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Thread: Sight reading music without an instrument

  1. #1
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    Default Sight reading music without an instrument

    Anyone here do that? (Doesnít count if youíre a vocalist, you always have your instrument.)

    Iíve restarted playing classical guitar after a couple decades absence. Itís like starting all over. I can sight read and play simple stuff on or near the staff, but upper positions and much above the staff are much more difficult. But now there is so much sheet music on line, and with an app like ForScore on my iPad, itís all right there even when my guitar is in the other room. So is there practice benefit or enjoyment in learning to just read it dry?

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    No, I don't think so. Get yourself a scales practice book, you'll both get the athletics of the fine muscles back to shape and almost subliminally upper positions recognition patterns at the same time.
    Unless you want to learn to sight sing, there's not enough profit in separating the tasks in my opinion
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Of course one needs to still practice with the instrument, I was thinking more of reading music while in a waiting room or somewhere without an instrument. My iPhone is always with me, therefore so is my current novel and some sheet music.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Not that I've done this, but maybe while you're sitting and waiting, read the music while mentally fingering the neck of the guitar, and maybe subvocalize the names of the notes. Your brain will maybe spark the same nerve pathways, visual and aural cortex, motor cortex, the dancers spandex; if you make a mental construct of the neck and imagine your fingers doing the stretch. I've never played nor studied classical but I've taught myself to play over the last couple of decades. I read music and I remember the situation you describe, but now I only play stuff I've learned by ear, and I'm all over the frets, up and down the neck.


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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    When I was a kid and playing a lot, I learned many pop songs by ear. Pick up the needle and drop it back on the record. Over and over and over again. Learn entire songs three notes at a time.

    But, I can read. So, if I could peek at the sheet music, it was a big boost. The magazines of the day often published songs or solos. So, go to the candy store and browse the mags. Also, I would go to the music store and paw through the songbook of whatever artist or group. Then, back at home, with my guitar, I had a headstart.
    So, it can be useful depending upon your goals.

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    There absolutely IS great value in reading music without an instrument, which is usually done in connection with sight singing. This trains your ear to hear and reproduce intervals and pitches accurately. It is incredibly valuable training for musicians.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I agree on that, I disagree on getting there by means other than practicing own instrument / singing
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    As a youngster, I played rock n roll in a band, totally by ear. Classical is different, and I can read enough to learn even complex pieces eventually, and I can sight read simpler stuff fast enough to play with others. And as I said above, these days sheet music is on line, some free, others bought. No need to buy books at music stores. That’s why I was curious about sight reading in one’s head for entertainment. I’m guessing a couple people here do, maybe Emily, Keith, Sku, and others?

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I learned most music by ear, and when I decided that I needed to read it I had great trouble because I learned by ear so easily. I took to the dissonant and illogical composers like Cage and Takemitsu because their music was so hard to catch by ear. Playing bass trombone in a brass band I would get into trouble for allowing my jazz background to add a few extra notes and twiddles because the music was in my head already. Playing arrangements forced me to read.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I'd venture to say that most professional musicians can read more than just their parts without an instrument on hand. Orchestral conductors read full scores like a book, mark them up for effects and important points they want to make in their interpretation. No need for an orchestra to help them. Baroque performers can read all three clefs and brass/wind transpostions in original prints and manuscripts along with the ornamentation prescribed by the composer.

    That is reading music.
    A society predicated on the assumption that everyone in it should want to get rich is not well situated to become either ethical or imaginative.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    It's like reading a blueprint and seeing the shape in your head. One day that light comes on and you can hear it in your head.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    s. No need to buy books at music stores.

    I did not mean to buy the books. I would go to the store, read the parts that were giving me trouble by ear, put the book back on the shelf.

    In the same way, you might read pieces you are working on while away from your instrument.

    Hey, bottom line is if you enjoy it, do it!

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I do. Yes, there are benefits that enhance learning and performing. And yes, it's enjoyable. I can't help but think of that scene in "Amadeus," in which Salieri is silently reading Mozarts scores well enough to be moved by them. Of course, Beethoven eventually had no other choice.
    Last edited by Bflat; 03-27-2023 at 06:38 PM.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Bflat View Post
    I do. Yes, there are benefits that enhance learning and performing. And yes, it's enjoyable. I can't help but think of that scene in "Amadeus," in which Salieri is silently reading Mozarts scores well enough to be moved by them.
    Tenor sax?

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    Tenor sax?
    Sex and violence...er...I mean sax and violins

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Singer, cellist, pianist, flute and Irish whistles too. Yeah, I'll read without an instrument for any of them, but it's a whole lot easier with single line instruments than when a piano gets busy. And I cheat - I'll sing the line if it feels tricky just between my ears.

    I don't bother trying to read for playing blues harmonica - it all comes out of my head instead of off a page anyway.
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    So TomF, Bflat and Salieri, and I’m sure others. I’m envious of those of you who can hear music by seeing it. Almost seems like a form of synesthesia.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    It's like knowing another language. If you have to translate the words in the language when you read, then you read slowly. Same with music.
    A society predicated on the assumption that everyone in it should want to get rich is not well situated to become either ethical or imaginative.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I play trumpet, which requires transposing if reading off of the same music as the piano. I often practice the transposition without the instrument.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I was subjected to years of piano lessons, starting with the neighborhood cat ladies and ending up with a uni professor.

    I would read the music and play it, note by note, plink-plank-plunk, and get it in my head. Then I'd play it, not looking at the sheet, the way I thought it should sound.

    The professor caught me improvising (alas!) and forced me to play a piece I'd never seen from the sheet. Then he chucked me out.

    My brain can't visually process written notes and simultaneously activate my fingers to play them. I did try, but no joy.

    But I have an extraordinary memory for music and can play using that. It's also good for improvising. There's synesthesia involved: I close my eyes and I can see the colors of the sounds, rather like an aurora.

    More fun that way, I reckon.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I crawl like a viper
    through these suburban streets
    make love to these women
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    I cried when I wrote this song
    sue me if I play it wrong
    A world of my own
    I'll make it my home sweet home

    I learn to work
    the saxophone
    And I play just what I feel.
    Drink Scotch whiskey
    all night long
    and die behind the wheel.

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    And I want a name when I lose.
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    Call me Deacon Blue.
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Put that in your dots on paper.
    Long live the rights of man.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I'm all for getting off the paper, for performing. But in an era without easy ways to record music, writing it down was the most reliable way to preserve it, or share it with someone who lived a long ways away. Or to have any way to get more than maybe 5 people able to practice and play an arrangement that's really specific. Tell me how to get a Mahler symphony or an arrangement to accompany Sinatra without written music. Even today.

    One of the reasons we've got so many versions of Irish fiddle tunes is because for centuries they were never written down. Who knows what any of them sounded like originally?
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Osborne,
    Sure, lyrics matter but so does the music (your “…dots on paper” ��).
    I don’t speak a word of Italian, but that doesn’t make Puccini’s arias any less mesmerizing (I mimic, badly, the sound of Italian when learning Italian music but I have no clue what it means).

    Back to the OP,
    Vocalists count!
    I’m a vocalist but don’t sing much when first learning a new piece. The first thing I do is sit down with the sheet music, with a pencil and eraser, and study the piece. I’m looking for interesting phrases, both lyric and musical, making guesses on interpretation, finding places to breath (in your case rests, I guess), noting key changes, marking up rests and rhythm and time changes. I use a highlighter too, highlighting difficult places and making sure it’s clear which part I am performing (scores are sometimes amazingly confusing, at least to me) and so on and so on.
    And then I go practice. Picking only specific phrases or a measure, never the entire piece. Any item that looks to need more than normal attention, learning new things to take back to the desk for more mark ups.
    And the cycle repeats until I’m happy, or the chorus director is happy ��.

    The amount of time actually practicing/performing is much less than you might first expect.

    This way of learning is new to me, it was recommended to me in a class I recently took on how to Practice Like a Pro, and I love it. Completely changed how, and how well, I learn and practice music.

    Bill

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Yay Bill!

    What type of music do you sing? What range?
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Hi Tom,
    I'm a Bari and sing anything I can get others to sing with me. Love singing harmony with others.
    My current passion is barbershop, the close harmony makes my heart sing!
    But I fell in love with opera too, my voice teacher is a retired professional opera singer and has me singing some easy arias. If I was 40 years younger I would be singing opera, ensemble only but I would be happy with that.
    I'm now into musicals too, just finished singing in the ensemble of Carousel and it was a blast!

    Bill

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    When I played electric R&R, playing by ear was the only way and I certainly enjoyed it. But when I switched to classical, reading was necessary and I enjoy that as well. A few years back, a friend and I used to get together a couple times a week with a book of duets for guitar and flute, and a good bottle of wine. We would both sight read through unfamiliar music. Those may have been some of my most enjoyable music experiences. (And not just due to the wine.)

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Brilliant, Bill. I'm a bass-baritone, and sang semi-pro in regional stuff, decades ago when we lived out West. Opera bit parts and chorus in Vancouver and Edmonton, solos for oratorio performances etc, also occasional work with professional choirs. The latter was essentially the equivalent using my voice of playing in an orchestra or classical instrumental ensemble. With concerts every 2-3 weeks or so on new repertoire, the sight reading demands of that choral work were very high.

    The most fun in choral singing was when the winners of a national choral conducting competition came to Vancouver to work with our director John Washburn to prepare for a concert. We were the instrument for that week long masterclass leading to a performance. Was incredible, hearing Washburn work with the directors, explaining how he drew out of us what he wanted, and how the other directors could do something similar.
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Ron,
    No doubt about it, duets are one of (musical) life’s great pleasures!
    When the two of you are clicking the time flies by and all is right with the world. In my hobby we do that at the bar, or other location away from the practice hall (bar is best, I like beer).
    (sorry about the thread drift between Tom and me, I hope it’s not too disagreeable…)

    Tom,
    Life is funny. I am the only engineer in a family of musicians, one of which earns her living as a professional musician. While engineering has given me a very comfortable life I often wish I had taken the musician’s path.
    You described the performers life I regret not having and I’m envious.
    When I get down, and cry into my beer, I remember that it’s easy to be envious when you’re warm in your nice warm (paid for) house and filling my belly with good food and drink. Unlike my musician sister, that to this day, is never quite sure where she will be tomorrow. Still, she is quite happy. Another thing I am envious of.

    Bill

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Bill, there are a couple of reasons I stopped doing music for money.

    First, in my particular niche I wasn't quite good enough. My voice is really good, but get to a certain level and there are a lot of people with really good voices, and this or that impediment. My high register never got easy, or reliably so.
    For all that I could sing with a lot of musical intelligence (due in no small part to seriously studying cello first), you need the money notes without any hiccups. In an opera, there's only one lead of any voice type, and a director needs security more than periodic brilliance.

    Second, I had a family to support, and couldn't justify chasing that dream when the kids needed milk. I know enough musicians whose lives revolve around small venue performances and teaching studios, and are precarious. My late aunt for one, whose life was vastly unstable for all that she won major composition awards in 2 genres over her lifetime. I love the music, but not enough to make everyone else in my life suffer for it.

    Had I been, say, a studio musician who could make a good living that way, maybe. But I sang in university level masterclass opera workshop productions with people whose gifts just aligned enough better to have major careers... (one tenor in particular), and I bless my limitations. Many bullets blithely dodged.
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Tom,
    You're right of course, I'm pretty sure I would be sitting in my one room apartment wishing I had become an engineer.
    But you know how it goes, I'm of the age where I'm pondering my life and the woulda, coulda, shouldas.
    Good is all I ever would have been, and ensemble was the only place I would have been, but a man can (day) dream.

    (I think the thing that gets me is, I started getting serious at 60 and now at 62 there just isn't enough time left to get where I coulda been. There's that coulda I was talking about)

    Bill

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I wish I could read music well when playing, but it is very difficult for me. I read music just fine when someone else is playing, and I can hear the music in my head just fine when there’s no instrument around, but I don’t play a piece well until I have it memorized. I do everything by ear when working with my current music partner—no music involved.




    Jeff C
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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    Nice Jeff!!!!
    I really like the sound, blend and sensitivity.
    My grandma played piano by ear. She could play anything she heard once, improving it as she practiced it over and over to memorize it, as you said.

    I've since heard that is a learning technic for piano, she never said if that is the way she learned or not.

    Bill

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    No problems on thread drift. Any music discussion is worthwhile.

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    Default Re: Sight reading music without an instrument

    I played trumpet for a blues band in Alaska for about a year. Being guitar-oriented, they always wanted to play everything in E--which puts a B-flat trumpet in the key of F#. Uggh.

    So, I figured out right away that if I pulled my tuning slide all the way out, I could play in my key of G rather than F#, and sound in tune. After a couple of gigs, the band leader told me he was impressed that I never complained about playing in so many sharps--their last two trumpet players were never happy about that, he said.

    I just nodded. "Well," I told him, "as a trumpet player I can understand why they'd complain, but it doesn't bother me. A real musician is equally comfortable playing in any key."

    Tom
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