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When I only have one staff I can keep the whole thing focused so I do not have to plan so much where to look, I basically can just follow the contour of the notes and it usually goes fine. But with the grand staff I am not succeeding in seeing both the staffs at the same time so to speak. Is this just a matter of training (maybe if I train enough I can focus on the space between them and see the whole thing?) or should I be moving my eyes in some particular way? I am wondering if looking up and down a few times could help, or how do you usually do? Do you perhaps zigzag or go in a circle along the whole bar? Tips are appreciated.

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    @Tim Yes, for a beginner it is difficult. And reading a full score is quite different, as you do not need to take in all information, but distill it into the essential parts. Both are things you learn with practice, and there is little use to discouraging beginners by telling them you think that’s difficult.
    – Lazy
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 6:54
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    @Lazy - what you didn't see was a tongue in a cheek!
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 7:26
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    @Tim while it is not impossible to play more than one instrument at a time, I don't see it happening to me any time soon.
    – Emil
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 7:32
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    The reference was mainly to conductors, who need to be able to read a whole score of maybe up to a dozen or more instruments. Not play them all simultaneously, but be able to check what's happening, give cues, etc., lots written in different keys from each other (transposing instruments abound). It's what they do!
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 7:47
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    @Tim I know, I tried to joke back ;)
    – Emil
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 12:33

3 Answers 3

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First of all, are you transcribing music from a piano score onto another multi-timbral instrument (such as a guitar), or are you studying piano?

In either case, a youtube musician and teacher, named Nahre Sol, gives - what I consider to be - and excellent set of tips for reading piano scores. She outlines her process in a youtube video.

Here is the link:

I hope this is of help.

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    I am trying to sightread for piano. I am much better at sightreading for string instruments. Will look at video after work probably.
    – Emil
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 12:35
  • Thanks. The tiering stuff I had not tried out that seems promising. Kind of a like small step towards seeing both staves at once in a way.
    – Emil
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 21:25
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    Welcome to Music SE! This video might be what the OP needs, but there isn't actually any information in the answer itself. Link-only answers are discouraged; see this meta post, and its top answer. I strongly recommend you edit your answer to show, or at least outline, the information given in the video. Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 15:28
  • Should I deselect it as the answer? It feels like this only answered half my question, the other half was answered by others (that it is possible to see the whole grand staff contents without moving the eyes).
    – Emil
    Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 5:32
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When you start reading you go character for character and then try to figure out the meaning. Later your brain will read whole words and more at once. With reading music it is similar. In the beginning you will have a hard time because you’ll need to concentrate on individual things. The more used you get the more your brain will read multiple staves, dynamics and stuff in one go. The most important thing is to practice, then this should come naturally.

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I don't personally have to read grand staff very often, my hobbies tend to have me reading mid-size contemporary sheet music. I think some of that experience can be applied in this question, though, since at the end of the day the techniques and phenomena at play are nearly identical:

First of all, a lot of being able to read music is processing information into larger structures. Reading every single note manually is a slow and difficult process. For piano music, knowing the shapes of common chord voicings on a page is very helpful since you can look at the top or bottom note and recognize what the rest of the chord is almost instantly. It's also useful to be able to see a certain rhythm and interpret how it feels intuitively rather than needing to think out how long each note will be.

Second of all, compartmentalizing the different abstract parts of a piece of music helps train your brain on the patterns it's looking for. In most styles of music, it's useful to mentally break down the texture into a few "roles":

  • Melody (typically a continuous single-note "singable" voice that stands out on the page)
  • Harmony (all the supporting notes that contribute to the harmony "underneath" the melody, often a rhythmically simple background or pad texture)
  • Bass (single-note foundational ground on which the harmony stands, often interacts with the percussion closely, also low in pitch and usually visually at the bottom of the music)
  • Percussion (depending on the instrumentation, this can be either explicitly handled by another instrument or an effect created by the feel of the bass and harmony rhythms).

While this may not cover everything, being intimately familiar with these 4 distinct roles will help with grouping notes together to parse them faster.

Third, knowing the general structures of music such as common chord progressions and musical forms is actually really helpful since you anticipate where you might find some repetition and where things might change. How long is each phrase? Is this a 12-bar blues or a rock ballad? Will this bridge section of the music be a variation on the Rhythm Changes? Knowing these things will allow you to predict what kinds of musical devices are likely coming next; in a C major 4-chord pop song, I'll be able to read an F chord a lot faster than an Ab7#9b13 chord simply because my brain is expecting something functionally simple to fit the pattern.

Finally, of course, practice! It's just like regular reading - the more you do it, the better your brain gets at it. And do your best to train on music that's written well; good sheet music will try to alert you to the things you really need to pay attention to while poorly written sheet music will make complicated things look simple and vice versa.

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