Thursday, 2 January 2014

Why isn't my sight reading improving?

Firstly, don’t get disheartened if you have been learning piano for a few years and you still can’t sight read very well.

What you are trying to achieve is enormous.  You are trying to learn how to read in a completely new language. If you have never thought about music as a different language before, here is a definition of “language” from

"any system of formalized symbols, signs, sounds, gestures, or the like used or conceived as a means of communicating thought, emotion etc.: the lanugage of mathematics; sign language."

Music is often referred to as the universal language, because the message it conveys transcends barriers of spoken word between people from different countries.

How long did it take you to learn to read in the language you speak in?

Think about how long it took you to learn how to read in the English language.  Firstly you probably would have learnt to sing the alphabet, without much idea about what those letters you were singing represented.  Perhaps you would have learnt how to write your name next, with big sloppy letters, getting b and d mixed up, writing e backwards.  And then slowly you learnt how to recognise all of the letters – a is for apple, b is for ball, c is for cat.  Someone else would have read these to you, pointing to the letters while making the correct sounds to represent the symbol for them.  Slowly you start to put together the letters to form words, sounding them out one at a time and then stringing the sounds together.  

A few years later, after spending 6+ hours a day at school working on these skills and then practicing them again at home with take home readers, you would have had the basics down, but you would still spend years learning grammatical and spelling rules, how to write an essay, comprehension etc. 

Have you ever tried learning how to speak or write in a 2nd language?

It’s really hard!  I took an Indonesian class for 2 years in high school, and I only put in the minimum time necessary to do well on tests.  I crammed for my tests the day before I had to sit them, committing long lists of Indonesian words to my short term memory and then forgetting them hours after I was examined on them.  Not surprisingly, the only thing I can do in Indonesian fifteen years later is count to 10.

And what does this have to do with learning how to sight read pieces on piano?

If you want to learn how to sight read fluently you will need to put in the same effort that is required to learn any language.  You can’t learn how to read music by cramming once a week before your lesson, or only reading a note or two here and there in your lessons and learning the majority of your pieces by copying your teacher.   It is a sophisticated skill that will require a lot of dedication to master. 

In my next post I will talk about what you will need to do to develop the skill of sight reading fluently.

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