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I've been practicing piano for a few years as a self learner. When I start a new piece, I am always struggling to play the correct notes. After much practice and I start memorizing which notes to play, then my hands follow along and I can start playing smoothly.

It just feels like I'm slowly memorizing a piece until I can play it. I somehow think that this may be an incorrect method and I need to be more comfortable at reading the notes.

Am I approaching things incorrectly? Do I need to implement other types of practice? Right now I just start a new piece and try to work my way through it without any other supplemental exercises, be it physically on the piano or practicing with pen and paper.

Just to note, I have done substantial reading on music theory so I do get the hang of some aspects like tempo, etc.

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    As always, get a teacher . We cannot tell from a written description whether you have good or bad hand position and shape to begin with Jan 2, 2023 at 16:29
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    Does this answer your question? Techniques for improving how I learn a piece
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 2, 2023 at 20:05
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    this comes with time and tuition, I had the same issue on bass guitar Jan 3, 2023 at 10:01
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    Piano pieces share common structures. Playing more varied pieces engrains the common structures into your muscle memory which helps with sight reading. Helps more for some genres than others.
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 3, 2023 at 17:52
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    I feel like I learned this too late in life, but when I tried to sight-read as a kid I would look at the position of each note on the staff and then correlate that to the mnemonic to remember which note that was (Every Good Boy Does Fine, etc.) and then translate that into a key position. VERY slow until I memorized the piece. I was never really asked so didn't think to share that with anybody. It wasn't until my daughter started piano that I realized I should have directly associated each position on the staff directly with a key, bypassing all the mnemonic and translation overhead.
    – Michael
    Jan 3, 2023 at 22:30

6 Answers 6

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One option is to practice sight reading.

  1. Find simple pieces below your playing level.
  2. Add sight reading to your practice time.
  3. Check the piece out before diving into actual playing: key signature, time signature, any tricky rhythms?
  4. Mentally consider the tempo you will be reading at.
  5. Then go for it, slow and steady.
  6. Move from beginning to end without stopping to correct mistakes.

Good luck!

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Scales and arpeggios for a start. Boring, maybe, but they will set you (and your hands) in the right ball park. All majors, all minors, even chromatics. Up, down, inside out.

In themselves, they will help your fingers move more fluidly, but also before starting to read a piece, play up and down a few times in that particular key, so you sort of imprint the main notes which are going to feature in that piece. They're the diatonics of that key.

Do sight reading backwards: write out several bars in whatever key, then play it back. Keep the timing straightforward, and try to imagine what the tune will sound like, then read and play. Counting all the time. You can get more adventurous as you improve.

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You ARE slowly memorizing a piece to play it. Is that want you want? Or do you want to play any music instantly put in front of you? In order to do that,, you MUST learn to sight-read without looking at your fingers. Feel the keys. Put your right thumb on E and your pinkie on B. Similar on left hand - and feel the location of the white and black keys. That way you never have to look. Sounds hard. It is. Just do a few minutes every day and start with simple things. It will take practice, but you will end up being a pianist and not a performing monkey.

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  • Interested - why E>B?
    – Tim
    Jan 4, 2023 at 17:29
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Sight reading drills. They make apps for it these days. It's basically the equivalent of the learn-to-type apps where you start off only typing two letters--they show you randomly one of the two and you have to identify it and type it, rinse and repeat over and over. Then when you're pretty good at that you add a third letter...etc. It should feel really basic at first, you're trying to wire your brain so that when you see this note your hands do this without conscious intervention--you don't think "oh, that's a B-flag, which is this key", it just happens.

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I agree with Carl Witthoft. The exercises that you have done are maybe not very complete or axed on a music style(jazz,r'n'b have specific code and if you play another,you will not be at your confort zone). If you do the same exercises or play only augmented chord for example it will not be as effective as it should be. Practices must be alternated; alone, with a teacher, from the Internet and with friends to have different points of views and knowing how to manage and play in all situations.

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"doc, it hurts when I do this!" Then don't bloody do it. You're encountering the fact that working from sheet music early on hurts you - play organically instead. Play chaotically. Move your hands on the piano however you feel like, and don't mind that the sound is discordant and messy because you will learn what movements make what sounds over time!

Once you can play, you're ready to approach sheet music, and scales, and the detailed nuances of technical skill.

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  • I suspect this does not work unless you have a fair amount of natural ability. Perhaps I am wrong, but if so I should like to see evidence.
    – PJTraill
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:25
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    nah, my natural ability is rubbish. Took me far too long to get to any level of being able to play without most of the notes being mistakes, but at least I've gotten somewhere worth getting at all
    – amara
    Jan 6, 2023 at 22:27

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