Apr. 8, 2018

Sight Reading, Part III

(con't from Part II)
Sight reading music has everyone curious about how it's done (photo).
This skill is very much akin to rapid reading (sometimes called "speed reading").
All good sight readers read things differently than students are taught to read in school; many of those sight readers are not aware they're doing something differently; they just do it.
The difference is in their eye movements.
Their eyes make fewer stops, and they see more than one symbol on the page at a time; they look at the page the same way they would look at a photograph or drawing; the eyes sweep all over the page.
Which, upon a little thought, seems perfectly natural; no one can imagine looking at a photograph of a brick wall by taking a look at each brick, left to right, starting at the top and their working down, brick by brick; our eyes instead are using all of their seeing ability and moving around, taking it all in.
They don't just look at one point and move their eyes from detail to detail the way most people were taught to read, i.e. by saying each word out loud to themselves, pretending they don't see more than one word at a time; instead they do it differently by using all of their seeing ability.
It's all a matter of eye training; expanding our eye's field of vision like this allows the mind to take in more information from the page at a glance.
The eyes do not see in a line; they see in a circle, and they can see pretty clearly something the size of about a half dollar; it's in fact impossible, when reading, to see more than one word at a time.
It's not as hard as people might think, to learn how to comprehend groups of words or symbols at a time (although it does take practice).
The eyes, when reading music, should always be kept moving right -- a little ahead of where the hands are playing -- with no backtracking, taking in the big picture on the page.
We can make great strides by simply learning to take in all the eyes can see, keeping our hands and feet in contact with the keys as much as possible and our eyes glued to the page, letting go of conscious control of the body, relaxing into it, and trusting the positions of the manual and pedal keys which are already fixed in our kinesthetic memory to lead the body to respond effortlessly to the visual images on the page.
Again, it takes no musical talent whatsoever to learn to sight read music; it's a skill just like typing.
You see symbols, you press keys.
It's just a matter of learning to read groups of musical symbols as if they were groups of words and getting comfortable with "blind touch," both of which can be developed with a little practice.
One of the best tips teachers can give us on being able to read faster from the page is to stop looking at our hands; the idea is to rivet our attention on the page, to stare it down like it's our worst enemy with the goal of developing a spatial awareness of the keyboard -- what a 5th is, what an octave is, for example -- so that the fingers are able find where the next note can be reached spatially without taking the eyes off the page to look at the keys which would cause an interruption in the flow of visual information.
They will also tell us that it helps to know and be able to recognize chord patterns on the page so that we can see them in "chunks" rather than having to figure them out one note at a time.
We should also not rush the reading of complex chords but do this slowly enough, i.e. without the use of a metronome, so that, if we should encounter similar chords in other music, we would have a better idea of where to place our fingers on the keys, again, without looking down.