Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Progress (1.75 Years)

Things are still coming together, but more slowly than expected. I see the end of the tunnel, but I figure it's about two years away. That is, I expect that in another two years, I'll be a really good sight-reader.

Before continuing, let me show you where I stand. Here are two pieces being sight-read, one easy, one a bit harder (click on the images for a full-sized version).

Click here to hear me sight-read Wabash Cannonball.

Click here to hear me sight-read When my Sugar...

So, I'm getting the hang of things, but I'm still quite slow. I just can't keep up if I increase the tempo. (I realize that got some off the rhythms wrong on the latter song.)

Not Looking at my Hands

One thing that I'm really, really good at is not looking at my hands. I can read an entire song, and not even glance down once, even when there are big jumps. I highly recommend getting this ability nailed. It feels really cool, and I never have to worry about losing my place in the music.

There are two things going on here: Feeling the keys, and knowing where they are.

Concerning feeling the keys, you have to get into the habit of caressing them all the time. Imagine that you are a lovesick teenager, and the keys are your girlfriend. You just can't get enough of touching her/them.

As for knowing where they are, I should give some credit to the book Super Sight Reading Secrets by Howard Richman (more on that book later). His keyboard orientation drills made me realize that I could move my finger to a note pretty accurately with my eyes closed, even if I wasn't starting from a known note. Here's the exercise I do:

I make sure I am sitting right in front of middle D (that is, with my belly button lined up with the middle of the middle D key). Then I close my eyes, put my hands in my lap, then think of a note and move a finger to it. I found that often I got the note exactly right, and my accuracy improved with this drill. In other words, the feeling of where your arm is can be pretty good for hitting the note you want.

Combined with feeling the keys, this ability can help you eliminate your need to look at the keys. It's true that doing this is a lot easier one note at a time than in the middle of some complex song. Also, I sometimes get "desynchronized" with the keys, and play, for example, an E when I'm expecting a B. But once you get some ability and confidence here, you might find that you can make those big skips without thinking about them.

I'm hoping that the habit of not looking down at my hands will get so ingrained in me, that I won't do it even if I'm playing in public or am nervous.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead as I'm playing is still a struggle for me, and I'm still working on it. I play better when I do it, but that just may mean that the song is easier, and it gives me a chance to look ahead. Sometimes I try to look ahead just a half measure or so. I played prelude one in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier yesterday, and was able to zip through it with almost no errors. Why? Because each measure repeats the same five notes twice, so there's plenty of time to read and understand the next measure as I'm playing the current one. If I can just get that same idea working for other songs, I'll be set.

That's it for now, sight-reading fans. Please leave a comment if you're finding this blog useful!


Anonymous said...

Good to hear you still here and working on it. By the way the links don't seem to work.

Al said...

Thanks. My ISP is having a problem right now, and the links should be working again soon.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for much for this blog.
I find it really helpful and encouraging.

I have some questions about "feeling the keys" and the Howard Richman book.

1) you mention caressing them all the time - how do you this while playing? do you move the fingers that don't play to constantly feel the current position?

2) Do you recommend Richman's book? I hear some mixed reviews about him, basically saying that the free advice on his website is basically what's in the book.

BTW I just started learing to play piano last year and my skill level is pretty basic (doing RCM grade 3 now).


Al said...

I'm glad you're finding it helpful -- thanks for letting me know.

Concerning feeling the keys, no I don't make any unnecessary movements, I just feel the keys as I'm moving to the next notes. For example, if I'm looking for a G and F in my left hand, I'll feel the left side of the F# key with my index finger, and fit my pinkie in between the F# and G# below.

Yes, I'd say I recommend Richman's book. I'd have used it more if I had gotten it earlier on. I plan to look at it some more and make comments in a future post.

Good luck.

computer-robopianist said...

You have an excellent blog right here. I'm a piano student from the Philippines and I have been sight reading for quite some time now. Your tips are great. I'd be happy to know more about your progress and other discoveries that would make sight reading easier and fun.

Anonymous said...

i have been sight reading (and nothing else )for 1.5 year.average practice time is 4 hours a day.I realized several important tips.one is" look behind not ahead" !
because that help you to move your fingers.

Anonymous said...


My name is Julio from Central America and Ive been intrested in sight reading resently.

I found your comments very usefull and encouraging for me who aspire to be a better sight reader.

Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Great reading, thanks man it's inspiring to follow your progress. Tenacity is what gets us there:)