\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music? (Read 2354 times)

Offline thejeev

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
« on: February 19, 2016, 08:34:49 PM »
I've come to know that on the performance side, engaging your "speech" faculties in your brain, rather than your reasoning faculties, makes for a better performance.

I'm wondering if there are any among you who has a similar belief when it comes to reading music? Any tactics, lines of thought/reasoning that would better allow one to quickly convert the notes on a page into a musical idea. to put it more bluntly, what in your mind is the "secret" to seeing notes, and knowing where and how your hands should engage?

I haven't been able to grasp this yet, and it is hindering my ability to make good use of my time. Is it really just a matter of "practice"? There's no thought experiments or lines of reasoning one could employ that might result in a "eureka!" moment?

Thank you.

Offline chopinlover01

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2097
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #1 on: February 20, 2016, 03:37:09 AM »
Sight reading as in playing through the score without knowing the piece? Or sight reading as in seeing a score and instantly making music out of it? The latter is near impossible.
To solve the problem, get a basic feel for pianistic language of various kinds; Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Mozart. Start with the Bach two part inventions.
Jazz Ambassador 8)

Offline pencilart3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2115
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #2 on: February 20, 2016, 04:13:04 AM »
READ AHEAD

like 2-4 measures ahead
You might have seen one of my videos without knowing it was that nut from the forum
youtube.com/noahjohnson1810

Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #3 on: February 20, 2016, 04:15:29 AM »
for me I found that the hours upon hours of harmonic dictation and analysis I did for my theory classes combined with working jobs where I was forced to sight-read music I had never seen--but had usually heard--and the 100s of accompanying gigs I have played---and the ability to quickly pencil in jazz symbols for the chords...not to mention I started to learn to read music at age 5 all helped make it possible for me to sight-read in the true sense.

It took a while... :)

I usually read about 2 bars ahead.

Offline quantum

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 5737
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #4 on: February 20, 2016, 04:24:50 AM »
IMO, the fastest conversion, from symbolic representation to sound, is no conversion.  Thinking: note > clef > accidentals > key signature > register > rhythmic value >> current hand position > required hand re-position > selected finger > and so on.... is far too cumbersome.  The more middle steps you can omit, the less error prone your reading will become.  This as well as gaining fluidity in sight reading.  

Rather than thinking you need to convert a symbol, think: this symbol sounds like this in the ear, feels like this through the hand, orients like this in relation to your body and the piano.  It is one thing, as opposed to an object that needs to be converted in order to be understood.  


The term "sight reading" is a bit deceptive as it involves much more than just reading.  There is a lot of memory recall going on from your repertoire of symbols, symbol groups, note sequences, chord sequences, hand movements, and so on.  chopinlover01's suggestion of examining the piano repertoire is a very important one.  The more piano music you are familiar with, the more you are able recognize commonly recurring patterns and quickly recall the procedure to execute them during sight reading.

It does get easier the more you sight read.  
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline michael_c

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 255
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #5 on: February 20, 2016, 11:31:47 AM »
Good advice from Quantum above.

Sight reading music is like reading a language. If you can understand what you are reading, recognising the words and the way they are put together, you will be able to read much faster than if you are reading each letter. The more you can recognise chords, bits of scales, short melodic elements, common rhythms, the more fluent your sight reading will become.

As to reading ahead, this is often misunderstood. Yes, you do need to look ahead, but this does not mean that all the time you are looking at a point further than the passage you are playing. I've seen apps that cover up the passage you are actually playing, the idea being that you are forced to always look ahead. You are supposed to be playing measure 3 from memory while simultaneously memorising measure 4.

That's not the way it works. A good sight reader is constantly taking quick looks ahead, then coming back to look right at the passage they are playing. If you have a good understanding of the musical style of the piece, you will know to look for the end of a phrase, or the end of a rhythmical or melodic sequence. Just like reading a sentence, it is important to quickly scan through to the end to understand what it's about and how it's constricted, but you will need to go back to look at the individual words to be sure you are reading them correctly.



Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #6 on: February 20, 2016, 04:39:02 PM »
Good advice from Quantum above.

. You are supposed to be playing measure 3 from memory while simultaneously memorising measure 4.


...and equally good advice from Michael and very well said. ;D

Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #7 on: February 21, 2016, 05:59:28 AM »
Just completing the quote.   ;)
. .... You are supposed to be playing measure 3 from memory while simultaneously memorising measure 4.

That's not the way it works. ...

Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #8 on: February 21, 2016, 03:37:47 PM »

oops  ;D

Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #9 on: February 21, 2016, 06:48:20 PM »
Dcstudio, I'd be curious as to what you think of Michael's full ideas (what follows the part I underlined).  :)

Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #10 on: February 21, 2016, 07:13:02 PM »
. A good sight reader is constantly taking quick looks ahead, then coming back to look right at the passage they are playing. .




well... sometimes I guess I look back at the passage I am playing... but that would probably be the quick look--it's usually when I have the feeling I am about to cake...or my brain screams

"I don't know the next chord!" mid-performance of course...lol.

 -- I have learned that if I just don't pay attention to that 99-100 times my hands will magically go there in spite of the constant protest from my brain that it doesn't know.  (yes there is always a lot of drama in my head when I play)..  Sometimes when I sight-read I am hearing the piece in my head and playing by ear if that makes sense...  that program seems to work much better than the straight eye-finger at sight app I have to run sometimes.  My brain doesn't seem to protest nearly as much if I use my inner ear to "hear" :) I am pretty much always reading about 2 bars ahead though--sometimes a 12-bar section will leap out and I will kind of have to wait to read again.  Sometimes the entire form springs forth and locks down in my hands.  As a jazzer I tend to think in lead sheets... they work for any genre... :)

so basically what I am saying is...  in my book... rendering music from a score is the only goal--what brain pattern serves that function the best is up to you to figure out. We do not all think alike at the piano... and that's ok... :)

Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #11 on: February 21, 2016, 08:16:33 PM »
Having had to address the issue of reading in recent years:

First - there is READING - before there is sight reading ( meaning prima vista which is a specialized skill needed by accompanists and such) - and what it entails.

In my personal journey, I got at certain aspects of it from an odd angle, which is in fact useful but incomplete.  I had no lessons for almost 50 years, but in grade 2 one teacher decided to give us movable Do solfege.  From then on I related music to the major scale and relative natural minor scale, as though moving along a ladder of unevenly spaced rungs. -- Next I was given a relative's book which had sonatinas, esp. Clementi, and one of Czerni.  This music is very diatonic, and Clementi uses a predictable structure which is why a lot of actual musicians find his music boring.  Clementi does the I IV V thing along a predictable Alberti bass.  He climbs up to the Dominant key through some sequenced scales, repeats a similar theme, then climbs down again and finishes.  Through this diet of Clementi in my self-study as a child, I picked up basic "classical" structure.

A child will pick up grammar and syntax before ever going to school, and use these instinctively.  It was similar to that.  Also - think of Knock Knock jokes - there is a pattern.  If someone says "Knock knock" you know you have to say "Who's there" and you can predict he will say some new word like "Banana" and then you have to say that word plus "who" and so it goes.  In this way I was able to anticipate where the music would probably go, and then look for clues whether it was doing that.

Take for example the rounded binary pattern - C major, G major, C major.  You'll see lots of sharps for the F# in the middle, and you can see that in a glance.  Take a scale - it's a slanted straight line without accidentals if it is in the same key and major.

This was the kind of "reading" I did.  You can predict where a knock knock joke goes, but if a person is conversing and happens to say "knock knock" you won't be able to predict it.  If the music stops following those patterns, stops being diatonic, then this kind of "reading stops working.  But there is an element of reading in this.    This goes with what Michael wrote:
Quote
If you have a good understanding of the musical style of the piece, you will know to look for the end of a phrase, or the end of a rhythmical or melodic sequence.
I was at home with the form of sonatinas, especially our predictable Clementi, and could do a lot of predicting.

There are other aspects of reading.  One that is specific to piano is the ability to associate a symbol in the score with a location on the keyboard.  This can become as automatic as seeing a red light and your foot goes to the brakes while you anticipating slowing down - it is one single thing.  I spent several years acquiring this skill, because I did not have it at all.  My relative Do solfege left me with a lot of holes.  Music is also a physical thing, and in this sense it is more like dance or gymnastics than it is like language.

Another aspect again is understanding theory, but not as something memorized from books, or symbols moved around on a page like a mix of algebra and geometry - it has to mesh with sound and music.  Simply grasping a key signature and time signatures and being able to relate them to your instrument are part of learning to read.  People talk too much about "sight reading", and being able to go at tempo etc. as though they were training to become accompanists, before just reading is mastered.  Here I think there are underlying skills to be chased.

Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #12 on: February 21, 2016, 10:41:02 PM »


 prima vista which is a specialized skill needed by accompanists

because to practice all that music would not be costs effective to say the least..

   prima vista was synonymous with sight-reading---or should I say sight-reading always meant prima vista but lately now sight-reading and reading are the same and prima vista must be specified... what happened there?


Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #13 on: February 21, 2016, 11:52:51 PM »
because to practice all that music would not be costs effective to say the least..

   prima vista was synonymous with sight-reading---or should I say sight-reading always meant prima vista but lately now sight-reading and reading are the same and prima vista must be specified... what happened there?
The point I was trying to make, in view of a student query, was not the reason why (prima vista) sight reading might exist, but to distinguish what skills a student or a musician might actually need - and then what kind of underlying skills might be striven for.

When I first joined piano forums as a student beginning her relearning of piano, I was interested in reading.  I read a lot of information about reading at tempo, skipping past notes that you were not fast enough to read etc.  It did not seem very wise for anyone beginning their journey.  Eventually I understood that this was actually about the specialized skills.  A distinction should be made.  I do not think that "sight reading" (i.e. prima vista), and especially at tempo, is the right skill to aim for in the beginning.  In fact, I don't know if it is necessary for anyone, unless they are going into particular areas.

Above all, when students ask, the advice maybe should go toward some of the underlying skills, and toward reading itself.  This is the teaching section.  There is often a hole when that particular question gets asked. :)

Offline jimroof

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 203
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #14 on: February 22, 2016, 04:08:45 PM »
IMO, the fastest conversion, from symbolic representation to sound, is no conversion.  Thinking: note > clef > accidentals > key signature > register > rhythmic value >> current hand position > required hand re-position > selected finger > and so on.... is far too cumbersome.  The more middle steps you can omit, the less error prone your reading will become.  This as well as gaining fluidity in sight reading.  

Rather than thinking you need to convert a symbol, think: this symbol sounds like this in the ear, feels like this through the hand, orients like this in relation to your body and the piano.  It is one thing, as opposed to an object that needs to be converted in order to be understood.  


The term "sight reading" is a bit deceptive as it involves much more than just reading.  There is a lot of memory recall going on from your repertoire of symbols, symbol groups, note sequences, chord sequences, hand movements, and so on.  chopinlover01's suggestion of examining the piano repertoire is a very important one.  The more piano music you are familiar with, the more you are able recognize commonly recurring patterns and quickly recall the procedure to execute them during sight reading.

It does get easier the more you sight read.  

It can be made even MORE simple.  The early reading goes like this:

1. Note on clef - what is it?
2. Let me see... Every Good Boy Does Fine... It's a G
3. What's the key signature again?  Ooops, check that... it's a G#
4. Now... where is G# on the keys again? 
5. Got it - G#

The key, I think, is not to convert the score to a tune in the head then find the notes on the piano.  That might work for some, but what happens when reading atonal works, or for that matter, works that contain unexpected harmonizations, even the kind of thing that BACH can throw out from time to time?  To me, the secret is in eliminating ALL of the mental processes altogether. 

The note on the second line of the treble clef is not first a 'G' that then becomes a 'G#' then gets translated to a specific key on the piano.  Instead it goes like this...

1. I am in the key of A... then I start sight reading...
2. Blob of ink on second line in treble clef - suddenly I play G#. 

No need to convert from staff to piano.  The note on the score is immediately the key on the instrument.  If I first have to 'hear' it in my head, then I am still doing a middle step.  I agree that most experienced players WILL hear it in their head and I am no exception, but for me that is really something that happens automatically.

The secret to getting there is reading a LOT of music.  The best thing that EVER happened to me for sight reading was working as a church musician while in college and for about 12 years after that.  Sunday night was 'request night' and I had to learn to sight read, NO MATTER WHAT, with no stops or pauses.  After about 3 years of doing this, I was a good enough sight reader that a vocal soloist who was a regular would actually show up with his sheet music and just hand it to me and say "We are doing this right before the offering is taken up".  He was habitually late and we had no time to rehearse.  I would have a few minutes to review the score between hymns and such.  As I recall, we never had a problem.

I am not bragging as much as sharing this to let people know that it is possible to go from HORRIBLE sight reader to excellent sight reader within a few years.  But there are no 'mental tricks' to it unless by 'mental trick' you mean hours and hours of practice at it.
Chopin Ballades
Chopin Scherzos 2 and 3
Mephisto Waltz 1
Beethoven Piano Concerto 3
Schumann Concerto Am
Ginastera Piano Sonata
L'isle Joyeuse
Feux d'Artifice
Prokofiev Sonata Dm

Offline dcstudio

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2423
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #15 on: February 22, 2016, 05:55:29 PM »
He was habitually late and we had no time to rehearse.  I would have a few minutes to review the score between hymns and such.  As I recall, we never had a problem.


oh that's my favorite kind of accompanying gig... a soloist who hates to rehearse... they are gifts from God.  lol. :)

Offline abacaba

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 21
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #16 on: March 04, 2016, 09:43:41 PM »
Also that a sight-reading does not have to be a perfect performance - get the harmony correct at every change, get the rhythm correct at every section, get the melody correct at the themes - will pull you through the whole piece. This is how I survive many years of ballet accompaniment  ;)

Offline thejeev

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #17 on: March 04, 2016, 10:32:19 PM »
Thanks the two of you for that insight. A lot of what you're saying is actually manifesting in my own perspective, and completely see where you're coming from.

In fact the 5-step example that jim provided describes my level. I only recently realized, and you just reassured me of, that one should train their mind to think in key of the piece and the scale(s) that are of that key(s).

I've never attempted sight reading, and have used 5-step process above to learn everything I know, yet I feel I possess very high technical potential, I am completely held back by getting the music from the page into my head. Once it's in my head and the technique is worked out, I feel I could blow some roofs off, the only problem is getting the music into my head in the first place.

Offline trollbuster

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 31
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #18 on: March 05, 2016, 04:19:05 AM »
the only problem is getting the music into my head in the first place.

HO HO HO    BAW BAW  OH LUDWIG  it really means you are a dumbass after my psychic analysis interprets it.  I talked to Rachmaninoff and he thinks your a dumbass too.   His prelude really says You ARE a Dumbass


there is no room for music in your head because it's too full of crazy

Offline thejeev

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Re: Are there any "mental tricks" to rapidly sight-reading music?
«Reply #19 on: March 05, 2016, 05:45:55 AM »
HO HO HO    BAW BAW  OH LUDWIG  it really means I am a dumbass after your nothing to do with psychic analysis interprets it.  I talked to Rachmaninoff and he thinks I am a dumbass too.   His prelude really says I AM a Dumbass


there is no room for music in my head because it's too full of stupid

Fixed for you, nice name, though could have done without the buster part.