Software suggestion - Sight reading drills for a late beginner

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby 98-1151209723 » Sun Jun 25, 2006 7:54 pm

I'm a late beginner (22 years old), but I'm trying to learn as FAST as I can. I'm absolutely obsessed with music theory and composition and am always making music on Finale. But most of my work I can't even play, and I realize that mastering the piano will give me invaluable insight into writing music. So anyway, now that I have bored you with my background: I know that I have nimble fingers, and good technique, I just really want to focus on mastering sight reading. I am hoping that there is a software program where you can connect a keyboard to a PC and do sight reading drills. I envision it as being almost like 'learn to type' software, where you are just given a string of randomly generated notes to play along to, which get progressively harder as you pass them. I know you are probably thinking 'that is exactly what you do with a lesson book!', but the thing is, when I mess up on a book lesson, I go back and fumble around with it a few times until I think I have it down, and at that point memorization has already started to set in. I realize memorization is not a bad thing, but I want a tool to absolutely focus all my energy into sight reading ability. So in the software when I mess up I just keep going and receive a lower score at the end, and maybe it forces me to do another randomly generated string of equal difficulty until I am reading them right. Anyway, thanks for listening, hopefully you know of something which matches close enough to my idea, or maybe something else that you think will help me.
-Brian
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jun 26, 2006 5:59 pm

Hi Brimby, and welcome to the Message Board--we hope you'll stay with us.

Please click on 'Reviews' in the list provided on this page. While most of the software is not exclusively geared to sight reading, the short summaries can give you a good idea of what's available, and most programs offer free demos.

For sight reading, though, why don't you do it at the piano? There are many excellent books available for this: I would recommend "Beginning Piano for Adults" by James Bastien. It's written for functional piano classes but can be used individually just as well. The way to learn to sight read is to sight read! And please don't make the mistake of thinking you have to mentally conjure up letter names as you read--that will only slow you down. Practice training your eyes to take in patterns that transfer directly to the keyboard.

Dr. Bill Leland.
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Postby Stretto » Mon Jun 26, 2006 7:29 pm

Well, here's something I stumbled across by accident right after I had read your post so that was good timing. It's in the practicespot.com website. There is a wealth of tips, etc. on the site on practicing as well.

- (see at the end of my post for the link as the link didn't work here when I first put it in)

It looks like what you're looking for although I haven't tried it myself or know of anyone that has so no guarantees on my part of how well it would help.

Have you tried just doing a web search on "sight-reading for piano" or something similar. I always forget to try this route and have discovered a wealth of information and resources if I just type in a few words of what I'm looking for on a search.

What I like to do for sight-reading is get a book or a few books of fun tunes I like at a level that is too easy for me and then just open up the book and go page by page or pick and choose favorite tunes and just go through and play one once, flip to the next page, play one, etc. and not worry if I miss a wrong note here and there or go back and fix mistakes. It's fun and rewarding, just opening up a book and playing through the tunes without practice. Just pick some books of tunes that look easy to just play without working at them and that look appealing to you. If you're thinking in terms of beginner music, try the Faber and Faber series, there are a lot of different supplemental books from pop, to jazz, to classical, to famous tunes, rock, from primer on up and I think they are decent sounding even at primer level and level 1. Also Bastien has some decent sounding supplemental books, Favorite Melodies the World Over in level 1 and 2, Favorite Classic Melodies in primer to level 4 books, Stephen Foster Favorites. Alfred's has a new series out that looks neat called, "Famous and Fun". They also have their supplemental books of Pop Hits as well as some others. With any book, I would get a book at least one level below what you would normally have to practice to play.

I have a Disney book , Famous Melody book, Children's Songs,
simple praise and worship songs, etc. When I am just in the mood the play for fun without much effort, I just go through these books and pick and choose whatever strikes me at the time, just play through each one once or twice no matter how crumby I do and move on to the next. If one picks easy enough pieces than you should be able to play them without a whole lot of missed notes.

Here's the working link I mentioned at the beginning of my post:

www.practicespot.com/sight-reading genie




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Postby Stretto » Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:43 pm

p.s. You said you really like music theory and composition. I really have more of an interest in these 2 aspects of music over playing the piano and look forward to any discussions you might want to bring up on the subjects of music theory and composition although don't know how helpful I can be on the subjects but interested in reading about what others are doing on composing and interested in topics related to theory nevertheless.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Jun 28, 2006 2:39 pm

Agree 100% on reading music at an easier level, Stretto, - try to have my students do it at every lesson. Encourage them to do it every day at home.....but. I tell them to just play though and go on. Duets are a good way to get extra reading in too.

I also, Dr. Bill, would seriously suggest using the piano not using software for better reading. There is no better way than to play! (Didn't plan the rhyme.)


:D
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:38 pm

"There is no better way than to play!"
Your lyrics have just made my day.
When technique is done
Sight reading is fun,
So try it! What more can I say?
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby Beckywy » Wed Jun 28, 2006 8:42 pm

I sightread everyweek on the weekends and the music that's put in front of me to play for the choir and singers are usually the advance level - and I perform these pieces on stage without any prep.

Good sightreading is knowing which notes to omit.
Keys to good sightreading on the spot:
1. know your key signatures by heart without thinking.
2. know your circle of 5ths by heart backwards. Music tends to rotate around it.
3. make sure you have a great handle on Triads and Dominant chords. A lot of music is built on them.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Jun 28, 2006 9:13 pm

No offense, Dr. Bill, but maybe you ought to leave poetry and continue with your music.
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Postby Stretto » Thu Jun 29, 2006 7:11 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:"There is no better way than to play!"
Your lyrics have just made my day.
When technique is done
Sight reading is fun,
So try it! What more can I say?

:laugh: I thought the poem was pretty good! Only I would have liked to hear it also put to song!


Beckywy, I appreciated your insightful tips!
The teacher I recently started with plays for church and said one of the first things they asked when she was wanting the job was, "can you sight-read?".




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Postby 98-1151209723 » Thu Jun 29, 2006 7:44 pm

Thanks for all the helpful tips everybody. I've been out of town or else I would have replied earlier. Practicing easier songs which I have never seen is a good one. It is hard for me to believe no one has made learning software which utilizes connecting your keyboard to your PC through USB... I guess that might be too complicated for most people. Thanks for letting me know it is okay not to connect notes to the letter names instantly while playing, Dr. Leland. I've never been sure if that is important, but have always been concerned with the fact that I have a hard time doing it. Before last fall semester (fall 05) I couldn't have even told you where middle C was, or any other note for that matter, so I still struggle with the fact that I don't have music relationships intimately wired into my brain like people who started young do. But I do try really hard to think about WHERE my fingers are on the keyboard at all times, as to be quick to know where to move next. I've still got a lot more to say, maybe I should make a new topic, but I guess I'm already here. My girlfriend and basically all my friends hate hearing me talk about music, so you guys get to here all my ramblings instead. So here is more of my story: I am a college student, and a chemistry major. But slowly I've discovered that I hate chemistry, and as you know, love music. I feel like I need to graduate with my chem degree considering I only have 2 semesters left. Do you think it would be possible for me to get into music graduate school with a bachelor's in chemistry if I can learn the piano fast enough in the next year? Maybe I should learn an easier instrument also, since I would probably have to give an audition and I don't have much time left? Or would I even have to give a performance audition if my focus was composition? Thanks - Brian
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Jul 02, 2006 6:48 pm

Dear Brian:

You don't say what school you attend, but any accredited graduate music degree program can only be entered with a core of basic music requirements, such as two years of theory, ear training, some music literature, ensemble (chorus, band or orchestra), music history, form and analysis, etc., and a lot of applied piano credits. Some programs will let you test out of certain courses--for instance if you have a good ear you might be able to skip ear training--or waive a few requirements; or they might let you start graduate study while at the same time making up undergrad credits. But a degree in chemistry won't cut it except for the basic non-major classes that all university students have to take.

You need to go to the music office and discuss your plans with an advisor, and the sooner the better. Maybe you can get started during summer session.

Dr. Bill L.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Jul 02, 2006 7:54 pm

Why a graduate degree? What about a Bachelor's in Music? I would definitely finish off the chemistry degree, however.

In the meantime of making decisions on a music degree, I would advise getting yourself a really good piano teacher, one really knowledgable in teaching technique and expect to pay for the quality of teaching. You need to get a really good teacher to help you reach your goal of getting into a music program. Perhaps ask in the music office for references of a good private piano teacher. Can you play any other instruments. Have you looked up the course listing for the various music degrees offered, for example, where I went to school one could get a bachelor's in performance, composition, music education, and now they offer pedagogy. Some schools offer music therapy degrees. So you might look at the differences in course work required for the different concentrations offered. Also it's been a long time ago, but where I went, the music dept. had a Music Major Handbook that I wasn't even aware of until I started explaining a lot of the requirements and what was expected so you might check into that also. Everything has probably changed a lot I'm sure.

I jumped into a music degree program thinking all a person had to do was show you could sight-read music half-way decent and was totally unaware of the requirement that one had to get to a certain level of performance to graduate. I also actually wanted to go for a composition degree because that is what I really loved over playing the piano but the composition professor I talked to said a lot of people who don't play well always want to go the composition route, so he had me pegged as "another one of those" (although that was what I really wanted). I chose not to go that route for other reasons, however. But if you are really good at composing than maybe you have a better shot at that. Or a major in music education, you could teach. Even a composition major or a music education major, or other non-performance degree required a certain level of performance in order to graduate. If I knew what was expected ahead, I would have been a lot more prepared at least in the way of how well I could play the piano by having a really good teacher help prepare me technically and also have brushed up on basic theory as well.


Do you play any other instruments?




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Jul 02, 2006 8:38 pm

And just a short note to add to Stretto's excellent ideas: a university Music Education degree has the purpose of preparing people to teach in the public schools, and includes the state requirements in general education for any education major, regardless of major. If you're interested in private studio teaching, the best bet is to look for a Piano Pedagogy program.

B. L.
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Postby 98-1151209723 » Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:43 am

I was definitely planning on doing the 2 years of theory, I just finished second semester. Sounds like I will basically need a music minor by the sounds of those requirements, though. Right now I don't have a teacher, I don't really have much money. I tell myself that a teacher will just tell me to practice pieces over and over, which is what I do anyway, but deep down inside I know that a good teacher would boost my skills a lot. I study at Sonoma State University, which is a state school in California. I was timid about approaching my theory teacher Dr. Brian Wilson with my ideas for a long time, because that is how I am, but I finally did the last week of class. I'm not really sure what he thinks of me, I think he was pretty surprised by my unique situation. But I was one of the best students in the class and I think he would try his best to support me in what I try to do. He didn't provide me with much help at the time, however. Understandably, it was the last week of school, and he was preparing to travel to Greece, so he was pretty busy. The only other instrument I can play is the guitar. I have played guitar for quite a while, but I never learned to read music, I would just read tabs and play popular songs. Even now that I can read music, it would take me a while to translate it over to the guitar, I would imagine, but I haven't picked up my guitar in months. This is what I do every day: play piano, (I have a 'best beethoven sonatas' book which I'm pushing my way through moonlight sonata, an alfred's 'introduction to mozart' book, an alfred's 'adult all-in-one book 2', and a book with the music from final fantasy VI, which is a video game). I also read my text book from my theory class and take notes. The book covers all 2 years of theory in a choral format. It is called Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell and Schachter. At this point I feel like I have learned theory 3 and 4 on my own already this summer. And the last thing I do everyday is write music. Nothing makes me happier than writing a smooth modulation or incorporating a beautiful mixture. Something that I wish I was doing as well is analysing famous music. I haven't looked for any, so I don't know if many exist, but I would love to read books which pick apart pieces of music and show how and why they work. My music textbook analyzes parts of songs, but I'd like to see how the whole work functions. I just started analyzing Moonlight Sonata on my own today, and that was pretty easy as far as I got through it, but reading a book would make the process go far quicker, especially with more complicated pieces. So, I guess the last thing I have to talk about, since you were both talking a lot about degree concentrations (education, performance, comp ect), is what I wish to do with my musical education when I obtain it. Theory is what made me love music. I can write music all day long until my eyes are blurry. Therefore, I want to write music as a career. I would love to make music for media (movies, games, tv etc). I want to be able to set moods and create feelings. If I was a music teacher, I could still write music on the side, but I would feel like I needed to share it with people for it to be important. I realize my dream is a long shot, I am a realistic person. But this is something that I really want to make happen, so thanks again for all the advice. I really felt like I was floundering before you guys gave me support here.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Jul 03, 2006 7:42 pm

Brimby-

With your love and passion for music and composing, go for it! Anything is possible.

Joan
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