Monday, May 5, 2014

I'm Back!

Mark Twain said: "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times."

Well I guess that's how it is for me when it comes to giving up on sight-reading. I just can't stay away. I'm back to working on it, but my new study program is more focused and less time-consuming. I'll tell you all about it, but first ...

What I've Been Up To

In my last post, I talked about giving up on, or at least giving less priority to, sight-reading. That's what I did, and it has been a good thing for my general playing, because it has given me more time to spend working on  other skills. For example, I've added new songs to my solo jazz repertoire, gotten more licks down, done more exercises, and worked on the general sound of my jazz playing. This feels good, and I realize that I've been neglecting this stuff in favor of sight-reading.

I'm a morning person, and the thing I do right after breakfast gets the most of my energy. For years, that thing has been sight-reading. Since "quitting," other tasks have been granted that "most favored concentration" status.

Another thing I've had more time for is writing. As you can see on the right side of this page, I've written a book. The book is a bit different from this blog, with a summary chapter or two, but most of the important information is available right here in the blog you are reading. If you're a tightwad like me, you'll be fine with just the blog. If you prefer to curl up with a physical book or with your eBook reader, you'll probably enjoy the book (end of commercial).

I've talked about how valuable piano lessons are for improving one's sight-reading. I still believe this is true, but once I gave  sight-reading a lower priority, I could no longer justify the expense of lessons. I reluctantly stopped taking lessons. Note, however, that I've received so many valuable tips on sight-reading from my teacher, that I can continue to benefit from them for years.

Finally, I felt that I was letting you down, dear blog readers, by quitting. In fact there were a number of times over the years that I would have given up were it not for my public blog.

You may have noticed that there's a real up and down aspect to my quest. Some days I'm encouraged, other days, discouraged. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing great, other times: Epic Fail. So it's not surprising that I went so far as to publicly give up then publicly start again.

So here we go again, and now, perhaps, I've found a way to maximize my returns.  That is, I'm ...

Following My Own Advice!

That's right. I've been spouting plenty of advice over the years, and now I'm going to focus in on my best tips, namely:

1. Practicing Much Less per Day

You've heard me say that two hours per day was not efficient, and might even result in the practicing of bad habits. So now I generally do only about two tunes per day, sometimes less.

2. Working Only on Modern/Pop Stuff

I've mentioned that sight-reading progress can be very specific to the type of music you work with. So, for example, if you play only hymns, you'll get good at hymns but not at, for example, pop tunes.

So: No more hymns or classical pieces. Yes, it would be nice to be good at those, but, for me, it's more important to be good at modern stuff. By "modern" I mean pop tunes or typical written-out jazz pieces--the kind of music you'd see in a book of Christmas carols. I'll miss the hymns, but I've got to work where my priorities lie.

3. Practicing Leaving Things Out

You may recall that my teacher taught me the value of leaving out stuff. She had me leave out one or more of the voices when playing a hymn. This was more difficult than expected, but I could see the benefit: when I ran into trouble, I could leave out voices.

I had done this with hymns but never with modern tunes. Now I am applying it to modern music. I'll play a tune through the first time playing only the top and bottom notes. The important skill is learning what to do when I get in trouble.

At first, seems that it would be just as easy, for example, to play the doubled octave bass notes, or the chords in the top. But it is a little easier, as my teacher Robin showed me, to just grab two notes (or even just the melody) when problems arise.

I'll often run through a second time (or take the repeat), and play all the notes  (or more of them).

Does it sound better with all the notes? Yes. Does it sound reasonable with just the top and bottom notes? Often. IOW, if I sometimes get into trouble and leave things out, most listeners won't notice.

4. Looking Ahead

As you've read, I'm always working on this. Perhaps combined with leaving things out, I will finally improve here.


My new regime feels like a good compromise, and, if I'm right about practicing less, I will learn more efficiently.

Stay tuned!