It seems there are a lot of discussions about the value and the nature of sight-reading these days. That's great! I really believe that over time it can empower you to surpass your current expectations of what you are capable of.
I'm very proud of the achievements of each and every subscriber and student of mine who share their experiences with me. And this is just the beginning. If you continue this practice, miracles WILL happen to your technique, music theory skills, and general musicianship.
Last night we had a practice with our organ studio Unda Maris. At the end of practice, I told my students about these daily sigh-reading pieces I include in my English articles. So I explained what would be the benefits of sight-reading just 5 minutes a day for 30 days! They made a pact to try this experiment for 30 days.
They all agreed that 5 minutes is something almost anybody can commit to. We'll see...
Shall you join too sight-reading from your hymnal or from my selections in a methodical manner that I teach here?
I don't think you need to wait for New Year's resolution to start this practice. Just start it now. By the end of the year, the experiment will be over and you will have formed a new important habit of sight-reading.
Only 5 minutes (15 minutes maximum if you see that you have more time that day)!
Drip, drip, drip like water on the stone over time...
Thanks to Franco sent me a link to the article about the scientific analysis of sight-reading. If you ever were curious about whether the success in sight-reading depends on your innate talents or is it a skill which can be acquired with practice, I strongly recommend it. In this article you will also find out fascinating data of what related and unrelated abilities help to develop great sight-reading skills.
Movement 3: Allegro (p. 9) from the Trio Sonata No. 1 in Eb major, BWV 525 by J.S. Bach
Dinko, one of my subscribers yesterday sent a question concerning sight-reading. He writes that he is new at learning to play organ, it is just one year that he has started learning how to play keyboard instrument at all.
For him the most frustrating thing is that he's able to learn to play hymns in all 4 voices but he's not able to follow it in the score while playing. He memorizes the music and plays without looking at the sheet. Dinko is working on sight-reading 371 chorale harmonizations by J.S.Bach and started "reading" it like a book when commuting to and from the work. He noticed some improvements in reading a single voice, but reading all 4 is still extremely hard to him.
If any of my subscribers are frustrated like Dinko in learning how to sight-read hymns, here's is my advice:
You need to stick to your 371 chorales for a while (or your hymnal, or my daily sight-reading selections). But first practice just one voice. Do this until it's easy. Maybe for 100 or so chorales. Then come back to the beginning and play another voice and so on until every voice will be played.
Then practice all two-part combinations as well as three-part combinations and only then all parts together. If you do this for 100 chorales in each of the 15 steps, I have no doubt you will succeed in being able to sight-read any hymn you want (perhaps even more).
Another thing which would help you simultaneously is beginning to learn some chords and harmony and start looking for them in the scores. This way you will start to understand what you play.
It's like reading books in another language - you can easily learn to read books and pronounce words, phrases, and sentences in a foreign language but if you don't know what each word means, then you can't really appreciate the full impact of the book.
The same is with music - scales, intervals and chords are part of the musical language in which composers and performers communicate.
Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to look at the fingers and at the keys. Look only at the score. Don't lift the fingers off the keyboard and keep the contact with the keys at all times.
If you will play extremely slowly, it will actually be quite enjoyable. The tempo will take care of itself later on when you are ready to play a little faster.
By the way, you can do what Dinko does - read the music without touching a keyboard. Just look at the score and try to hear the music in your mind. This really helps a lot. This is called mental practice.
It's similar to what basketball players do when they visualize the ball and the basket and how they throw the ball and how the ball hits the basket without touching the ball. According to one experiment, this practice (one hour a day daily for a month) produces 22 % of improvement in a month (as opposed to physically throwing the ball which gets them 25 % of improvement). Incredible, isn't it? Just 3 % difference! I find it quite inspiring...
How do you learn to sight-read on the organ? Is the process for you as frustrating as for Dinko? Are my daily sight-reading selections helpful to you? I would love to hear your story.
Praeludiums Nos. 1-7 (p. 2-3) by Johannes Barend Litzau (1822-1893), a Romantic Dutch organist and composer.
If you'll read one book, you won't see much of a change in yourself. But if you'll read 100 books, you'll become a different person altogether.
The same is true with sight-reading at the organ. One collection wouldn't make much of a difference in your skills but 100 most certainly would.
When you read a book, you definitely want to be able to understand what the book is about. Just reading the text and not following the story would be silly, wouldn't it?
"How do I figure out the meaning of the music that I play?" is an important question to ask.
There is a common problem many organists face when playing from three-stave notation - that's moving with their eyes from the end of one stave to the beginning of the next stave. Usually the people who experience this problem have quite limited sight-reading abilities.
I have observed the same trait in the playing of some of my students. The people who get mixed-up usually don't have a lot of experience of playing fluently from the unfamiliar score and/or their music theory skills are very limited.
It's like when you read a book in a foreign language where don't know the meaning of the words, it's easy to skip a line or two all of a sudden. However, this usually doesn't happen when you read a book in your native language.
Please note that I'm not talking about the cases when people have special vision conditions - just usual situation when you can't find the right stave quickly and easily when playing organ music.
If you are experiencing similar problems when jumping from one stave to another, this video might be helpful for you to watch.
Although I have written quite a bit about sight-reading in the past, created my most popular coaching program to master this vital skill where more than 50 students have benefited from it so far, but because lots of people have asked me to give them some additional advice on sight-reading lately, I decided to talk about it today.
Another reason for sharing this video with you today is that one of the greatest weaknesses in the vast majority of my students of any kind (ear training, organ, piano) is their inability to read music well. Because of this they get discouraged to pursue music studies or ear training classes start to become too difficult, writing dictations becomes too hard etc. They could attempt so much more in music and they could have so much bigger dreams if they only practiced-sight-reading regularly.
There is an amazing correlation between the value of regular reading of books to the development of the person and the value of sight-reading music pieces to the development of the complete musician. Maybe one or two books won't do the miracle for you yet, but read 100 books and you will become completely different person. The same is with music sight-reading.
I discovered in my students, that whenever they learn sight-reading systematically, their progress is much faster. And I can testify this myself - whenever I regularly sight-read unfamiliar organ pieces, my ability to read new music is much greater and I can prepare for organ recitals much faster that normal.
That's why having excellent sight-reading skills is so important to have because you can simply read your music during the recital. No, you don't have to really open the unfamiliar organ score at the time of your recital or performance in public, such as church service (unless you are up to this challenge), but the time required to prepare this music can be reduced to weeks and days, instead of months and years. So here is how it works.
A couple of days ago one of my students in my Organ Sight-Reading Master Course asked me a question about the frustrating situation he is in. I thought I would share it with you because perhaps more people are facing the same challenges similar to this student.
The thing is he is starting to practice two-voice exercises and is finding that he is making many more mistakes than in single voice exercises. So he is wondering if he is doing something wrong.
I wrote to him that he needs an extremely slow tempo when doing these two-part exercises because the texture is begining to look much more polyphonic. Normally people understand the necessity of the slow practice and start my course really slow which is a good thing.
As the single voice exercises progress, often they are starting to feel that they are advancing their skills and so they make very few mistakes. So after some weeks into this course they can sight-read one voice melody fairly well.
And then two-part exercises begin to appear and it becomes really hard for some of my students. I think that many of them even didn't notice their tremendous progress and they naturally began to play a little faster with single voice exercises.
And so they started two-part exercises with the same mindset and tempo which is obviously too fast. So the only thing they need to do in order for the exercises to begin to feel quite easy again is to slow down the tempo so much that they could play the exercises rhythmically and melodically correct. This means extremely slow but rhythmically stable practice.
If you ever encounter such difficulties when learning to sight-read on the organ, try to apply this tip and you might be surprised and how easy the exercise or the piece might become for you.
Church organists very often have to provide organ accompaniments to choir pieces and anthems every week. In other words, the organist has to be able to sight-read an unfamiliar organ score really well and to do it fluently during the public performance such as church service.
In order to be able to play organ accompaniments every week without stress and anxiety, you have to be able to sight-read really well so my first recommendation is to develop your organ sight-reading skills. The best way to achieve fluency in sight-reading is to practice playing new pieces regularly.
However, remember that you have to be systematic about sight-reading. Otherwise this practice will not work and you will not develop the skills that you need to play organ accompaniments easily.
Take a collection of organ music that you love and start playing one page a day. Don't play all the parts and voices right away because most likely that will be too difficult for you. What you have to do is to try to play just one single line and do this for the entire collection for a few weeks.
When this will become easy, go back to the beginning of this collection and start playing another line or part. So little by little you will be able to play the entire organ collection by playing just one line.
The next step would be to play two parts or voices at the time and later three voices and finally the entire four-part texture. Remember to proceed to the next step only when the previous step will become easy.
Do this in your every-day practice for 15 minutes a day and in short nine months you will easily achieve the level when you can play any organ accompaniment during your church service fluently and without stress.
Sight-reading is a very important skill any organist must develop because it helps you to play an unfamiliar organ music with fluency and ease. Some people believe that this skill is difficult to develop and only geniuses would succeed in playing new pieces fluently. In this article, I will share with you some tips which will help you to understand that systematic approach to sight-reading is possible and it provides wonderful results.
My first recommendation for you is to find an organ collection that you like and start playing it one page a day. However, do not attempt to play the entire for-part texture with hands and feet combined right away.
The best way to go about practicing sight-reading is to play solo parts first. This means playing the soprano part separately, the alto part, the tenor and finally the bass part separately in the entire collection.
After you do that, go back at the beginning of the collection and start practicing two-voice combinations. Make sure you are covering every single one of them without missing any of these steps. Every step and combination is just a little bit more difficult than the previous one and leads to the next step.
The following step would be to practice three-voice combinations from the beginning of the collection. Again, try not to skip any combination of three voices and aim for your playing to be fluent and free of mistakes.
This may mean that your practice tempo should be much slower than the concert tempo. This systematic step-by-step approach allows you to progressively advance in sight-reading and be able to play with four parts together later on.
By the way, you can make an experiment which will prove to you how effective this system is. Here is what you have to do.
Before practicing your sight-reading, try to play all parts together of your first piece right away. You will soon discover how difficult it is and you will make many mistakes. Make a mental note of exactely how many mistakes you have made in one page of music.
However, repeat the same exercise after you complete this training and you will discover who much further you have progressed with this systematic step-by-step approach.
If you want to become competent in organ sight-reading, try to practice it every day. If you skip one day without practice, only you will notice it. If you spend two days without practice, your teacher will notice it and if you skip three days without practice, then everybody else will notice it.
Sight-reading is one of the areas for organists that they should be spending more time on. Practicing regularly playing unfamiliar organ music systematically with time produces incredible results. However, a lot of people struggle to advance in sight-reading and see the results they want fast. In this article, I will share with you how to develop adequate sight-reading skills at the organ.
1) Practice regularly. If there is one rule for sight-reading, this is it - the more you do it, the better you will become. However, it's not good to practice rarely but in huge time chunks, like 5 or more hours. Instead, it's much better to spend 15-30 minutes a day with sight-reading but do it every day.
2) The level of difficulty. The pieces should be much easier than what you can play currently. For example, if you can practice and master a 3-voice piece in a month, then your sight-reading pieces should not have more than 2 voices at present. In fact, it's better to start so simple, like with 1 voice that you should feel enjoyment and think that it's too easy.
3) Practice tempo. Normally it is very good if you can practice very slowly. But if the texture is very easy and you can do it at a concert speed without mistakes - then it's even better. However, always be aware of how many mistakes you are making and try to eliminate them.
4) Number of voices. It is best to start your sight-reading practice with something simple and easy. This means playing one melodic line at a time. From your polyphonic organ piece choose the soprano alone, then the alto, the tenor and the bass in the same manner. When this practice becomes easy, add a second and a third voice etc. Do this repeatedly for some time and eventually you will be able to sight-read all 4 parts with fluency and ease.
Apply these tips in your sight-reading routine regularly and you will develop adequate sight-reading skills at the organ. By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my Organ Practice Guide.
When we practice sight-reading, we sometimes encounter difficulties with the change in texture in treble and bass notes. That's a normal feeling.
You see, if the musical composition goes for a while in one texture or mode, we are getting used to that texture or mode. After practicing for some time, it becomes less difficult to play.
But when the texture changes we have some problems again because at the time of change we have to get accustomed to the change. And sometimes where the clefs change is also a difficult place.
The time issue with the systematic method is not a big deal - it only takes about 15 minutes a day of regular sight-reading practice to begin to see some tremendous changes in your skills.
But you have to be very methodical about that - increase the difficulty level just one step at a time and practice in ascending numbers of accidentals etc. After you perfect your sight-reading skills, it's fascinating how much faster the entire learning process of new music becomes.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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