Monday, December 10, 2012

Progress Report - Five Long Years!

Oh, man, five years gone, and I'm still not that good a sight-reader.  Much better than before, but I have a long way to go.  There are days that I want to give up on this, but I keep working at it.

I've been doing some reading every day, except that I took about a month off leading up to a solo gig that I had in early December.  That is, during that time I put all my effort into working on tunes for that gig, and did no sight-reading.  That month saw some good improvement in my solo work, and showed me that my time spent on sight-reading is time taken away from other aspects of my playing.  That is, it reminded me that there is a cost for working so hard on sight-reading.

Click here to hear a clip from that solo gig.

That gig is over, I'm back to daily sight-reading, and I'm trying something new.  I've concluded that one of my problems is that I pay too much attention to the note names and not to the intervals.   I've discussed this several times before (for example, here).  Because I've spent years not attending to the intervals, my brain has gotten stuck reading notes.  This is a case where I've been practicing the wrong thing.

My best trick for fixing this is to transpose a tune to another key (mentioned here).  When I do that, I have to pay attention to intervals, because the notes are wrong.

In the past, I've used transposing in this way: I'll play a hymn or two transposed, and then I'll go back to normal reading.  After I do that, I seem to pay attention to intervals a little more, but soon go back to my old bad habits.

So my new system is to, each day, play two hymns or chorales transposed, and then not do any more sight-reading. Perhaps if I do that for a month, I can kick my mind into the interval gear.

Note that when transposing, I think about intervals only.  I'm not allowed to see the note and figure out what note I'll play.  I only do that for the first chord of the piece.  From then on, I play based on the intervals from one chord to the next. I don't want to get good at transposing, I just want to use transposing as a tool to help me attend to intervals.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Still Plodding Along

Just a quick post to let you know that I'm still working away, and still doing 1-2 hours of sight-reading every day.  The three latest insights from my teacher that have helped recently are (I'll post more about these when I am less busy):
  1. Leave stuff out.  At one of my lessons, my teacher said "I sit here thinking how much better he'd play if only he'd leave things out."  That made an impression on me, so now, if I'm playing a hymn or chorale, and I start to have problems, I leave out the middle voices.  That is, first priority is the top voice, second is the lowest, and after that, the middle voices.  I can now play the Bach chorales (slowly), that were way too difficult when I first encountered them.  This works for modern pieces also.  Surprisingly, it takes practice to not play each note.
  2. Play slowly.  I've known this from the start, but had found that if my metronome were slower than about 50 BPM, it was hard to follow it.  Now, I use the metronome beats for eighth notes.  For example, for a Bach chorale, I might set it to 60 BPM. 
  3. Learn and see the harmonic structure of a piece.  That is, try to understand what chord notes make, and how that chord functions.  For example, these notes make up a G7.  I never thought this would help.  What, I see the notes and figure out what chord it is, to understand the notes?  How would that help, since I already know what the notes are?  Well, it does seem to help, partly because I know what notes to expect next.  For example, in the last measure of a Bach chorale, I know there's going to be some kind of standard cadence (e.g. F chord, G7 chord, C chord).  Even if I don't get all the notes, I can fake it.  But it also seems to help me put my fingers down in the right places.
Hang in there fellow sufferers -- more later.