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SYOS

Sight-reading, in final desperation

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
841
Location
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
I am in my sixth year of playing the sax and still my sight-reading is too slow. I can sight-read anything until I have to read it at greater than about 160bpm. Once that level is reached it seems there is a bottle-neck in the flow of info from my eyes to my hands.

I guess it is analagous to someone learning a foreign language in that you are never fluent until you don't need to translate into your own language first, and I think I am still translating. Read the music into the brain, translate into muscle signals, send to fingers, play the tune.

I listened to a program on the radio the other day in which a musician was talking about sight-reading grade 8 music whilst still not in his teens -- to me, this is the euromillions lottery win of music. I might like it but it just ain't gonna happen.

It may be I can never sight-read fast music but I make one last appeal to anyone who has had this problem and got over it before I resign myself to the chorus of sax players and never the leading man.

Cheers

Martin
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Just north of Munich
I think you'll find that people who can sight read an unknown piece at this speed are exceptional. And that when you're playing at this sort of speed, the music needs to be well practiced so that the notes become a memory jogger. I think there are a lot of front line soloists who can't sight read this fast, either.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
:w00t:Martin

If I could only sight-read at 160bmp I'd be well chuffed! 80 bpm would be nice. :D

I believe the key is being able to read quite far ahead and to be able to identify patterns (ie chromatic movement, diatonic movement etc) and intervals by eye. The farther ahead you can manage the faster you can go. Just like riding a fast motorcycle on a track - you need to look ahead to where you are going, not where or just ahead of where you are. Hense I'm average at sight-reading and not that quick on a motorcycle.

I think also you need to free your mind to do other things. I for one struggle with sight reading and improvising on the fly as I am still thinking too much about the mechanics of it all, where on the instrument notes are, intervals and how they sound etc.

Playing fast also suffers in the same way. It's not my fingers it's the brain that's too slow. But I am improving slowly.
 

thehunt

Member
Messages
797
Location
Studham Bedfordshire
I agree i think that you need to practice a piece over and over again then you can work up to speed, practice it slowly first and build up.
Agree with Kev the notes become a memory jogger.
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
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1,418
Location
Daventry
Having learnt to read as a kid, I'm very glad I'm not starting now. Like many skills e.g. foreign languages and skiing, the earlier the better, and my admiration goes out to anyone over 30 who cracks it. Even so I still spend the first 10 minutes of a practice session just playing through any old stuff that's lying about - the more complicated the better - it just sharpens you up and gets the brain working. I also pick up odd bits of music and just work through them in my head - anything to keep that bit of cognitive recognition stimulated.

Even so I am not a brilliant sight-reader - I would guess about 120 bpm is my sensible limit and at that speed I wouldn't be picking up the dynamics of the piece. It is, predictably, all down to practice.

I would not suggest that you try to guess where the music is going by anticipating patterns - that might work with beginner stuff but when you get to serious music, you won't be able to second-guess the composers intentions - and if you can, maybe you should be thinking about taking up composition!
 

thehunt

Member
Messages
797
Location
Studham Bedfordshire
That might be a cue to actually work on that. I have been doing a lot of work with my teacher on this as i too ( still do ) found it hard if i did not know the tune. I think the more you practice trying to sight read the better you get.
I know that these coming months i am going to put a lot of work into this.
I can never play new tune straight from the page. I need to have the tune in my head and then practise loads!!!!
 

AdamBradley

Member
Messages
134
Bit of an odd suggestion but it might help

http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/look_inside/1314476/image/1541

It might be a bit of a strange use for it, and while there's no doubt plenty who'd break down into tears hearing someone butchering Bird solos for sight reading practise, hear me out -

There's next to nothing in there slower than 160bpm. I think I might have seen about 5 tunes around 120 or 140, a huge amount are around 160, 180, 200.
Most of it is written out in C with accidentals thrown in. I always found accidentals a royal pain in the arse when sightreading so this has helped my recognition and enharmonic ability massively. I used to die on my feet every time I saw a Fb, Cb, B#, E# (possibly because I tend to link the notes back to position on a piano keyboard), but I would get regularly tripped up on Gb and A# too.

I don't usually play each piece at the marked tempo. When I started reading again recently (all of the music I've played for the last 3~ years has been guitar and piano by ear or chords on lead sheets, so melodic sight reading was extremely rusty) I would flick to a page and play it at the fastest reasonable tempo I could, which a few months ago was about 100bpm. I timed myself on how fast I was playing one of them last night and it was about 194.
Not to say I can sight read charlie parker solos. Not at all. I often play through and when I hear a phrase I really like I'll go back and play it through a bit more, get it properly under my fingers. I make loads of mistakes, but this stuff tends to be absolutely packed with complex syncopation so just getting used to reading this has meant going back to the other things I used to find a bit tricky is now a total walk in the park.

At the risk of being smothered, I'll say I'm not actually familiar with Parker's stuff (it's on my list, I'll get round to it eventually!) so I don't know whether that helps or hinders in that I don't know what I'm playing is meant to sound like, except just what I can read from the page. Maybe worth a look :)
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
I would not suggest that you try to guess where the music is going by anticipating patterns - that might work with beginner stuff but when you get to serious music, you won't be able to second-guess the composers intentions - and if you can, maybe you should be thinking about taking up composition!
Bill

If you refer to my comments about spotting patterns/intervals and the like - I'm not suggesting guessing, far from it.

When I look at a piece of music I am now beginning to spot thing like diatonic movement, some intervals, often arpeggios etc. Its like recognising words, even phrases as you might do as your reed a book. Once I have that spotted I can move on reading the next notes/phrases. As I suggested, reading further ahead gives you more time to prepare and then play.

My wife' a primary school teacher and therefore reads aloud a lot. She manages to do so with expression and good pace adding lots of embellishments as she goes. It's all about reading ahead of what you are saying.
 

Young Col

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,428
Location
Coulsdon, London/Surrey
It took me a while to get back to sight reading after 30 odd years of not doing it and I'm still not at all quick. Our ensemble leader gives us new pieces and just asks us to get straight into them as good practice in reading and my teacher sometimes does the same. It does help you improve quickly. Most music has some repetition of rhythmic patterns and melody patterns as well, so even if you can't anticipate, it does seem to come a bit easier as the thought flashes (no, crawls in my case) across the brain that this bit is like the bit a few bars ago.

Trouble is I concentrate so much on getting the breathing, tongeuing and fingering correct (latter less so now so I must be improving !) that I completely miss the performance directions until I have done a several runs through. I like to fall back on Louis Armstrong's explanation of why he always played so loud - he said he thought pp meant Pound Plenty.
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
When I look at a piece of music I am now beginning to spot thing like diatonic movement, some intervals, often arpeggios etc. Its like recognising words, even phrases as you might do as your reed a book. Once I have that spotted I can move on reading the next notes/phrases. As I suggested, reading further ahead gives you more time to prepare and then play.
I’m nowhere close to being able to do that.

My teacher occasionally picks up her flute and plays along with me, same music it’s just she’s transposing it on the fly and I’m struggling to read it straight! She has always said to work out the rhythm and the right notes will follow, but play the right notes with the wrong rhythm and you’re playing the wrong notes at the wrong time, if you see what I mean.

If I have a feel for the music I can pick it up a lot quicker than something I’m unfamiliar with, it takes away some of the pressure as I’m depending on my memory to provide the rhythm and only using the dot’s for the pitches. But even then I’d say my biggest hurdle is confidence. I think having confidence is behind a lot of being able to play with authority, speed, expression, rhythm and so on, and that unfortunately can’t be taught.

I’m working on a version of Mr Bojangles at the moment, and some days I almost get it, on other days I just sound too hesitant, stabbing at a note or holding back a fraction too late on another. It’s not that I can’t read the music, it’s that some days I have more confidence to nail it and other days I’m slightly unsure if I’m getting it right! The annoying thing is I like the tune, maybe not this arrangement so much, I would love to be able to play like King Curtis or at least have a go at his version.

Sorry ended up wondering off topic a little there.

There are some people who can look at a page of music and play it in their heads, I’d love to be one of them. I can do it to a tiny extent with rhythm but not pitches so I’ve taken to slowing things right down so that I can play them before building up the speed. The other thing I’ve noticed is those first few run throughs are very important, if I make a mistake, and particularly if I repeat it, it seems to get engrained and is a pain to get right later, hence the slowing it all down to give myself the best possible start.

Best wishes,

Chris
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
I’m nowhere close to being able to do that.

Chris
Yes but to get this into context......... if sight-reading to say session musician standards was a round the world trip, I'd say I'd just about got my washing done, but not ironed prior to packing for the trip. :w00t:

Oh and I've only just booked my travel arrangement for the first leg but no hotel accommodation as yet.

I just know I am improving. You are right, it's getting the rhythm and movement right not the notes. Karen has been working with me on stuff from Lennie Niehaus' Jazz Conceptions series. There are great (some very hard) exercises and etudes and it has really helped my sight-reading. There's also an accompanying CD for alto and tenor for the first two books (there are 4 in the series).

Also I think it's essential to break harder passages down into small sections. Karen often gets me working backwards from a three or four note phrase/section adding an additional not in front until I have the whole phrase/sequence right. I'm not allowed to listen to the piece until I have at least mastered the fundamentals. Of course this isn't true sight-reading as once you've played a tune the first time you have some idea of what is coming.
 
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