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silverangel's avatar

Musicians: How to get myself to love the sight-reading?

Asked by silverangel (933 points ) October 21st, 2011

I am taking piano lessons and one part of the grade is to be able to do the sight-reading? I don’t like it and I don’t play it as good as the pieces so I thought maybe if I tried to like it, I will put more effort in it than when I don’t like it.
So how to get myself to like the sight-reading?

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13 Answers

harple's avatar

Ironically, you will like it more when you get better at it sorry….

If it’s reading the bass clef notes that throw you most, then spend the first part of your 30 seconds spotting those notes and finding them on the piano – challenge yourself to get quicker at this. Best help for this is to remember the All Cows Eat Grass for the spaces, then be quick at spotting whether it falls in any of these, or if it’s on a line is it one above or below the A, C, E or G? (It’s quicker than also thinking GBDFA and whichever acronym you have for those.)

Also, challenge yourself to become quicker at spotting patterns, in either hand… If it’s four notes in a row moving by step, you don’t need to work out the names of each note, just the first one. (Obviously keep an eye on the key signature for any sharps and flats). Similarly, if it’s just two (okay, officially 3) notes away – ie, it jumps from a space to a space or a line to a line – get used to what that looks like and what it looks like on the piano. A triad pattern is also dead easy to spot – space space space, or line line line….

You can make/buy cards with individual notes written on, or simple sequences, or rhythms etc etc – you can then challenge yourself to quickly recognise these notes/rhythms etc.

You can also seek out new pieces and try them out – it is a skill that can be practised and honed.

Generally speaking, of course, it’s rare for someone to play the sight-reading as well as they can the pieces they’ve been working on for months, so don’t beat yourself up too hard! Key thing is to keep going regardless, keep the flow, follow the basic pattern of notes (if not the actual exact notes), and stick in those dynamics for those extra few marks that make all the difference!

KateTheGreat's avatar

Learn your big jumps, use solfege, and develop a tonal memory.

But seriously? I hate sight reading and I’ve been doing it since I was five. It’s not a very lovable activity.

iphigeneia's avatar

Just think about how, the better you get at it, the less you’ll have to practise your pieces. It’ll also be vital if you want to be able to accompany anybody in the future. I know it may seem impossible, but that’s what inspires me.

The more you learn about music, the easier it will be, because you’ll be able to recognise patterns and anticipate the next note.

wundayatta's avatar

@KateTheGreat Why do you think solfege helps? I learned sight reading using the regular names of the notes, while my sons teacher is teaching him solfage now (and I am learning it along with him).

As far as I can tell, what helps is knowing the notes by sight, which only comes with practice. Sight reading is frustrating at first. You just keep doing it until you have an easier time. I think if you know all your scales it helps because most music is scales or intervals within a scale. So once I figured out the scales without thinking about them, I could read much more easily.

Also, learn to anticipate. When I hear a string of notes, I also hear the next note even before reading it. Of course, I’m wrong sometimes, but mostly I’m right and my fingers and lip play the next note without even thinking (I play trumpet).

Mostly we don’t like things we can’t do. My son is a very good piano player and he is very musical and he can memorize pieces like that! Because of his memorization skills, he’s managed to get by without learning to even read, so this semester we are on a campaign to get him to read. This will make life easier for me since I will no longer have to read for him. Also, I don’t know the bass clef notes—one reason why I had him learn piano. I wish I had learned.

The thing is, nothing in music ever comes easily. However, once we learn it, we forget how much work it took to learn it, so when we run up against something we don’t know how to do, it is very frustrating and it makes us want to quit.

You have to learn sight reading the same way you learned everything else. A little bit at a time. You start simple and work up to harder and harder pieces.

@harple talked about the chords on the left hand. That is one thing that makes it easier. You can pretty much guess the chords are going to be related to the key signature, either with the chord itself, the relative fifth and the fourth. Same set of relations as in jazz, except major chords instead of minor chords. I think. My theory is not so great, and I’m learning that as my son learns piano. I digress.

In any case, once you have the pattern of the standard chord progressions, your fingers can do that pretty much automatically, and all you need to do is take a quick look at the rhythm and check out the progression, and then focus on the treble clef. Ok. I’m making this up, but it seems reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s what I would do if I played piano.

With trumpet, of course, I don’t have to pay attention to the left hand. I don’t have one. It holds the horn. My major frustration was not recognizing the notes without thinking. But once I had that, it was much easier. I guess that’s why they use solfege. It helps you recognize notes instantly, although if you have to translate that into American notation, what is the point?

Ah the mysteries of reading music!

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I always hated sight reading, because my brain was not programmed to be “good” at it. I painstakingly picked out the notes to Moonlight Sonata because I loved it so much, but I accompanied picking out the notes with listening to the song and picking out the notes by memory.

I tried and tried to get better at sight reading but I never did, so I eventually gave up and accepted that I would only play Moonlight Sonata from my memory, and just enjoy listening to others play.

You may be different, however, and learn to do it well. But, like @harple said above, you won’t enjoy it until you get better at it.

CurLyFriiGal's avatar

Ok, I just started piano as well (last year) and once you get where all the notes are on the keyboard and on the staff, I assure you will get better. If you particularly don’t like piano that will put a negative attitude on the subject and you will never get any better. It is good that you want to like it, I love that idea. Like I said in the like second sentence, if you get that down, it will help. Hope this is a good answer for you, and Good Luck!

KateTheGreat's avatar

@wundayatta Solfege helped ne greatly, but I am a singer. I mean, any way is fine as long as it helps.

Sunny2's avatar

Work first at getting good enough that you don’t mind it. You may never be fond of it, but it’s a tool used to get you to the sounds. Remember when you were ready to learn reading in a book. You needed the early steps: recognizing letters; their sounds; single syllable words; etc. etc. You notice patterns and sounding out words get easier. Take your time with reading music; practice slowly before you speed up. The better you get, the less you’ll dislike it. You may never love it, but you’ll be so glad you took the time to learn it. I wish very much that I had. I know it’s never too late, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it. I shouldn’t say that. I could take it on as a project to exercise my brain! I will think about that! Thanks for the question!

TheIntern55's avatar

I hate sightreading as well. What is your main problem, notes or rythm? For me, I have to have heard the song before, so making the rythms in my head is hard. It’s hard to try to love sightreading, so much as get better at it. In my band class, only my friend can sightread perfectly and she’s my age and already playing with adults in orchestras. The only way to like it is know that you’re going to mess up some part of it. Even the simplest of songs can be hard to play if you’ve never heard/seen it before.

silverangel's avatar

@Sunny2 no problem ;)
@TheIntern55 I think my main problem is the rythm, I can read the notes easily, I’ve been practicing a lot on that. but I can’t sound out the notes, I wish I knew how to ear train myself…
So yeah my main problem is the rythm

Sunny2's avatar

Do you ever play hangman? You can win every time with the word rhythm. There are practice exercises for rhythm. Start slowly with easy stuff and increase the difficulty and speed. When you get to more modern music and there are several signatures, it looks hard, but if you go slowly, you can read that too. Just don’t give up!

silverangel's avatar

Thank you all for your help.. :D

Yetanotheruser's avatar

In school bands, I played brass instruments. I hated sight reading. However, when I started singing in chorale or choir, I learned solfage. The knowledge of intervals really helped my sight reading, first with voice, then I learned to apply it to the other instruments I played.

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