I played piano for many years in an "informal school", which helped me get some experience. I started when I was really young and learnt almost no classical music, mainly movie soundracks and modern music in general. I stopped playing 3 years ago. I am 14 now and recently I started playing the piano again by myself and I wanted to improve my repertoire with some music from all periods (right now I am practicing Clair de Lune, but I am looking forward to playing Bach's "Little" G minor fugue, Mozart's A minor sonata and Chopin's nocturne in E flat major as my next pieces, not necessarily in the order written). I am doing OK for now, but I think I'm slower because I have some difficulties because of the loss of practice, both in technique and sight reading, wich I think I should improve.

I would appreciate any recommendations for pieces, books, etudes, etc. that could give me some essential foundation for improving my lost skills. I am not looking for any "extra fast" methods: I know it takes time to improve these skills. Thanks in advance!

  • 2
    It sounds form your entry that you don't have a teacher. I highly recommend this. You should be doing scales and arpeggios and exercises to help develop your technique. – Jomiddnz Mar 19 at 21:47
  • 1
    Try to play without scores and start improvising. Then feel what sounds good in different styles, from Bach to Jazz. Free yourself from exact reproducing written music. And learn from youtube. A excellent sight-reading piano player is (was) Tom Brier. Have fun! – WeSee Mar 19 at 22:00
  • @Jomiddnz it is not possible for me to take lessons now, and that is why I was searching for resources to improve my technique as much as I can by myself. Thanks! – Nicolás Maíllo Gómez Mar 21 at 17:47
  • @WeSee I have tried to start improvising several times, and it looks really difficult to me, but I will continue trying. Thank you! – Nicolás Maíllo Gómez Mar 21 at 17:49
  • Mozart's A minor sonata (number 9) is pretty challenging, and not one I would start with. Perhaps you are thinking of the C major or A major sonatas (A major is the one with "Rondo alla Turca" in it)? – BobRodes Mar 27 at 5:27

My recommendation is three-fold:

  1. Practice and memorize the major and minor scales, and the keys. It will help tremendously when you're playing, so that you don't forget all the accidentals (i.e. remember that a piece written in C major has only natural notes, G major and E minor have only 1 sharp, etc).
  2. Get an appropriate book (I teach at the local music shop, and I usually use "Piano Sight-Reading" by John Kember, which is a series of 3 or 4 books). Faith Maydwell's "Sight Reading Skills" is a great read, with ideas and techniques to choose from to improve your sight reading.
  3. Keep it fun: alternate between exercises and pieces, just as you asked. Some suggestions to start you off: Schumann's "Album for the young" (Op. 68), Friedrich Burgmüller's Op 100 "Études faciles et progressives", and Cornelius Gurlitt's Op 101 "Album Leaves for the young". By the time you've mastered these 3, you will be able to easily select your own pieces to sight-read.

Like you said, there's no such thing as a "fast-track" method. It's all about playing every day, practicing with the metronome, and being consistent. Have fun !

| improve this answer | |
  • I will take all of that into consideration and thank you so much! All of these resources look very helpful to me! – Nicolás Maíllo Gómez Mar 21 at 17:45

It sounds like you are getting diverse advise. What you really need is to take lessons if you can. A teacher will be able to rapidly correct mistakes in your approach that could lead to bad habits that are difficult to reverse. I am not talking about correcting wrong notes etc. But correcting things like looking at your hands while you try and read, or poor posture that causes more wrong notes.

There is a systematic way to learn to read on any instrument and that requires that you develop physical skill as you learn to read so that the connection is in your muscle memory. This makes sight reading difficult for people who are self taught and have developed very good skills and coordination in the instrument. They basically feel like they are taking too many steps back. But if you follow a systematic method you should be able to rapidly gain skills both in playing and reading.

It also depends on whether you expect to read on a moments notice or learn a song by reading. There is no need to be a great sight reader to learn a piano concerto. Ideally it should be memorized at some point. So if you need to work things out slowly page by page, passage by passage, why should that matter? At the end you will have it memorized and be able to play it at any speed. One should net be sight reading a performance. That said it is a valuable skill for professional musicians to have, to be able to open a score and read it down fairly well without mistake. This is good for studio work (or at least used to be) and some orchestral work, especially if you're expected to play live with only one rehearsal.

| improve this answer | |
  • It is not possible for me to take lessons right now, but I will if i can in the future. Thank you for your advice! – Nicolás Maíllo Gómez Mar 21 at 17:46

The only way to learn how to sight read is to sight read. If you like Bartok, then "Mikrokosmos" is a great set of pieces to practice sight reading. They are in six books, starting with very easy (and also musically interesting, no small accomplishment) and going to fairly difficult. I would start with Book 1. If they seem very easy to you (you can play them at sight without any mistakes), then read through them all anyway. Then go on to the next one.

As for lost skills, with respect, I've found that my grownup students who say that they have lost skills really didn't have them to the degree that they thought they had them. (The "it's just like riding a bicycle" maxim applies to piano skills as well. You get a bit rusty, but you don't lose anything you can't get back with a month or three's hard practice.) It's just that the expectations change as you get older. Ask any four-year-old whether he can draw, and the answer will be an emphatic "Yes!" A 10-year-old, not so much.

Clair de Lune is a fairly advanced piece. If you can play it well, you have some pretty solid skills. But probably 95% of the people who play it play some of it well, and some of it badly, and their idea of "practicing" it is to go over and over the parts they can play well, and over and over the parts they screw up as well, screwing it up in the same way over and over again. And then, never really working on the end, because by the time they've done enough screwups, they go back to the beginning and assuage their irritation at all of their mistakes by going back over the parts they play well. (And then, 20 years later when they start taking lessons again, they play it for their teachers, warts and all, and say that they used to play it perfectly back when they were 15 or so. Well, no they didn't!)

Don't be one of those. Be one of the 5% who actually learn the whole piece. :)

Also, learn your scales and arpeggios. All the keys, four octaves. Start slow. Start with two octaves if you want to. But get to four. Start at MM 60, four notes per click (or MM 120, two notes per click if you prefer). Shoot for MM 120, four notes per click.

| improve this answer | |
  • So true about screwing up the same way over and over :) – seamurmurs Jun 28 at 5:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.