Robert Estrin - piano expert

Improve Your Sight Reading by Looking at Chunks of Music

A great lesson to improve your sight reading

In this video, Robert gives you additional tips to improve your sight reading. How? By looking at "chunks of music."

Released on May 5, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

I'm Robert Estrin, and this is Today, we're going to give you a tip of how you can improve your sight reading by looking at chunks of music. When you first start out, it's really tough, just being able to identify notes on the page. Eventually you get to the point where you start to make the relationship between lines and spaces and keys on the piano. So when you for example, see line to a line, you skip the space and space to space, skip the line, which means you skip a key when you're going from line to line, and chords are usually are all on lines or all on spaces because they're built in the intervals of a third. That's just one example. Or if you're going from line to space to line to space, they're probably going to be consecutive notes on the keyboard.

Now, of course, there are black keys. That's a whole other issue, but this is one way that you can improve your reading. So particularly when you have really high or low ledger lines, way above or below the staff, sometimes it's hard to know what exactly that note is. There are some little cheats, by the way. Did you ever notice that for example, if you have really high notes and you just look at the bottom note, if the bottom note is on a space and the top note is on a space, that's not an octave. Because octaves are always space to line or line to space. That's a little tip for you if you've never really thought about that before, it's a little cheat, you can sometimes guess the right note. It looks like around an octave, but it better be line to space or space to line, or it's not an octave. But what I'm talking about today is something quite different.

At first, when you're reading, it's an arduous task. For many years, for me, it took me a long time to become a good sight reader. And the secret that you eventually come to is instead of looking note to note, you look at groups of notes, whole chunks of notes. Look, depending on what the piece, sometimes you'll look at half measures at a time taking in the entire thing as a digestible chunk that can click, and you understand. Maybe for example, in the famous Bach prelude for The Well-Tempered Clavier Book One in C major, it's a great example of that because the whole prelude is just broken chords.

So for example, if you're playing the beginning of that and you're playing the first measure, there's no need to be looking at every note in there. Once you see that first chord, you can shoot your eyes to the next measure, even before you're there, because you're already over the chord that you're playing. This is by the way, an ideal piece to check out this technique for yourself, if you've never done it before, because the entire piece is broken chords. And the whole measure is the same chord repeated twice, broken as I just showed you. So this is an incredibly valuable technique. So for example, when playing it, look at the next measure now. Look at the next measure now. Look at the next measure now. You get the idea. You're always just looking at that next group of notes, getting ahead of where you are.

And this is not just for this one piece. This is for everything. For example, in Debussy's, one of his Arabesques, where you have ... There again. You could be playing this and before you're even done with that, you could be looking at this whole chord here, and then look at this whole chord. And this whole chord.

So this is one of the most important lessons for learning how to read in a fluid manner. You're never going to be able to read and keep time if you're looking at each individual note. Now, sometimes you have to surmise what the harmonies are and what the composer's intentions are, because there are some scores that are so dense with notes, and if you're sight reading, particularly accompanying somebody else where you don't have to go, wait a second. Let me just finger that out. Nobody wants you to take the time. They'd rather you just flesh it out and get the sense of the music. So a lot of times you can kind of sort of guess what the composer is doing by seeing enough of the chord structure, that you can kind of be able to play what the composer's written without necessarily seeing every single note, but hoping that you're guessing correctly from the ones you can see.

Now, that's not an ideal situation, but if you're reading something for the very first time, and particularly if you're playing with other musicians where you have to keep up, sometimes that's necessary. So try this in your reading. I'm very interested how this works for you. Take a piece like Debussy Arabesque or the prelude to start, but you can do this with virtually any music. Some music is going to be a lot more difficult to do this technique with. That's why, for example, a Bach view is really, really hard to sight read because it doesn't break itself down this way, since you have all these separate lines. So this is not 100% foolproof, but in some piece of music, it's a godsend. So try it out for yourself and let me know how it works. Again, I'm Robert estrin, this is, your online piano resource, and thank you for subscribing and ringing the bell and spreading the word about piano. See you next time.
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