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As I'm learning piano without any teacher due to lack of resources, I wanted to know what techniques other people employ to read sheet music without much effort. For example, right now, I use the landmarking system to read as fast I can, but I still feel like it's not that "natural" and spontaneous. Also, I want to know how to read music which requires both hands. Looking at two staves is very very tough for me.

What kind of sheets should I go for? I am a bit comfortable with treble clef and bass clef but still, it's only been 2 months since I started playing the piano it'd be great if you can share any resource or suggest any resource to practice. Thanks!

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    What I did was playing some games online about identifying randomly generated notes. Although it initially took me 3 seconds to identify the notes, I can now identify most of them for more or less a second. Just make sure you don't push it: practice for a few minutes then try again tomorrow for example. Your brain will have taken the time to assimilate what you learnt. – Clockwork Sep 9 '20 at 14:27
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    It's not about selecting the right product such as a system ... it's about training. :) It takes time and effort. You spend a lot of time practicing, and then you get better at it. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Sep 9 '20 at 14:37
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    Practice, practice, practice. Read something new every day. – ggcg Sep 10 '20 at 16:19

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Take heart! What you're trying to learn is difficult, and takes a lot of time and practice.

One particular difficulty is in finding your place in the score again after you've looked down at your hands. (Note that every pianist looks down at their hands at some stage in learning a piece - the effortlessness you see in the concert hall hides the hundreds of hours of practice which created it). Pay a lot of attention to bar-lines; be aware of which bar you "are" in, in which system on the page. (A "system" is a number of staves linked together because they're played simultaneously. For an orchestral score it might be up to 50 staves - for piano music it's almost always 2. Piano sheet music tends to have about 4-6 "systems" per page).

So think to yourself "second system, third bar", for example. When this becomes easier, become aware of where you "are" within the bar. First beat, second beat? Halfway through?

If this sounds like thinking about too many things at once (over and above playing!), that's because that's exactly what it is. It's hard.

The ultimate way to sightread is to aggregate. If this is your native language, you won't be reading every letter or even every word in this sentence. You might take in one of these short paragraphs "in one go".

Music is exactly the same. At the moment I'm learning Polish, which puts me in a similar position to you. At first what I read is just a mass of random letters (with far too many consonants!). Now I'm beginning to see not letters but sounds, syllables and words. If I get (much) better at it, I'll start to see phrases; sentences; ideas and arguments spanning many sentences.

In language and in music, the link between symbol, sound and meaning (what does "na" do in this Polish sentence? What does the note G do in this context?) is crucial. By learning how to sight-read more quickly, that is effectively what you're trying to learn. Just as I have to mouth Polish words (under my breath if necessary), you have to play what's on the page to learn how to read it. Which is tough, because you're learning how to play at the same time. When you get very good at it you can sightread music, and even start learning a piece, without a piano or even without moving your fingers. But before then, the link between reading, playing, hearing what you play and knowing that you've got it right (because it sounds right) is vitally important.

However good anyone's sight-reading is, it can be pushed back to close to zero when you encounter a different "language". Just like me with Polish. My teacher once gave me a Bartók piece to learn: I had to read it note by note. But, oddly, after a few weeks I could to some extent "speak Bartók", and tell when I'd made a mistake.

To make progress, here are some tips:

  1. Choose your music carefully. It has to be music you can rely on to clearly tell you when you get something wrong - by sounding clearly wrong. Beginner classical music is very good for this. Pop/theme-tune arrangements can be very difficult. They can sound awful, because they're badly transcribed for piano, or because, for them to sound good, the pianist has to "vamp" or improvise rather than playing exactly what's written (which is a whole other can of worms!). Also, this kind of music, though familiar to the ear, can be very complex musically.
  2. Little and often. Practice sight-reading on small pieces well below your playing ability. It's much better to sight-read 4 simple bars every day, than to struggle with 20 complex bars once a week.

In the UK exams are set by the Associated Board (ABRSM). Their sight-reading tests, at each level, are way below the difficulty level of the exam pieces themselves. That's a clue to how difficult sight-reading is. ABRSM publish books of specimen sight-reading tests, at various levels. They are great for practising: they can be just 4 simple bars, but there are a lot of them in each book.

Good luck!

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There are no shortcuts. With enough practice and time, reading sheet music will come more naturally.

If you want more focused practice on note reading, Teoria has an online exercise you can use to practice. It has a bunch of options you can change to your liking (types of notes, clef, etc.).

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    It's the same method as getting to play in Carnegie Hall or winning the Van Cliburn competition: practice, practice, practice. I got a bunch of graded pieces and started going through them in increasing difficult order. It took some time; it worked. – ttw Sep 9 '20 at 19:02
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The main techniques are to look ahead and to identify patterns rather than individual notes. As the other answer says, there are no magic shortcuts to developing these skills. However, focusing on certain aspects of the skill can help you acquire it more efficiently.

The second skill is analogous to reading an alphabetic script. In the early days of learning to read, you learn the sounds of the individual letters, and when you see, for example, cat, you put the three sounds together and hope that you recognize a word. But fluent readers don't read like that anymore. They recognize the shape of entire words all at once. Similarly, a pianist who reads fluently will look at a measure or more and translate a series of notes into a hand position and fingering.

Of course the ability to process more beats or measures at once enables the reader to read ahead, so these two elements of sight reading technique are closely related.

As with reading alphabetic scripts, the mind learns to do this on its own, with practice. But a conscious effort to look at larger groups and to look farther ahead can certainly help. This should also help with your problem of reading multiple staves simultaneously. Even if you're reading each staff separately, the ability to read ahead will allow you to keep up, as it were. Eventually, as your focus widens, you'll be able to see patterns across staves and therefore to read both at once.

I am unfamiliar with particular methods of teaching sight reading, but I would definitely look for methods that pay attention to these considerations.

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  • what kind of sheets should I go for? I am a bit comfortable with treble clef but still, it's only been 2 months since I started playing it'd be great if you can share any resource or suggest any resource! Thanks! – hakiki_makato Sep 9 '20 at 19:17
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    2 months is very little time to actually becoming great at this. Take your time and play slowly and practice practice practice. – JonH Sep 10 '20 at 3:26
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    @hakiki_makato A lot of people run down Czerny, but I think his easy works, like the Recreations make nice sight reading material. – Michael Curtis Sep 10 '20 at 18:59
  • Reading music is probably about as hard as reading English. You didn't learn that in 2 months. Be patient, it will come! (Not that I'm an expert, just slowly getting a bit better over the years...) – Michael Kay Sep 12 '20 at 21:30
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When I was starting out with piano (I actually used a beginner's book, which might be helpful for you too!), I didn't memorize the notes right away. Rather, I learned how the notes are found on the staff for each clef (bass and treble) and literally counted the lines and spaces to find the right note. Even with just playing simple songs I was able to remember them pretty quickly, and associate the line/space with the key on the keyboard as well.

Here's a really quick explanation of what I learned at the beginning: you know the order of the notes is ABCDEFG repeat (which is alphabetical order, and I mention that because apparently my brother didn't even notice this after 2 years of learning piano). In treble clef (image below) the second line that the clef sort of curls onto is the G above middle C, so you can use that to find the other notes (i.e. the space above G is A, the line above A is B, the space above that is C). This is a failsafe strategy, and it may seem time consuming, but if you practice then you'll start to remember the notes. Bass clef is the same, except the dot in center of the curve lies on the F below middle C.

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This is an interactive sight reading training software, which doesn't do both hands (it's for all instruments, not specifically piano) but which allows gradual increase in difficulty, notes range, rhythmic elements, etc. You should probably give it a good look and see if it can help you develop better reading skills on both hands individually. Once reading for both hands individually has become almost effortless, it will be much easier to read both at the same time.

For full disclosure, I participated in writing the software used in the course. You can see it here:

http://www.micrologus.com/courses/sight_reading_method

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There are three components to becoming a better reader:

  1. Have a solid technique. Your hands must know where to go without thought.
  2. Have a good ear. Believe it or not, your brain's ear knows what is coming next and can prepare your hands for it.
  3. Know music theory. It is the alphabet of music. You should be able to glance at the score and just know what the chords, scales and arpeggios are. Again, without thought. Like this:

"It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Of course, practice. When you get a new score, study it away from the piano before you play a note. See the intervals, chords, scales, patterns, progressions, counterpoint, rhythms and harmonies. Sing them. Hear them in your head.

It is not so much a single skill but the amalgamation of various skills.

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As concluded by others, daily practice is essential. I have good experience with sight reading trainers on the smartphone. I won't mention any particular apps. Just take a look in your app store and try out a few.

Try incorporating short but regular training sessions in your day. E.g. 10 minutes during a commute. Give it some time and your brain will do its thing.

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Just to add to the other good answers, maybe also think about breaking the habit of looking at your hands and developing a more tactile sense of the keyboard and building a "mental map" of the keyboard. Try playing short drill material - like scale & arpeggio patterns, sequencing short patterns, or cadences - with your eyes closed, in multiple keys. It sort of like keeping your eyes closed, but imaging your watching a movie of your hands moving around the eye board. You try to "see" you hands in your mind rather than in actuality with your eyes.

Learn good fingering for changing positions.

As far as reading material goes, two things I like are brief pieces like Czerny's Recreations and hymnals like the Geneva psalter or The Chorale Book for England where the voices move mostly in block chord style. That kind of music uses a lot of simple movements so you can focus on reading the relative motion changes without looking at your hands.

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I think first of all you should get your technique to around grade 3 level so that you are comfortable with most of the stuff you will see on sheet music. Ensure in particular that you are rhythmically fluent and that you don't stumble and hesitate, it's always better to play the wrong note at the right time than vice-versa. You will not likely be a terrific sight-reader by the time you get to this point but you will have been able to learn a variety of music at grade 3 and then perform it reasonably confidently, particularly triplets, three against two rhythms and dotted notes. Stay with the classical idiom, as someone else has said, modern music is much trickier due to syncopation and other techniques that make transcriptions more challenging to read.

Once you feel fairly comfortable playing music to this level, find a cheap source of grade 1 classical exam books - the Royal School of Music and Trinity College both produced copious numbers of these for many years. Now work your way through these, deliberately not practising the pieces until you know them, but sight-reading through each book, then put that book aside and don't re-use it for a while - this is so you don't actually learn how to play the pieces from muscle memory.

With a library of dozens or ideally more of these pieces, you will find that your sight-reading confidence grows considerably. You can then advance to more complex material.

Few players can fluently sight-read material much beyond grade 5 or 6. At this point the technical difficulties are sufficient that these pieces have to be learned by practice and working on difficult sections bit by bit. So don't expect to be able to pick up a late Beethoven sonata for the first time and sight-read it, even if, technically, you could master it. Only the exceptionally gifted musician can do this.

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  • And hymn books are also a great resource. They are rhythmically and harmonically simple, and so also make great sight reading trainers. – Andy Sep 11 '20 at 15:16
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You may also consider looking at other notation systems that require less mental overhead, like how tabs reduce mental computation for guitar players.

Systems for piano include:

  • Klavarskribo
  • Dodeca
  • Hummingbird
  • Chromatic Staff

and more!

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    I don't know why this answer is downvoted. There are other ways to start learning sheet music. Personally, I think Hummingbird is doing a great job teaching beginners what each note is named, and they are placed on exactly the same places on the staff. I tend to forget what each note on the Bass-cleff is named (when I play a different instrument than bass), because I remember fret and string position faster than the name of the note, so I use the Hummingbird notation to quickly read which note we are talking about when I play piano, or something else for that matter. – John Oct 9 '20 at 6:26

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