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Joining the Dots vs Improve Your Sight Reading


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#16 Hildegard

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Posted 02 November 2019 - 17:52

With no teacher, I strongly recommend something like the Sight Reading Success series, in which each book includes a free CD containing a reference performance of each piece which you can check against your own playing. The volumes are reasonably priced (around £5 per grade including CD) and contain many hints and tips of the sort that a teacher would point out. Unlike some other publications, they came out after the AB produced less quirky tests a few years ago, and they are written by (current and former) AB examiners, so I think they are pretty representative of grade sight reading (if that is important).


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#17 ten left thumbs

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Posted 04 November 2019 - 19:38

 

 

 

I have an adult pupil who uses Improve Your Sight Reading by Paul Harris at home and is working through the grades. He finds them very useful and his sight reading has definitely improved. 

...

 

After 3 years now it feels that I've not progressed at all with my sight reading so if there are alternative resources out there that may help someone like me I'd be grateful to know of them and anecdotes.

 

Do you have a teacher?

 

No. 

 

I think the hardest thing with self-teaching is you don't know what level of challenge to set yourself. If you assign yourself things that are too difficult for your ability, then you run the risk of accustoming yourself to mental panic while playing, or become used (desensitized) to unmusical playing.


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#18 Piano Meg

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Posted 05 November 2019 - 10:48

 

I've tried also sight reading a few hymns each day from good ol' Ancient & Modern, initially missing out the tenor line, to try to improve my interval recognition technique and get away from reading every note in a chord.

 

After my grade 3 exam, I concluded rhythm recognition was the issue and have practised hard daily to try to improve this.  Again, it doesn't appear to have made any difference at all.

 

After 3 years now it feels that I've not progressed at all with my sight reading so if there are alternative resources out there that may help someone like me I'd be grateful to know of them and anecdotes.

 

 

 

I think the hardest thing with self-teaching is you don't know what level of challenge to set yourself. If you assign yourself things that are too difficult for your ability, then you run the risk of accustoming yourself to mental panic while playing, or become used (desensitized) to unmusical playing.

 

 

I think another problem with self-teaching is not recognising improvements (particularly for adult students, who tend to be tough on themselves!). Is there a specific reason you don't think you've improved, LF? It's most likely that you have improved, but just haven't noticed, perhaps because the music you've been trying is too challenging or because you're gradually expecting more of yourself and haven't notice how far you've come. 

 

If you can, I'd recommend getting lessons, even if it's just a one-off consultation (some teachers do them, some don't - if you don't have a recommendation, maybe look for a teacher who has a piano teaching qualification rather than just performance quals/experience or someone who's active in improving teaching in some way). They'd be able to give you an expert opinion on how you're doing (telling you what is good as well as what needs work) and also give you guidance and tips that are specific for you, to help you progress. There may be something really simple that they can point out to immediately make a difference. Or if, for example, you booked a series of lessons, a teacher could see how you respond to different practice suggestions to find what will work for you, to help you to find a practice routine that will be more effective.

 

If lessons aren't a possibility, the best advice I can give you is to read as much easy music as you can. With the emphasis on 'easy'! From looking at the rhythms you were attempting to read from the linked thread, and hearing that you've been going through hymns, my suspicion is that you've been doing the right kind of things, but using material that is far too challenging for sight-reading practice. I can't remember the exact quote, but I remember reading somewhere that if 10% of your playing has errors, the music is too difficult for sight-reading, or something along those lines. And I'd go with that. Maybe less. Keeping a pulse is so important for reading rhythms correctly, and you can only do that if the piece is easy enough for you to keep going. You want to find a level that is really easy to sight-read (that you may think is too easy) and do lots at that level, gradually adding extra information and then doing lots of practice with that new challenge included. Use the 'improve' books (or success/blitz) to learn how to incorporate new details (different rhythms/keys/chords/complexity) but a little at a time, with a volume of easy music alongside it that will allow you to get it into your fingers (and brain). Find different method books (libraries are good for that) and read right through them from the beginner books, gradually going up through levels until it becomes less easy to read at sight (but well before it becomes difficult). You can use the easiest music to practise keeping the pulse and imagining sub-divisions of the notes (if you're playing crotchets, sing in your head what quavers or semi-quavers would sound like - if that's too easy, sing pattern combinations of quavers/SQs/rests) or sight-singing while tapping the pulse - all of it strengthening connections between the sound and the page. 

 

Good luck!


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#19 EllieD

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 09:16

I agree, having a teacher really helped me a lot! I was very hard on myself and could only hear the mistakes, but my teacher always started by pointing out the many things that I did get right. Gradually, my confidence has improved, and that has helped the sight reading.

 

What sort of comments did you get in your Grade 3 exam - is that helpful?


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#20 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 10:45

With no teacher, I strongly recommend something like the Sight Reading Success series, in which each book includes a free CD containing a reference performance of each piece which you can check against your own playing. The volumes are reasonably priced (around £5 per grade including CD) and contain many hints and tips of the sort that a teacher would point out. Unlike some other publications, they came out after the AB produced less quirky tests a few years ago, and they are written by (current and former) AB examiners, so I think they are pretty representative of grade sight reading (if that is important).

Thank you.  I will put this on my Christmas wish list!


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#21 Hildegard

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 13:43

 

With no teacher, I strongly recommend something like the Sight Reading Success series, in which each book includes a free CD

Thank you.  I will put this on my Christmas wish list!

 

 

Do remember that the performances on CD are of the sort that would get a top 21/21 mark. Don't beat yourself up if you don't do that well. Start with a low grade (Grade 1 if necessary) and work your way up from there.


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#22 elemimele

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 17:42

I'm sure Piano Meg is right. Adults often have a massive mismatch between a sophisticated musical taste, and a much less developed ability to play. It's really hard for an adult to choose simple pieces for sight-reading because the pieces don't sound satisfying, and an adult is acutely aware that what they want to do sounds a lot lot better than what they're doing.

The idea of using hymns is great, but they're not all that easy. I think I saw hymns ancient and modern mentioned. What I call Hymns Ancient, the original version, seems to have everything in minims, semibreves and breves, and isn't visually a nice read. Many hymns were written for singing, so the intervals between their parts don't always behave in a hand-friendly way. The more modern version (red cover? revised?) is laid out in a much more readable format, probably much more appropriate, but you'll get very good at sight-reading in one flat, one sharp, or two sharps! Anything more exotic was deemed too hard.

Sight-reading is also a weird one because there is such a strong emphasis on keeping on going, at all costs. This makes absolute sense if you're learning to sight-read as an accompanist, or for performance, or for exams; it is the skill you are ultimately trying to acquire. But it can be quite negative too. Particularly if you're playing something that, to be honest, is a bit too hard to sight-read, if you keep ploughing on at every mistake, you're going to start feeling that the music sounds bad (because you're hearing all the mistakes), and there's no time to think, it feels unsafe and scary, and there's no time to work out what's gone wrong... it's all rushed. It's like finding you've just driven into a twisty street full of telephone-kiosks, roundabouts, signposts and pedestrians and you're still going at the 60mph that made sense on the dual-carriageway. Massive panic, and you haven't got time to learn anything.

Of course you probably ought to be playing something simple where you can keep going without too many mistakes. But if you have selected something a little too hard, I think it's better not to worry about losing rhythm a bit, not to stress if you have to stop. It is better to find that you're going too fast, and slow down, and end up perhaps really crawling, than to keep charging along with ever more disasters because you're determined to keep going, and then collapse completely. No matter how slowly you play bits, no matter how many times you get stuck, every time you work out how something should have gone (a rhythm, a chord, a single note for that matter) you have learnt something. You will read something similar better, next time. If you ignore it, you will only learn to ignore (albeit a useful skill).

And this is the key: Do not confuse examining yourself with learning. You can make mistakes and learn. You can play far too slowly and learn. You will probably learn by sight-reading in a more exploratory way, trying to explore the melody and harmony by playing them. Once you are enjoying sight-reading in an exploratory manner, it's time to work on the keep-going-at-all-costs sight-reading of the exam and the accompanist. In a way, sight-reading isn't actually different to normal practice. When you play a piece you know, in the exam, you will endeavor to keep going, steadily, even if you make a mistake, but you wouldn't expect to practice it like that; you'd expect to slow down, explore weaknesses, etc.; it's worth doing a bit of this when sight-reading too, because skills that you learn slowly, and that don't work every time at first, will become more automatic, and work faster, later.

(and in any case, exploratory sight-reading is a jolly useful skill in its own right, especially for the amateur musician).

The danger of always sight-reading as if it were an exam is that you may find you achieve the same "exam-result" again and again... Learning-conditions aren't always the same as examining-conditions. Good luck, it's not easy!

(sorry, pontificating)


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#23 ten left thumbs

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 18:58

... well said!


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#24 wendym

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 21:03

I think the best way to improve at the sight reading is to do a mixture of all kinds of sight reading - slow exploratory reading of more difficult material, as many different styles as possible - heaps of intermediate music - and loads more of much easier material where you have a very realistic chance of getting every note and rhythm right - at the correct speed - but then being very strict with yourself in terms of expecting the 21/21 result - PLUS giving yourself the chance to make it musical - with beautiful tone, phrases, sensitive dynamics and oodles of character. All of these skills across the easy stuff will then filter automatically through to the harder stuff and you will develop the ability to always look for these things in whatever you sight read - even the tough stuff.
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