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Topic: Polyphonic sight reading issues  (Read 565 times)

Offline karmarunner

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Polyphonic sight reading issues
on: April 03, 2023, 08:43:41 AM
Hello everyone,

I have been taking piano lessons for three years now and I am struggling with sight reading for two-handed pieces. Despite practicing it for almost three years, I find it to be a frustrating task. While I can easily sight read one-handed pieces, my ability to sight read two-handed pieces is far behind my skill level in learning and playing new pieces. My teacher has expressed his surprise at the difference in my skill level between learning pieces and sight reading.

My brain seems to slow down by 80% and I struggle to read two notes at the same time. Sometimes, when I read the G in the right hand, my brain completely stops recognizing the notes in the left hand. To try and improve my sight reading, I have been slowing down my reading speed to the point where I play each note every two or three seconds. I have also tried to look ahead, but this is difficult as my eyes and brain are focused on the current note. Despite my efforts, I feel like I am not making progress in sight reading.

I am wondering if I might have ADHD, but I am open to any advice or techniques that could help me improve my sight reading. I am willing to try anything to improve my skill in this area.

Thank you so much in advance!

Online lelle

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #1 on: April 03, 2023, 10:19:06 AM
Don't worry if you are struggling with this, it's a complex skill that involves many subskills. But it can absolutely be improved. Just expect to be patient, it will take time (years) to get really good.

First thing is to simply practice reading a LOT of simple material. You need to start with pieces that seem easy to you and read lots of those. Just do 5 minutes a day of pure sight reading consistently and it'll help. To help us gauge you level and give you recommendations, can you try reading the first pieces in Book 1 in this sight reading exercise book and tell us how difficult/easy it was? https://imslp.org/wiki/Sight_Reading_Exercises%2C_Op.45_(Sartorio%2C_Arnoldo)

Second thing is that sight reading becomes easier as your eye/hand coordination becomes more automatic. Then one piece that slows you down gets eliminated, because you don't need to think about the movement, just about what key the dot on the paper translates to. You are still pretty new at three years of lessons, so your command over your body will still have a lot of room to improve, and it'll help reading.

Third is that learning music theory helps a lot, it enables you to process much larger chunks of information instantly, sometimes entire measures, instead of one dot at a time.

Offline karmarunner

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #2 on: April 03, 2023, 11:17:47 AM
Thank you for your message!
I'll try the exercises from the first book later today and report back. While I haven't practiced similar exercises in a while, I remember that having the hands on the same position or moving in a fan in/out motion wasn't too challenging for me since my right hand is my leading hand and the left hand usually follows. However, I'll need to confirm this again. Currently, I'm working on pieces from a book called Piano Piccolo and pieces like this one https://www.stretta-music.com/media/images/074/662074_detail-02.jpg give me trouble, especially when the hand position changes or starts differently. For example, my right hand index finger starting on G while my left hand index starts on E

Offline karmarunner

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #3 on: April 03, 2023, 03:13:07 PM
So I just arrived home and started going through book one doing one exercie after another and the one were the trouble starts is at Nr5. I notice that as soon the notes aren't or the movement isn't identical I have issues following the notes. Another thing I noticed is that my vision is mostly focused on the right hand notes and that I cant seem to process both left hand and right hand at the same time. If I look at them seperately I can clearly "read" the notes, but as soon as I try to see the left and right hand together, I only see "static"...

So I dont really how to practice it..

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #4 on: April 03, 2023, 04:29:24 PM
Why are you trying to sight read polyphonic music when you are having troubles processing both hands? Go read easy sheet music, google it and you will have plenty of options.

 When I give sight reading lessons one critical part is choosing the correct material so that successfully reading can take place and build up from there in many places and this is not always such a clear path for everyone . You should also have your teacher help you make more efficient observations in the sheet and process the information more effectively.

 Certainly processing note by note is the wrong way to go about it all. There really isn't much help people online can give you without knowing exactly what you can and can't do and with specific context to draw from.
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Online ego0720

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #5 on: April 05, 2023, 02:01:13 AM
So I just arrived home and started going through book one doing one exercie after another and the one were the trouble starts is at Nr5. I notice that as soon the notes aren't or the movement isn't identical I have issues following the notes. Another thing I noticed is that my vision is mostly focused on the right hand notes and that I cant seem to process both left hand and right hand at the same time. If I look at them seperately I can clearly "read" the notes, but as soon as I try to see the left and right hand together, I only see "static"...

So I dont really how to practice it..

I have to speak from a junior perspective. But thinking about how it works.. here are my thoughts..

I feel like your left and right brain have to be trained independently. Your left and right hand have to be independent. Be like an octopus. That means you build serious dictionary of words, sentences, and paragraph of musical notes, phrases to the point where u just know it. Thatís serious time and practice to get there. Sight reading is separate from playing. Many ppl whoís finger are well trained canít necessarily sight read as fast. Bc those skills are independent of each other.

Like typing, you have to equate notes, chords, and even slurs to the piano keys. See it in your head. And part of that is predicting where the song is going (music theory can help with this pattern prediction). It has to become an automatic response rather than ďreadĒ. This part is debatable as some believe u should not know a note beforehand and should practice pure sight reading without other information. I donít believe it personally.

I donít think ppl develop sight reading skills in the truest sense of the word (similar to claims about photographic memory which is fake). What ppl do is practice so much they have programmed ďfunctionsĒ in their repertoire. So when they say they sightread they really mean they know the literature in and out and mesh up the experience. The more data one holds in their head.. the better. When they play they connect what they hear to what they see both on piano AND music sheet. And of course what their fingers touch.

You can literally practice the fingers without sight reading bc it is only one dimension. Thatís why Suzuki players play well but are among worst sight readers. Bc they rely primarily on aural skills (which is another important skill) and ignore building up their reading. So sightreading is a dimension to music that requires mindful practice. The physical and mental skills have to synchronize.

Music is so multidimensional itís sometimes unfair. So when you play.. and go through books.. try to create an impulse where u see a music sheet then automate the response straight to the key. This process is left to the user.. the mechanics of the mind has to be mindful to this connection. Imo, that is why some excel over others. The mind has to fully engage all dimensions to music to make the most out of it. Some just figure that out earlier while the rest of us are still processing.

One thing I find naturally counteractive is treble and base clef usage of the same five lines. You have to use a different part of the brain and automate the bass clef (right brain). The recycling of the same five lines as the right hand (left hemisphere of brain) have to be dealt with bc your brain try to use the same memory space for what is otherwise the same looking staff. For right dominant ppl will have a natural strength of performance that makes left hand unnaturally weak when it comes to being independent. We know the two halves have built in strength that each do so you have to strengthen the highway between the two sides. Hence your brain has to come up with a second system of recognition for the SAME staff.. and thatís the natural downside of two things that look alike. In programming thatís called pointers to memory address. Beginners have one primary treble bass recognition (computers: OS or operating system).. and then that same system re-used as a second lesser function for left hand.  When you equalize these.. ie run dual operating system.. or have a separate equally strong one for bass clef and the left hand works itís octopus magic.. then u start to optimize a lot of things. Imo you have to master the left hand to be sovereign before the ability to sight read both. Recognize that the left hand has to be equally trained for the long run. Thatís also why playing piano is harder than typing.. where u hit keys sequentially piano u may hit multiple keys at the same time and have to thus memorize RH-LH configuration with massive practice. I honestly think part of sight reading is illusive bc most ppl who do it well memorize finger configurations to the multiple notes played in their head and not merely read unprepared. They were prepared.. when they played that pattern 3000 times. Much like an actor improvises (they have default scripts they go to in certain scenarios). Add the aural skills and you have the music sheet-sound--piano layout or the visual-aural-(visual+tactile} 3 dimensions of sensory interaction that makes for a long journey. Thatís why they say to go to that level one must master the hands individually. I think the argument can be whether u sight read both together simultaneously as you go (from the start).. or work hands separately then combine. I always believed in doing one thing at a time. Either way u will converge but u have to systematize left hand and put it in a separate compartment before throwing it together but some believe u just do sight reading with both hands to save time. Eventually with time u will get it. I think the fact u acknowledge the problem u will work it out.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #6 on: April 05, 2023, 02:27:47 PM
Sight reading is separate from playing. Many ppl whoís finger are well trained canít necessarily sight read as fast. Bc those skills are independent of each other.
But if you can speak the language of piano playing with your fingers well then understanding what that looks like in sheet music is much easier. A strong reason why very early beginners best learn to play and coordinate their hands a bit before learning to read.


Like typing, you have to equate notes, chords, and even slurs to the piano keys. See it in your head. And part of that is predicting where the song is going (music theory can help with this pattern prediction). It has to become an automatic response rather than ďreadĒ. This part is debatable as some believe u should not know a note beforehand and should practice pure sight reading without other information. I donít believe it personally.
Though if you use the wrong fingering then the reading fluency collapses. So the connection between your physical playing and reading shouldn't be isolated.

I donít think ppl develop sight reading skills in the truest sense of the word (similar to claims about photographic memory which is fake). What ppl do is practice so much they have programmed ďfunctionsĒ in their repertoire. So when they say they sightread they really mean they know the literature in and out and mesh up the experience. The more data one holds in their head.. the better. When they play they connect what they hear to what they see both on piano AND music sheet. And of course what their fingers touch.
If you sight read something which has technique or sounds you are totally unfamiliar with the reading experience is going to be very challenging and in most cases bad. There are plenty of sight reading skills which aim to make your thinking more efficient, so you are not reading every single dot and tail on the page. How sight reading and memorisation work hand in hand truly shows that sight reading indeed is a skill but is is not mutually exclusive from many other skills such as memorisation, fingering technique, musical thinking and dedication, pattern recognition and so on. Sight reading logically synergises with other skills.


You can literally practice the fingers without sight reading bc it is only one dimension.
You can and you can also practice fingers with sight reading.


Quote from: ego0720 link=topic=69779.msg724982#msg724982 date=1qq680660073
So when you play.. and go through books.. try to create an impulse where u see a music sheet then automate the response straight to the key. This process is left to the user.. the mechanics of the mind has to be mindful to this connection. Imo, that is why some excel over others. The mind has to fully engage all dimensions to music to make the most out of it. Some just figure that out earlier while the rest of us are still processing.
This is generalised far too far to be of any substance.

One thing I find naturally counteractive is treble and base clef usage of the same five lines. You have to use a different part of the brain and automate the bass clef (right brain). The recycling of the same five lines as the right hand (left hemisphere of brain) have to be dealt with bc your brain try to use the same memory space for what is otherwise the same looking staff. For right dominant ppl will have a natural strength of performance that makes left hand unnaturally weak when it comes to being independent. We know the two halves have built in strength that each do so you have to strengthen the highway between the two sides. Hence your brain has to come up with a second system of recognition for the SAME staff.. and thatís the natural downside of two things that look alike. In programming thatís called pointers to memory address. Beginners have one primary treble bass recognition (computers: OS or operating system).. and then that same system re-used as a second lesser function for left hand.  When you equalize these.. ie run dual operating system.. or have a separate equally strong one for bass clef and the left hand works itís octopus magic.. then u start to optimize a lot of things. Imo you have to master the left hand to be sovereign before the ability to sight read both. Recognize that the left hand has to be equally trained for the long run. Thatís also why playing piano is harder than typing.. where u hit keys sequentially piano u may hit multiple keys at the same time and have to thus memorize RH-LH configuration with massive practice. I honestly think part of sight reading is illusive bc most ppl who do it well memorize finger configurations to the multiple notes played in their head and not merely read unprepared. They were prepared.. when they played that pattern 3000 times. Much like an actor improvises (they have default scripts they go to in certain scenarios). Add the aural skills and you have the music sheet-sound--piano
layout or the visual-aural-(visual+tactile} 3 dimensions of sensory interaction that makes for a long journey. Thatís why they say to go to that level one must master the hands individually. I think the argument can be whether u sight read both together simultaneously as you go (from the start).. or work hands separately then combine. I always believed in doing one thing at a time. Either way u will converge but u have to systematize left hand and put it in a separate compartment before throwing it together but some believe u just do sight reading with both hands to save time. Eventually with time u will get it. I think the fact u acknowledge the problem u will work it out.
This is a confused mess sorry to say. If you start to try and elaborate and support the generalised ideas here you will see it will hit dead ends immediatly and in many cases cannot be substantiated.
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Online lelle

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #7 on: April 05, 2023, 03:44:03 PM
So I just arrived home and started going through book one doing one exercie after another and the one were the trouble starts is at Nr5. I notice that as soon the notes aren't or the movement isn't identical I have issues following the notes. Another thing I noticed is that my vision is mostly focused on the right hand notes and that I cant seem to process both left hand and right hand at the same time. If I look at them seperately I can clearly "read" the notes, but as soon as I try to see the left and right hand together, I only see "static"...

So I dont really how to practice it..

Could you read the right hand first, store the key and finger in your short term memory, then read the left hand the same way, then mentally combine the two pieces, and finally press the selected keys with the selected fingers? I would say reading essentially is something like that, only it happens super quick and automatic and you're able to read ahead and large chunks of notes in one go when you're used to it.

Online ego0720

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #8 on: April 05, 2023, 05:26:58 PM
This is generalised far too far to be of any substance.

This is a confused mess sorry to say. If you start to try and elaborate and support the generalised ideas here you will see it will hit dead ends immediatly and in many cases cannot be substantiated.

Thanks for your thoughts. I donít disagree. I could work on being less circumlocutory.

To the first it means for the same measure some ppl get more mileage than others. The question is why. Sight reading is not necessarily developed for some ppl (like myself). But my relatives were able to with same practice. Why? Sometimes what happens is one has studied the song so much that the memory has burned the song in. The need to sightread cease to exist at that point. You can sightread, listen to it, or memorize it. For blind ppl they use their tactile sense. Thatís 4 routes to get to the end goal of playing the piece. That explains why some figure it out early and many of us are eating dust.

The second means that the brain has a tug-of-war using five-line staff. Think of it like this. If I give u the name John. Who do u picture? How many Johnís do you know? The fact is we forget peopleís name but we remember their face. The name John occupies the same memory allocation and the brain finds it not special. So the name john itself is forgettable. It is a recycled word. When the name points to same memory location it gets confused. So what has to happen is ppl have to visualize the piano keyboard and the notes separately for treble and bass clef well so the five-line space doesnít boggle the mind. If you arenít connecting the treble and bass clef visually to the piano keys can be frustrating. This issue is particularly notable when it comes to reading ledger notes (the ones not on the five lines). Recognizing that to be a barrier helped me. Thatís all. When I see those ledger notes I try to make them distinct by hearing the pitch in my head and visualize the key relative to its octave position, not just any generic, recyclable 12-key octave. .  Still working to make it automatic rather than cerebral but brain struggles with the two neural pathway of note-bass connection. For me itís still note-bass-mnemonic.

This is probably more philosophical on the discussion of intelligence.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #9 on: April 05, 2023, 06:05:14 PM
To develop sight reading skills you need to practice successful reading at a level which allows this to occur. Then you need to gradually increase the challenge in an appropriate manner to build up your skill without overwhelming yourself. This is a loaded answer because finding the correct material and enough of it to do this often requires a teachers careful selection and appraisal of the student's  reading skill level.  It is unfortunate not enough teachers are skilled enough to guide students to develop good reading skills, so it is the fault of the education system rather than students.

Far too many people try to sight read material that is too difficult and think they just are useless or believe that sight reading is just inherently difficult at all levels. It is never a waste of time to practice reading material that is for too easy. My sight reading students do easily 1000+ pieces a year, that alone should tell people how much work can be put into it. It is also fine to have a smaller set of works you sight read multiple times, it doesn't always have to be totally fresh works, understanding how memory and sight reading works is a very useful investigation that is done well with repeated reading attempts.
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Offline karmarunner

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #10 on: April 06, 2023, 09:13:43 AM
Could you read the right hand first, store the key and finger in your short term memory, then read the left hand the same way, then mentally combine the two pieces, and finally press the selected keys with the selected fingers? I would say reading essentially is something like that, only it happens super quick and automatic and you're able to read ahead and large chunks of notes in one go when you're used to it.
I will give this a try when I am home today but just to be sure I understand it. Do you mean by that, you would read the notes first and then play it? I always considered sight reading like a dictation task in school, where the teachers reads something in front of the class and you as the student are writing it at the same time. So maybe my apporach is wrong? Because the speed is definitely not the issue as I am slowing down to an extreme. (I'll try to record myself in the upcoming days).
Reading and playing at the same time feels like talking and hearing yourself at the same time to me. It's almost impossible to speak. Same goes for reading ahead. I try to do that and my brain is still busy giving the fingers ordres what the fingers from the current notes should be playing. This is why its so frustrating to me. When I learn full pieces I learn them rather fast as I can pick out one line and practice it individually or at the same time isolated.

Online ego0720

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #11 on: April 06, 2023, 06:50:17 PM
..practice successful reading at a level which allows this to occur. Then Ö gradually increase the challenge in an appropriate manner to build up your skill without overwhelming yourselfÖ

Far too many people try to sight read material that is too difficult and think they just are useless or believe that sight reading is just inherently difficult at all levels. It is never a waste of time to practice reading material..

Thanks for your insight and quantifying how much time is needed to build sight reading in itself.

The other problem is mismatching growth. Leveling up in -playing- the piano feels more satisfying than other aspects. Eventually the growth hits a wall and one is left nonplussed when other key attributes havenít been brewed equally. And either the ego gets in the way or we humbly start building what is necessary.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #12 on: April 07, 2023, 01:06:02 AM
You don't tend to have time to  notice hitting these progression walls with sight reading training since there is such a volume of work you get too occupied with tasks. Unlike repertoire training where you might get stuck trying to master a single piece for weeks, sight reading training churns through numerous pieces every practice session. This trains many aspects of piano playing that if you feel you hit walls you are going about it in an incorrect manner.

Sight reading training is arguably the more mentally strenuous activity at the piano that you can undergo, because it is such a work out again not many people complain about hitting walls of development, even simply training your endurance through it is quite noticeable.
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Offline truecam

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #13 on: April 07, 2023, 02:27:58 AM
One of the things I have worked and improved on in the last 5 years is sight reading. There are things that helped me improve, but in all honeesty the biggest factor is just time and how much I sight read. The truth is that the quality of practice matters significantly for many different parts of improving at piano, but matters a lot less for improvement at sight reading. Its one of the few aspects I would say in music in which Quantity matters more than Quality.

A few tips though that helped me improve at sight reading:

1. Playing very easy pieces. This is important, because the chord and patterns you will see will appear in more complex pieces and you need to be able to easily recognize and play them. With easier pieces these are usually the most basic elements of the melody and harmony. Its important to be able to easily recognize the most important parts of a piece when sight reading so that you can ensure those notes get played even if you miss other ones.

2. Don't stop when you are playing a piece. If you can't make it through the piece without stopping then you should sight read easier material.

3. Scales. Know all youir scales and know the associated minors, harmonic and melodic minors.

4. Chords and Intervals. Knowing about the intervals between notes and being able to recognize them will help immensely. Hymnals are a good way to learn about certain chord progressions and to get a good feeling of intervals as well as being good sight reading material since there are a ton of hymnals out there for free online and elsewhere.

Offline anacrusis

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Re: Polyphonic sight reading issues
Reply #14 on: April 20, 2023, 01:07:31 PM
You have gotten a lot of good advice in this thread. All you can do now is experiment and see what gets you progress. I think it's important to realize that it takes a lot of patience and time. It WILL be hard until it slowly starts getting easier.
 

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