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.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.