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feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



So I learned piano from the age 5 to 18. I am now in my late 20th. And I am picking up piano again for the 1st time after I've stopped paying a decade ago. I have discovered the concept of "Sight Reading" for the first time, in my life, ever.

My wife told me today that's something she thinks is cool and I should work towards getting very good at it. I thought she was kidding or that she was making it up and so I got mad at her for doing so. Then, after some research in both the English and the Chinese world, I could not believe what I didn't know. My mind was blown, not in a good way.

Let me explain.

(On the off chance that you're like me, who didn't know what sight reading is, it is "defined as the art of reading and performing a musical piece without previous knowledge, insight or rehearsal of the piece.")

My years of learning piano was in China, in a second tier city. From mid 90th to late 2000s. I was not a pro, it was never the goal to get into a music college, nor to become a professional piano performer or to have a career in the music industry). However, it was something that I was supposed to treat very seriously and achieve as much as I can while I was at it. I entered the provincial non-professional piano grading test as soon as I started learning piano. There are 10 grades/levels, from 1-10. 10 being the most challenging. I passed level 10 in early middle school, which was considered a great achievement. I had entered several national and provincial competitions for piano performing and I had always won awards.

I had piano lessons once a week for the most of the 13 years. I practiced piano daily for 1-2 hours on most days, the only exceptions being that I am on a trip and that I had no access to a piano. I had several teachers throughout the way. They're ALL professors who teach piano performance at music colleges in China, who also gives lessons on the side to kids like me. This was not an a-typical arrangement. There are many many other children like me in China, who had gone through the same journey of learning piano on a non-professional level and was put a schedule/workload like this.

And during all these 13 years, ALL OF IT, I swear, not once, I was told that I need to learn Sight Reading (I had to look it up in Chinese just now, it is called 视奏 in Chinese). I don't remember hearing this word from any of my teachers nor my parents. I don't remember ever hearing it being mentioned when I am at competitions. I don't remember EVER being asked to read a sheet and just play it. I don't remember knowing or even having the concept that this is a skill that a "piano performer" should possess.

In summary, 13 years of practicing piano and a so-called protťgť, I am a one trick pony. I have no REAL SKILL of performing the piano whatsoever. Some would say I have learned NOTHING. And everyone, including my "teachers", saw no problem to this. All I know, is to practice a song for 2 month and then be very good at this song. Then perform it, then forget about it. I have the trophies and the certificates. But they mean NOTHING. NOTHING WHAT SO EVER. This is not just because I didn't know about Sight Reading. I also had very shallow understanding of music theories. I can read sheet music but if you asked me to list the major and the minor scales, I would know nothing about them.

From my brief research after my SHOCKING discovery, I came to understand that at least in Mainland China, the Piano Grading Tests do not include Sight Reading. (However, I believe if you enter a music college and piano performing is your major, you're supposed to learn and practice it.) In Hong Kong, the official piano grading test (香港英皇钢琴考级) includes Sight Reading, and people in the Chinese world considers the tests in Hong Kong to be more prestiges and this is one of the reasons. I have also found a few articles written in Chinese, where the author complain that non-professional piano education in China does not value/teach Sight Reading and how they think it's a problem. So I think I can fairly conclude that my experience is not a one-off case. It's not that my several teachers all got together and decided not to teach me / make me learn Sight Reading. They just weren't teaching it to anyone.

So I have feelings.

I feel useless, I feel ashamed. How could I not think about this for 13 years (and many more after when I was not active playing) and realizing that my piano eduction did not make sense. All I did was really just mastering 12 songs over the time of 13 years (i did the Piano grading tests 4 times, jumping grades in between. 3 songs for every grade, 3*4=12). And after a decade, I don't remember those songs anyways.

I feel angry. I am angry at my parents, even though it of course is not their fault. They hired the "best teachers" they could find. I am angry at the teachers. This might sound dramatic but I feel like this is a metaphor of all my education in China. Not just the piano. What did I learn?! I learned to recite, to copy, to paste, to find the best way to get the highest score and then learnt nothing along the way.

But at the same time, even though I know I cannot fairly be made at my parents for this. I wonder, if they have wondered, what was I learning all these years? What did it make sense that we should be happy about me being able to play a few songs well after HOURS of practice? Why did it make sense that I essentially didn't have to learn what "music" is for 13 years? Did they also not understand what "music" is? That to learn music is more than learning to play a few songs very well through repetition and then call it a day?

ALSO, ARE PIANO PROTEGES TODAY IN MAINLAND CHINA STILL NOT LEARNING THAT SIGHT READING IS A THING?!

EVEN MORE DRAMATICALLY, now I feel like this a metaphor of my mother country (China). I want to scream. It's like a metaphor for how all about short sighted benefits such as passing the piano grading test. It's all about the score. Kids don't need to be taught "skills". They need to be taught to listen, and obey, and just do what they're told to do. It's not important to have a well-rounded eduction in a subject, in school, or in life overall.

If you made it here, I sincerely thank you for making it through this rant. Have a good day!

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feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



If you have any advice on how to deal with this, I would appreciate it. I think I want to try and learn how to Sight Read. But now I have the fear that all i will ever be is a fake piano protege stuck at the age of 18, and never be able to do anything real with music or even just to enjoy it whole-heartedly.

Canine Blues Arooo
Jan 7, 2008

when you think about it...i'm the first girl you ever spent the night with



Grimey Drawer

I studied piano classically enough to have spent a few years in college as a piano major. I kind of had a similar experience as you where I learned how to play music, but never learned some of those skills adjacent to most classically trained pianists, Sight Reading among them. I however spent the first 8 years of my career being taught by my grandmother, and the last 4 of high school in a more professional setting. Only upon hitting college did I have a professional teacher (A professor of piano in this case). He did identify that I lacked some skills like that would bring me to a higher level such and we worked on them. For me, I was a terrible sight reader, but the root cause of that is that I interpreted learning music as something that can be brute-forced, rather than a collection of microtechniques and it's those that need to be drilled and practiced. If you are have a favorite composer, you might focus on a specific set of those techniques more than other and if you are masochist and prefer Chopin, you need to focus on 'All of Them'. My technique truly was not that great, despite being able to perform some challenging pieces adequately. The consequence is that learning new pieces was possible, but took me longer than a player with better technique.

That said, I sympathize with your plight. It sucks to realize you spent all this time on a craft only to learn much later that you learned it incorrectly, or at least inefficiently. The nice thing is that you know now what the path to improvement is, and if nothing else, you can embrace the strength of your style. For me, I have an absolute unbelievable recall on pieces I've learned and can basically effortlessly memorize pieces.

The Voice of Labor
Apr 8, 2020



out of curiosity, when you were learning the pieces in your youth, how did you learn them if you didn't have a written score?

because if you got the ear training to be able to figure stuff out just by ear, the dexterity and the memory to play it well that doesn't seem like a bad thing.

Fruits of the sea
Dec 1, 2010


To be honest, sight-reading music can be kind of a crutch when learning an instrument. Technique, playing from memory and ability to improvise (This may not apply for you, depending on what you were taught) are all hugely important. Some of the most skilled musicians Iíve known were kinda poo poo at sight reading. Frankly, Iím actually kinda jealous, because while I was always able to sight-read just about anything very quickly, I sucked at playing live because I didnít focus enough on improvisation and playing from memory.


Youíre in a very strong position to start learning sight reading. Play to your strengths and see if you can learn some useful music theory.

Schweinhund
Oct 23, 2004

                                       


Just learn how to sight read if it bothers you so much instead of getting angry at every person in your life.

Jeza
Feb 13, 2011

The cries of the dead are terrible indeed; you should try not to hear them.


Fruits of the sea posted:

You’re in a very strong position to start learning sight reading. Play to your strengths and see if you can learn some useful music theory.

This. You didn't learn nothing, you're probably a very mechanically gifted player. There's no sense in spiting all your previous effort over this, nor blaming anyone.

Many Mainland Chinese (and other country) students go through this same mini-crisis. It's a stereotype but often a truism that Asian learning is extremely results over method orientated.

If you enjoy playing, honestly you can see this as a great opportunity. There's a whole new world to explore. Look forwards rather than backwards.

KYOON GRIFFEY JR
Apr 12, 2010




You can pick this up pretty easily. I also advocate for some basic music theory classes. You will be able to connect things in the music that you know how to play to the theory concepts you are learning, and theory will help you become a better sight reader.

Glass half full, not half empty. You can play the piano well! You just can't sight read.

Anne Whateley
Feb 11, 2007
i like nice words


Sightreading isn't a different skill. It's just reading music (which you can presumably do) but faster. It's not witchcraft. You can practice for a little while and then you'll probably be fine.

Fwiw, if you never heard of the concept of sightreading, there are probably a lot of other things you're missing. Working pianists can often play hundreds+ of songs without sheet music, play from a fake book, interpolate bits, make musical jokes, improv, and transpose on the fly (now that's witchcraft).

You learned a specific thing. You didn't learn everything there is to know about playing piano. That's fine. If you want to learn more, just get an adult piano teacher.

Anne Whateley
Feb 11, 2007
i like nice words


btw I should say I played/play the piano, probably ballpark around the same skill level as you. I can sightreading depending on difficulty but I'd always prefer time to prepare. However, because I sing, I spend time with a bunch of working piano players who can do all the stuff I mentioned. You know what? They feel bad because they gently caress up sometimes, or they don't play with enough expression, or they don't feel comfortable transposing on the fly, or basically just because they aren't Van Cliburn. There will always be more to learn and there's always someone who's better than you.

Zartosht
Jan 14, 2010

King of Kings Ozysandwich am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.




The Voice of Labor posted:

out of curiosity, when you were learning the pieces in your youth, how did you learn them if you didn't have a written score?

because if you got the ear training to be able to figure stuff out just by ear, the dexterity and the memory to play it well that doesn't seem like a bad thing.


"Sight reading" means playing an unfamiliar piece without prior practice, reading the music as you play it. It isn't necessary for learning a piece, or for anything really but showing off or getting good grades in music school. Plenty of great musicians are poo poo at sight reading, it's honestly not that important.

Then again I'm only a drummer so I may be full of poo poo.

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



The Voice of Labor posted:

out of curiosity, when you were learning the pieces in your youth, how did you learn them if you didn't have a written score?

because if you got the ear training to be able to figure stuff out just by ear, the dexterity and the memory to play it well that doesn't seem like a bad thing.

I can read sheet music and play individual hands relatively ok on first sight. But in order to combine two hands together and play smoothly, I have to practice for hours / days depends on the complexity of the piece.

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Thank you everyone for your advice. Now it's the next morning (I discovered this last night), I feel a bit better. Talking about phases of acceptance...

I am certain that I want to learn piano again at this point. Also music theory. Even though I still have the fear that i will be poo poo at it. But that's ok! I will not be going through any more grading tests at least. I just have to be able to enjoy the learning process and that's my only goal.

"Glass half full, not half empty." indeed!!!

I am also asking around and investigating (might be too big of a word for this) whether other Chinese kids have the same experience as me. So far, two people who learned piano in China near the same years as me also has NEVER heard of Sight Reading being a skill one should try to learn. I was also able to ask two kids who are learning piano today, one of them has heard of it but was not asked to learn it. The other one has achieved level 10 at middle school and has NEVER heard of it and was never asked to do anything similar too.

I know I am not gonna solve Chinese education by myself. But still I am bothered by it. My wife suggested that I should just learn Sight Reading, and then maybe I will be able to convince / influence some piano proteges in China that they should at least be aware of this skill. That's a long term goal!

Thanatosian
Apr 16, 2013

Angrier, Bitterer Man


Grimey Drawer

Zartosht posted:

"Sight reading" means playing an unfamiliar piece without prior practice, reading the music as you play it. It isn't necessary for learning a piece, or for anything really but showing off or getting good grades in music school. Plenty of great musicians are poo poo at sight reading, it's honestly not that important.

Then again I'm only a drummer so I may be full of poo poo.
How do you get a drummer to stop playing? Put a piece of music in front of them.

To OP: I'm not a piano player, but I played in middle/high school band, and sight reading was strongly emphasized. It gave me a good intuitive grasp of music, but mechanically I was kind of garbage. I think I'd much rather have the mechanics down like you do and have to learn sight reading than have the sight reading decent but have to build up the mechanics. Like, you have the muscle memory, you know how to do the reaches, you'll probably be playing at 95% of where you were before inside of a month. Take a music theory class at a local community college, learn the scales, maybe take a jazz piano class to learn some chord changes/improvisation (I did this in high school, too, it was a lot of fun).

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Thanatosian posted:

How do you get a drummer to stop playing? Put a piece of music in front of them.

To OP: I'm not a piano player, but I played in middle/high school band, and sight reading was strongly emphasized. It gave me a good intuitive grasp of music, but mechanically I was kind of garbage. I think I'd much rather have the mechanics down like you do and have to learn sight reading than have the sight reading decent but have to build up the mechanics. Like, you have the muscle memory, you know how to do the reaches, you'll probably be playing at 95% of where you were before inside of a month. Take a music theory class at a local community college, learn the scales, maybe take a jazz piano class to learn some chord changes/improvisation (I did this in high school, too, it was a lot of fun).

I bought a book for training sight reading and just general knowledge in classical piano and I am on day one. I realized that I can sight read Od to Joy which is the basics of the basics so YAY ME. I guess i am not as complete lovely at this as I thought. But I imagine as I continue I will face more difficulties.

I also looked around more and it's true that in other countries, being GREAT at sight reading is not a skill every piano player posses. But it was really that I had no idea it was a concept that shocked me.

Rollos
Aug 11, 2007


Kind of blows my mind that you could practice piano for that long and not be taught music theory. Honestly though the hardest part about learning to play an instrument is developing the mechanics and it sounds like you've already got enough. You'll be able to pick up the theory pretty easily and I bet a lot of stuff will start clicking for you pretty fast. Lucky for you there are tons of free resources on youtube and websites so get cracking.

An important question you should ask yourself is what do you want to get out of music? Do you want to be a virtuoso piano player or use the piano as a tool to create music? I think developing your sight reading is good so you can see at a glance the structure of a piece, but beyond that I don't think it's that useful unless you want to do gigs.

HIJK
Nov 25, 2012

People were stupid, sometimes. They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.


Even if you can't sight read right now you still gathered up a lot of skills. Being able to play the piano at all is a pretty cool achievement.

It sucks that sight reading wasn't taught to you or your peers but I must confess lots of musicians struggle with it despite their level of experience. I won a lot of competitions too - I still can't sight read

As a skill sight reading is incredibly difficult to teach so I can sort of understand why your teachers probably didn't think it was worth it if they were aware of it at all.

But here's the important bit: you know there's knowledge you can learn! And now you have the means to improve yourself. That's a good thing man

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Rollos posted:

Kind of blows my mind that you could practice piano for that long and not be taught music theory. Honestly though the hardest part about learning to play an instrument is developing the mechanics and it sounds like you've already got enough. You'll be able to pick up the theory pretty easily and I bet a lot of stuff will start clicking for you pretty fast. Lucky for you there are tons of free resources on youtube and websites so get cracking.

An important question you should ask yourself is what do you want to get out of music? Do you want to be a virtuoso piano player or use the piano as a tool to create music? I think developing your sight reading is good so you can see at a glance the structure of a piece, but beyond that I don't think it's that useful unless you want to do gigs.

Me too! I remembered that above level 8 of the Piano Grading Test, we had a written test of "music theory" to go along with the 3 songs we were supposed to perform. But it was a written test of 3 simple questions like "define a scale using one sentence", and my teachers just always knew exactly what we were getting tested on so we just had to memorize the answer and that's it.

I think at this point i just want to have fun with music. I have no idea what I can do besides practicing something for hours and then perform it After this though, I do think I am at a much better place than when I was 18 and having played piano for 13 years but really sort of hated it in a way back end.

Thank you for your advice! Get cracking I will!

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



HIJK posted:

Even if you can't sight read right now you still gathered up a lot of skills. Being able to play the piano at all is a pretty cool achievement.

It sucks that sight reading wasn't taught to you or your peers but I must confess lots of musicians struggle with it despite their level of experience. I won a lot of competitions too - I still can't sight read

As a skill sight reading is incredibly difficult to teach so I can sort of understand why your teachers probably didn't think it was worth it if they were aware of it at all.

But here's the important bit: you know there's knowledge you can learn! And now you have the means to improve yourself. That's a good thing man

Yeah, after a couple days, I am now no longer angry about it as there are many factors that could have contributed to this. I am however happy that I got to know about sight reading and looked it up and I feel like I can do something about it at least. Thank you for your encouraging words!

The Voice of Labor
Apr 8, 2020



If it helps, as a rank amateur synthesizer nerd, just having fun with a keyboard instrument can be as simple as either picking a scale or a mode or whatever and just playing around in it. the thing is that all harmony and melody is a matter of relative ratios between notes, on a keyboard that relationship is right there in front of your eyes and if you play, your fingers and your brain just kinda fall into where need to be to produce your 3rds and 4ths and 5ths, ect. and your heart or your sense of taste will inform you to which one you need to play next.

the musicians lounge subforum may look dead, but if you ever need technical, theoretical or practical advise it will be freely given and generally of pretty high quality.

Puppy Galaxy
Aug 1, 2004



Lipstick Apathy

Iíve played piano for most of my life. I started with Suzuki methods where you learn by ear and I cannot sight read for poo poo to this day. I also never progressed beyond ďpretty decentĒ but I have a good ear and Iím in a bunch of bands and gig 8 or so times a month (before Covid) and itís generally my favorite thing to do and itís sometimes profitable.

Sight reading is a skill I wish I had and it would have opened some more avenues for me but it doesnít really come up for me anymore. Iím just honest about it. I can read chord changes just fine so that helps in band settings.

Strep Vote
May 5, 2004



BORN TO VIBE
WORLD IS A VEIL
Heal Em All 2020
I am ego death
410,757,864,530 ORBS OF LIGHT



Biscuit Hider

feizhouxiongdi2 posted:

Yeah, after a couple days, I am now no longer angry about it as there are many factors that could have contributed to this. I am however happy that I got to know about sight reading and looked it up and I feel like I can do something about it at least. Thank you for your encouraging words!

Good! I've found that it takes most of a lifetime to really master and understand an art. You had an amazingly good technical foundation, now you can deepen your knowledge and reveal new aspects of music that previously were not available to you. I had a technical foundation for many things early, but it's only as I mature that I am able to take my crafts to new places. Embrace piano as the life long journey it can be, and never feel bad for putting it aside for a while or not doing it "right."

Abugadu
Jul 11, 2004

1st Sgt. Matthews and the men have Procured for me a cummerbund from a traveling gypsy, who screeched Victory shall come at a Terrible price. i am Honored.

I had a similar classical piano education pattern, from a Cuban teacher, almost identical as to the age you started/finished and the minutes practiced each day. I lingered a little longer, taking one or two college courses, but it was more for my own desire to play a little and get credit for it more than anything else.

I wasn't taught sight reading either, but my skills developed enough that I could scrape by and improve by the end of a first crack though a piece.

You know what I wasn't taught that I feel is a giant hole in my skills? Improvisation. I can't do the simplest of accompaniment to other instruments without sheet music and having practiced it first. The easiest chord changes trip me up. Never practiced them in the least.

Piano, and all instruments, have wide ranges of skills. I don't think you should feel cheated because you weren't taught all of them. Any given culture's teaching systems are going to emphasize what that culture wants out of its students. China, Japan, Russia, some of Europe, they all want the premier classical pianist. Parts of the US too, I suppose. And that meant dismissing parts of a broader education that didn't fit that goal, such as theory, sight reading, improvisation.

There are countless examples on both sides - there are famous musicians with tremendous skill who can't read music at all. Jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke was a funny example - there's a story about him trying out for a band, and he knew he would be asked to sight read a particular piece, so he asked a friend to play it for him quickly outside the test room. He then went inside and played the whole thing from memory.

But ultimately, critiques about music education aside, have fun with the piano. Learn the skills and the pieces that you want to learn. The traditional teaching methods will eventually die out on their own, or evolve. And trust me when I say that the skills you have are more useful in any future activities than you would think. Good luck!

Loden Taylor
Aug 11, 2003




Here's what you need to do to be able to sight read well:

    Learn all your scales, chords, and arpeggios: most of the music you'll be playing is tonal, and is going to stick to a few closely related keys. Most of your melodies will move stepwise, and the left hand will usually be chordal. If you know what your key center is in a given section, you're no longer thinking note-to-note; now you can just start thinking more in terms of "this portion is just a Bb major scale from F to C while the left hand is an F major arpeggio" and you can just autopilot through larger chunks of music.

    Start looking at the most common rhythms in music and internalize them: yes, there's no limit to the ways you can fill a measure with notes, but for practical purposes there are only so many rhythmic figures you're going to see, and a given genre of music is going to mostly stick with an even small subset of those. If you read enough music, you'll start noticing these figures returning again and again, and they run anywhere from a beat or two in length up to a bar or more. Once you know them by sight and have memorized what they'll sound like, you can just plug the pitches in without having to really count.

    Just sight read: at the end of the day, you get better at sight reading by practicing sight reading. Sit down and read a new piece of music top to bottom without stopping or going back. Before you start, take a minute or two to look through the piece. Look for the key changes, the time signature changes, the dynamics. Look at the shape of the melody; where it's scalar, where the leaps are. Look for any repeated patterns. Try to hear the piece in your head just by looking at it. Then set a metronome at a slow tempo, and read through it. Once you're done, go back and figure out all the sections you screwed up. Start with short, easy pieces, and move on to more difficult music as you get better.

The biggest benefit to getting decent at sight reading is that it'll save you a ton of time. If you're able to more or less get the gist of a piece on the first couple of reads, now your practice time can be spent on refining, rather than learning from scratch. Instead of spending a year mastering a piece, you'll have it down in a couple of months, or less. Plus, you can put more effort into interpretation and musicality, and developing your own particular musical voice, instead of just memorizing fingerings day in and day out.

Puppy Galaxy
Aug 1, 2004



Lipstick Apathy

Loden Taylor posted:

Here's what you need to do to be able to sight read well:

    Learn all your scales, chords, and arpeggios: most of the music you'll be playing is tonal, and is going to stick to a few closely related keys. Most of your melodies will move stepwise, and the left hand will usually be chordal. If you know what your key center is in a given section, you're no longer thinking note-to-note; now you can just start thinking more in terms of "this portion is just a Bb major scale from F to C while the left hand is an F major arpeggio" and you can just autopilot through larger chunks of music.

    Start looking at the most common rhythms in music and internalize them: yes, there's no limit to the ways you can fill a measure with notes, but for practical purposes there are only so many rhythmic figures you're going to see, and a given genre of music is going to mostly stick with an even small subset of those. If you read enough music, you'll start noticing these figures returning again and again, and they run anywhere from a beat or two in length up to a bar or more. Once you know them by sight and have memorized what they'll sound like, you can just plug the pitches in without having to really count.

    Just sight read: at the end of the day, you get better at sight reading by practicing sight reading. Sit down and read a new piece of music top to bottom without stopping or going back. Before you start, take a minute or two to look through the piece. Look for the key changes, the time signature changes, the dynamics. Look at the shape of the melody; where it's scalar, where the leaps are. Look for any repeated patterns. Try to hear the piece in your head just by looking at it. Then set a metronome at a slow tempo, and read through it. Once you're done, go back and figure out all the sections you screwed up. Start with short, easy pieces, and move on to more difficult music as you get better.

The biggest benefit to getting decent at sight reading is that it'll save you a ton of time. If you're able to more or less get the gist of a piece on the first couple of reads, now your practice time can be spent on refining, rather than learning from scratch. Instead of spending a year mastering a piece, you'll have it down in a couple of months, or less. Plus, you can put more effort into interpretation and musicality, and developing your own particular musical voice, instead of just memorizing fingerings day in and day out.

This is all really good advice.

Iíll add that I, as a decently experienced pianist with a well developed ear and an adequate(-) understanding of theory, find it out extremely difficult to sight read almost anything, to the extent that I feel functionally illiterate. Iíve never dedicated significant time to it but it is extremely frustrating when I do try and sit down to work at it because learning a tune by ear is so much faster and feels like a rewarding challenge instead of a slog. So if you decide to make a priority just know that that frustration is common and it will dissipate over time.

I will say that if your goal is not classical music you can get by with solid chops, a general understanding of music theory (ie know how to read and play changes), and a great ear. No one needs an understanding of music theory or the ability to sight read to be a great musician, but spending time working on those things will be very rewarding.

bewbies
Sep 23, 2003



Fun Shoe

It is kind of strange reading this thread...I guess I'd never considered that all of the brilliant technical players I've always been so in awe of might be limited like this.

My piano background is pretty much the exact opposite. I took normal classical-type lessons as a kid, got burned out, then started playing pretty much exclusively rock/jazz in my teens, as I discovered bands always need a piano guy. I cannot remember the last time I actually read sheet music...I only read charts or chord progressions, or nothing if the song is relatively easy to follow. My limitations are technical -- I never bothered developing any serious technique as it wasn't very highly rated in my world, plus I was singing a lot of the time and I'm hardly Elton John when it comes to doing both at the same time.

If I was choosing a starting point -- either me now, or the OP and other well-trained pianists -- I'd absolutely swap places with you all. I feel like learning to sight read or improv on a keyboard is something you can learn relatively quickly (especially in a group of good musicians) but developing world class technical ability takes WORK and TALENT in a way hammering out chord progressions doesn't. Your technique will serve you well as you get better at the improv side of things, and pretty soon you'll pass me up as someone who can actually play crazy jazz licks and whatnot that are all way out of my wheelhouse.

In addition to the other good advice thus far in the thread, I really recommend just playing along with music you like as a practice technique. Put on a playlist, and just...play along. If you need to look at a chord chart, take a look, but learning to just hear chords and progressions is a really valuable skill.

A Small Car
Aug 24, 2016



I have nothing earth shattering to add to this, but I would like to point out that every time you learned a piece, your first time through WAS sightreading. It doesn't matter if you looked over the piece beforehand, stopped in the middle to correct a passage, etc., it was still sightreading. So while it may not be a skill you've developed to a great extent, it is still a skill you possess in some measure. Loden Taylor's advice is excellent, and all I'd really add to that is to try and find a book of simple pieces that come from pop tunes or the like. Knowing the melody already will make things easier initially and probably keep you from getting so frustrated when you're just starting out. It's pretty rare as a musician to genuinely have to sit down and just perform a piece without ever having looked it over before, but it does occasionally happen, and it's a useful skill to have.

Agent355
Jul 26, 2011




I can't speak on piano but I'm basically the reverse case where I can sight read guitar extremely well but I don't practice any one piece to mastery so I end up with an extremely broad library of pieces I can play but nothing as impressive as what you might see an expert perform.

I don't think either method is inherently wrong.

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.


"How could I not think about this for 13 years (and many more after when I was not active playing) and realizing that my piano eduction did not make sense. All I did was really just mastering 12 songs over the time of 13 years (i did the Piano grading tests 4 times, jumping grades in between. 3 songs for every grade, 3*4=12). And after a decade, I don't remember those songs anyways."


I feel like this statement is characteristic of education in the PRC as a whole, honestly.

Don't feel ashamed about anything- be proud that you're directing your own learning process and that you have intellectual curiosity. That's not something I can say about most of the hundreds of kids I taught in mainland China, not because they weren't capable, but because they just didn't know how and saw no value in the idea.

Rhombic Drive
Apr 15, 2007



Sight reading is a nice skill to have, and while it can be essential for some types of musicians, in other types of music it's not useful or even necessarily desirable. Sometimes it's not even worth learning music from written scores at all in aurally-transmitted music traditions, as the "feeling", individuality, improvisational aspects (ornamentation, etc.) aren't something that are really captured in that medium. They come into play when you are really familiar with a piece of music. Obviously this matters more or less depending on the context of what and why you're playing.

Maybe one day I will try to develop sight reading skills, but I prefer just focusing on making my playing sound how I want it to sound. I can't even read music that well. But I have an easier time learning by ear (after practicing and pretty much only learning that way) than many trained classical musicians who branch out into the type of traditional music I play, who use the "dots" as a crutch, and it gets in the way of musical development. If you think learning sight reading will be fun, then go for it. If not, just play music in whatever way maximizes your enjoyment and fulfillment.

owlhawk911
Nov 8, 2019


music make u lose control

Xun
Apr 25, 2010

Help I can't get up I'm Gay


Hey! I'm Chinese American and had a pretty similar experience as you. My lessons never covered sight reading and instead focused on just drilling songs untill I got it down. I did this for most of my childhood untill I quit in high school. A few years later I decided to take some lessons at my uni to fill in some credit hours and ran into the same shock. I was technically proficient at like, scales and playing technique but I had no idea wtf this sight reading or even basic music theory was.

Good news is, my knowledge in technique and being able to even read music still transfers over to learning theory and sight reading! Yeah I started with some really shameful simple stuff but I was learning and getting things down much, much faster than newbies. I don't think you'll have as much trouble as you fear, especially if you have the discipline to drill through excersizes.

Sadly I don't have access to a piano anymore so I can't say more than that, but good luck picking things up again! I didn't manage to get good at sight reading but somehow the theory lessons stuck more and sometimes I can come up with random little melodies that sound nice. Definitely couldn't do that before!

poolside toaster
Jul 12, 2008


I'm a professional musician and my skill at sight reading has paid lots and lots of bills. It definitely gets me a lot of gigs, especially if there's only one (or NO) rehearsal. The ability to jump in and get 95%+ of the notes, rhythms, etc. right the first time earns you clout with contractors and makes it much more likely for you to get hired again - either by that contractor, or your fellow musicians, who may contract as well.

Sight reading is just another technical skill to learn. Don't worry, it's very easy to get better: just start sight reading. Go to the public library, check out a dozen song books or scores, and just plow through them. Turn them back in and get more; rinse, and repeat. Even if you have to start by plunking through kid's easy piano works for one or two hands, just do it! Do it every day. When I was teaching privately, I would play along with my students and honed my ability to transpose at sight by playing in a different key/at a different interval than the student.

As a teaching method, the Suzuki-type schooling is really only highly effective if you want "results" on well-known overplayed pieces. A lot of singers are like this, too... in many areas they don't learn to read music at all.

I've noticed that the (classical) musicians with the poorest sight reading skills are usually:
  • Pianists
  • Classical strings (violin, viola, etc.)
  • Guitarists
  • Percussionists

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Fleta Mcgurn posted:

"How could I not think about this for 13 years (and many more after when I was not active playing) and realizing that my piano eduction did not make sense. All I did was really just mastering 12 songs over the time of 13 years (i did the Piano grading tests 4 times, jumping grades in between. 3 songs for every grade, 3*4=12). And after a decade, I don't remember those songs anyways."


I feel like this statement is characteristic of education in the PRC as a whole, honestly.

Don't feel ashamed about anything- be proud that you're directing your own learning process and that you have intellectual curiosity. That's not something I can say about most of the hundreds of kids I taught in mainland China, not because they weren't capable, but because they just didn't know how and saw no value in the idea.

That's how I felt too! That this was more than what my piano education was about. The idea of an authentic experience and to learn not just for the sake of tests is largely overlooked in the Chinese Education system, even today. Thank you for your kind words!

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Xun posted:

Hey! I'm Chinese American and had a pretty similar experience as you. My lessons never covered sight reading and instead focused on just drilling songs untill I got it down. I did this for most of my childhood untill I quit in high school. A few years later I decided to take some lessons at my uni to fill in some credit hours and ran into the same shock. I was technically proficient at like, scales and playing technique but I had no idea wtf this sight reading or even basic music theory was.

Good news is, my knowledge in technique and being able to even read music still transfers over to learning theory and sight reading! Yeah I started with some really shameful simple stuff but I was learning and getting things down much, much faster than newbies. I don't think you'll have as much trouble as you fear, especially if you have the discipline to drill through excersizes.

Sadly I don't have access to a piano anymore so I can't say more than that, but good luck picking things up again! I didn't manage to get good at sight reading but somehow the theory lessons stuck more and sometimes I can come up with random little melodies that sound nice. Definitely couldn't do that before!

This makes me feel sane. Thank you!! As I have played more in the past few month, I do feel like the 13 years was not all wasted and I am definitely having an easier time than if I am starting to sight read without any prior piano skills at all. I started with shameful simple stuff too. About having access to a piano - I started again first on a 66 key Casio keyboard that probably is worth $50 today lol, and then I bit the bullet and bought a good yamaha keyboard. I would say if you ever want to practice again, a keyboard is a much more accessible choice than an actual piano and for a few hundred dollars you really get a lot for your buck! Good luck!

feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



poolside toaster posted:

I'm a professional musician and my skill at sight reading has paid lots and lots of bills. It definitely gets me a lot of gigs, especially if there's only one (or NO) rehearsal. The ability to jump in and get 95%+ of the notes, rhythms, etc. right the first time earns you clout with contractors and makes it much more likely for you to get hired again - either by that contractor, or your fellow musicians, who may contract as well.

Sight reading is just another technical skill to learn. Don't worry, it's very easy to get better: just start sight reading. Go to the public library, check out a dozen song books or scores, and just plow through them. Turn them back in and get more; rinse, and repeat. Even if you have to start by plunking through kid's easy piano works for one or two hands, just do it! Do it every day. When I was teaching privately, I would play along with my students and honed my ability to transpose at sight by playing in a different key/at a different interval than the student.

As a teaching method, the Suzuki-type schooling is really only highly effective if you want "results" on well-known overplayed pieces. A lot of singers are like this, too... in many areas they don't learn to read music at all.

I've noticed that the (classical) musicians with the poorest sight reading skills are usually:
  • Pianists
  • Classical strings (violin, viola, etc.)
  • Guitarists
  • Percussionists

I actually started buying sheets and found all of my old classic piano sheets from when I was little. I did not think of checking them out from the library!! (Another thing that was new to me after I've moved to America was that the public libraries in the states is such a great and accessible resource.) Will check that out FOR SURE now! Thank you for your kind words

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feizhouxiongdi2
Oct 9, 2019



Loden Taylor posted:

Here's what you need to do to be able to sight read well:

    Learn all your scales, chords, and arpeggios: most of the music you'll be playing is tonal, and is going to stick to a few closely related keys. Most of your melodies will move stepwise, and the left hand will usually be chordal. If you know what your key center is in a given section, you're no longer thinking note-to-note; now you can just start thinking more in terms of "this portion is just a Bb major scale from F to C while the left hand is an F major arpeggio" and you can just autopilot through larger chunks of music.

    Start looking at the most common rhythms in music and internalize them: yes, there's no limit to the ways you can fill a measure with notes, but for practical purposes there are only so many rhythmic figures you're going to see, and a given genre of music is going to mostly stick with an even small subset of those. If you read enough music, you'll start noticing these figures returning again and again, and they run anywhere from a beat or two in length up to a bar or more. Once you know them by sight and have memorized what they'll sound like, you can just plug the pitches in without having to really count.

    Just sight read: at the end of the day, you get better at sight reading by practicing sight reading. Sit down and read a new piece of music top to bottom without stopping or going back. Before you start, take a minute or two to look through the piece. Look for the key changes, the time signature changes, the dynamics. Look at the shape of the melody; where it's scalar, where the leaps are. Look for any repeated patterns. Try to hear the piece in your head just by looking at it. Then set a metronome at a slow tempo, and read through it. Once you're done, go back and figure out all the sections you screwed up. Start with short, easy pieces, and move on to more difficult music as you get better.

The biggest benefit to getting decent at sight reading is that it'll save you a ton of time. If you're able to more or less get the gist of a piece on the first couple of reads, now your practice time can be spent on refining, rather than learning from scratch. Instead of spending a year mastering a piece, you'll have it down in a couple of months, or less. Plus, you can put more effort into interpretation and musicality, and developing your own particular musical voice, instead of just memorizing fingerings day in and day out.

Thank you so much! Very useful advice. About this one Start looking at the most common rhythms in music and internalize them - after I've started to sight read in the past few month, I definitely realize that I am much faster at sight reading simple classic pieces (Sonatinas. etc) than reading pop music sheets at the same (or even lower) complexity level. It's a lot quicker for me to notice patterns and rhythms in classic music in general than any other forms (I even bought a Jazz & Rug sheet book and it was NOT EASY for me). So this advice makes a lot of sense to me.

Thank you again!

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