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I'm learning to read music. I'm at the point where I can sight-read basic tunes on the treble and bass clefs (I've almost finished Alfred's Vol. 1). However, I've noticed that my mind always wants to make shortcuts when reading music. I rarely ever actually think about, or consciously process, what pitch the notes are in the sheet music.

What I mean by this is say a piece starts in C, I can then easily read the music relative to that C note and my fingers automatically follow along. Without thinking I can move from C to E by unconsciously playing with my thumb and then middle finger, but if you asked me in the moment what note I was playing with my middle finger, I'd have to think about it for a second.

My question is: will this eventually hurt my ability to read music, or should I not worry about it since it's working well enough already?

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HueyCookafew is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    Music is a language. It's normal. Do you consciously think about the name of each letter you read in a word? I doubt it. Same here. It's amazing that you have been able to reach such a level so quickly. Normally it comes after months or years of practice. Just make sure you're not "learning mistakes". – Pyromonk Sep 15 at 13:05
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It's very similar to touch typing, where eventually, one doesn't even bring to mind what the letter is one just knows where it lives on the keyboard.

The same with sight reading - although maybe somewhat easier, with fewer letter names to consider!

The big difference is in the execution. Right now, you're just hitting the right notes - well done. But at a later stage, you'll be translating that into how to play those notes - loud, quiet,etc. That's a big difference, and will start to happen when the mechanical sight-reading is only a small part of the whole process.

So don't worry about that right now, enjoy playing the right notees, count like heck, and soon it'll be real music coming out - with expression.

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You're doing fine. It's like reading words. You don't spell out C-A-T any more, do you? You read 'cat'. It's the same in music.

If I come across something like this:

enter image description here

I might have to stop and work out the letter names. Maybe even pencil them in! But otherwise, it's look-and-play. No-one spells the notes out consciously. It would take far too long!

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I've noticed that my mind always wants to make shortcuts when reading music. I rarely ever actually think about, or consciously process, what pitch the notes are in the sheet music.

This is completely normal. It's how minds work. When you see three apples sitting on a table you're more likely to process that as one triangle with an apple at each vertex. Similarly, when you see a D major triad on a treble staff you'll process it as a certain hand position with fingers 1, 3, and 5 playing simultaneously, whereas if you see an ascending scale comprising the notes D, E, F♯, G, and A, you'll process it as the same hand position with the fingers 1 through 5 playing in succession.

The main reason I'm adding this answer to the good answers that are already present is to note that it's entirely possible to be able to do this without knowing how the music sounds. What you describe is a mental link that is developing between your eyes and your hands. You will benefit in the long run if you also develop the link between your eyes and your ears.

Without thinking I can move from C to E by unconsciously playing with my thumb and then middle finger.

It sounds like you've developed an association between the first ledger line below the treble staff and the note immediately to the left of the group of two black notes on the keyboard, and between the bottom line of the treble staff and the note immediately to the right of that group. That's a fairly cumbersome way of identifying these notes! It is much quicker to call them C and E.

You don't necessarily need to be able to name them quickly, but you will benefit if you can. Don't stress out about it, but do practice. Play some slow scales or other simple tunes and sing the note names as you do. If the notes are out of your singing range, sing them in a different octave. Try speaking the note names instead of singing. Try singing without the names. Try singing solfege syllables. If the tune has words, try singing them. If it doesn't, make some up. All of that will help you become a better musician.

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I have noticed that when I read sheet music, I always have to start by seeing where C would be on the sheet music to orient myself and then go from there. I don't think it is too important to know the name of the note you are playing as long as you are playing the note you want to play

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Mark Robbins is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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Playing by luck or supposition is definitely not a good thing, because the piece carries a certain idea together with a certain aesthetic. For instance your ability with Ligeti etudes or Scriabin sonatas on piano will definitely be a strong drawback. Not being able to say if you played something by chance is definitely a drawback.

However, if subconsciously you play something that corresponds to what was written (e.g., you're subconsciously arranging), good for you; but there is still a level of reading and acknowledging that is necessary. In my experience these are two abilities, and it's useful to develop both, one for exactness, one for sight-reading/playing.

This subconscious ability is like a habit or higher ability: for instance, with experience you don't need to read all the letters of a word and then to read the definition in a dictionary to read it and understand it quickly.

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