how to read notes while playing

Posted In: How To Play

  • Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184215

    When I’m reading music while playing, I glance quickly at the measure that I’m working on, but I noticed that I’m first looking at the notes in the treble clef and then I move my eyes quickly down to the bass clef, then play. If the measure is complicated, I tend to break it up into halves or thirds, but always looking at the treble first, then bass clef area. Is this how you see the music with your eyes, or do you look at the treble and bass simultaneously before playing a group of notes? (I read on Harp Column that it’s better to spend most of your time reading the music as opposed to looking at one’s fingers on the strings, so it may not matter how we actually read the notes, but I thought I’d ask to see what other harpists think.)

    Participant
    Allison Stevick on #184216

    That’s an interesting question. I look forward to seeing what others say, too.
    When I’m sight reading, I see both treble and bass, and spend more time looking at my hands. Once I’ve learned the melody and have that under my fingers, I find I mainly look at the bass clef. I play the right hand by ear/feel, and am free to look at the left hand when needed. 🙂

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #184304

    With time and practice, you should be able to see more at one time, it’s how much you can take in and process. Eventually, you will be able to see a whole bar at one time, both hands.

    Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184319

    Thanks, Alison and Saul!

    Saul, it’s really great what you can do. Where do you aim your eyes while reading each measure—between the staves and in the middle of each measure, or somewhere else?

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #184529

    I read the harmonies and the shapes of the chords. I look ahead in order to place the fingers (when possible). In my experience, the less tonal the piece, the harder it is to sight-read. Good lighting, the right contacts or glasses, and the music’s legibility are essential for sight-reading.

    Participant
    Sherj DeSantis on #184557

    I feel like I have been at this for a long time, and I am not very successful at it. Especially at church when I am asked to play piano, I can’t block out the words between the two staffs, and have trouble reading the notes. I do sometimes practice sight reading away from the harp as others have suggested. What I think I have gotten a little(!) better at is recognizing the shapes. Hit one note out of a chord, and the others follow. I have also tried to practice using an index card to cover the measure and moving it from left to right, trying to read both staffs at once. While it hasn’t hurt, I’m not sure it’s helped either.

    Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184569

    I feel like you do, Sherj, that I am not very successful at reading music well.

    Elizabeth, when you say that you read the harmonies, does this mean that you’ve memorized the melody line and therefore don’t need to look at it while you’re playing the harmony?

    Also, if anyone else can answer the other question that I had about where to place one’s eyes while reading music (for example, between the staves of each half measure?), that would be helpful to me. Thanks!

    Participant
    Tacye on #184570

    An interesting question. For me it depends on the music and how well I know it. If the left hand is just doing alberti bass all it needs is a vague glance to see if the shape is changing while more attention may be on the right hand twiddles. If the right hand has a familiar tune it will mostly take care of itself. If the piece is very chordy I would tend to read the hands together by shape as Sherj mentioned. I am not at all strong at memorising music, but if the piece is familiar I can just take in a reminder of the shape and waymarks looking at the bar as a whole. If I am sightreading more complicated music I look on at least two levels – an awareness of the bigger picture (lots of pedals coming up, whatever you do hit that fortissimo chord of F, overall shape of the bar) and secondly I read through the details only slightly ahead as I play them.

    Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184571

    Tacye,

    For my clarification–if you’re sightreading a more complicated piece, then are your eyes moving quickly up/down from treble to base or the reverse (but slightly ahead of what you’re playing) or are they taking in a chunk (or whole) of the measure all at once, like a snapshot?

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #184587

    To answer Maria’s question, “Elizabeth, when you say that you read the harmonies, does this mean that you’ve memorized the melody line and therefore don’t need to look at it while you’re playing the harmony?” – Since we are talking about sight-reading, memorization is not an option. 🙂 (If I were memorizing a piece, though, that would be one way I would process the information.) I see a chord as, for example, G major 1st inversion, so then my fingers automatically go to the right notes. This also works if I recognize an arpeggiated passage as being all one chord. Anna Dunwoodie has published some very good sight-reading books for harpists, by the way.

    Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184590

    Elizabeth,

    Sorry–I meant just playing, not sightreading. Actually, one of the earlier posts switched the topic to sightreading. My original topic just wanted to focus on how people move their eyes when they’re reading music. I realize that different methods are employed, depending on whether someone is sightreading or just reading a piece he/she has already learned.

    Participant
    Tacye on #184601

    Maria, as I said it depends on the musical structure of the piece. If wading through 8 note treacle it would be a waste of effort to read RH chord(s) then LH chord(s) – much more efficient to read them vertically staves together (I would pick out a key note or three and fill in the rest from the shape of the chord on the page). On the other hand if the two hands are playing a fugue or something with more separate parts threaded together I think I move my attention between treble and bass more with an overview to keep the ensemble.

    Member
    kreig-kitts on #184662

    As Saul said, it improves with practice and you’ll be able to take more in. As our brains gain familiarity with new information they begin to recognize patterns and group it into larger pieces. While we’re first learning music we read a clef, find the notes by counting the lines and spaces, and so on, later we can glance at it and instantly recognize entire groups of notes. We don’t just see “C, E, and G”, but as Elizabeth said, we eventually see a C major chord and don’t need to consciously identify each note. And eventually after reading two clefs, we mentally join them and see the bigger patterns that run between them, and perhaps between measures as well. After reading and playing enough, we can glance at the music, grab a couple measures into short term memory, and play it pretty accurately depending how familiar we are with the music and how closely to adheres to the patterns we’re most familiar with.

    Member
    maria-myers–2 on #184665

    Thanks, everyone, for trying to help me with this. I realize that there is no one easy answer for how the eyes should move while reading. I like the idea, though, of being able to take a “snapshot” of both staves simultaneously of a chunk of a measure at a time, then play it and move to the next chunk. I noticed recently that these chunks seem to correspond well to the time signature of the piece. A snapshot skill could come in handy, especially for structures that aren’t chordal. But it will take time to learn how to take more in, as Kreig mentioned, because I’m so used to going up/down over and over again.

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