to have to be able to instantly sightread in order to make a living as a professional? Try to look beyond your own personal world and acknowledge other people's circumstances.

I am not denying the existence of people that are able to sight-read the music but most that I have met where I live can sight-read the music but as soon as you take the musical notation away from them they can not play a composition or pick the song up by ear because they are always relying on reading music sheet. That was my point. I did not mean to underestimating people who can sight-read music I am just saying most people I have met if they can sight-read music they are bad at playing by ear. In my opinion both ways are important, understanding musical notation and playing by ear.
Davor
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