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Hi All,

I'm struggling with sight reading... If I look at the notes, I'm not looking at my left hand (or my right hand come to that.) My fingers travel in a bunch towards the nut.

Alternatively, I find myself ignoring the sheet music, and playing by ear, and hence getting a bit lost when I hit phrases that start like a previous one, but end differently.

Also, I'm supposed to be sight reading!

I'm using Suzuki book 1, where all the postions are marked above the stave. Practice is improving my playing, but not my reading.

Does anyone have any really good concise sources of information that might help me out?
I'm probably going to go and stay with a friend who sight reads well, and is very patient with me! In the meantime,  I can 'cheat' and practice from the suzuki recordings until I improve, that way I'll not frustrate my teacher too much:) He likes the Suzuki books, and so do I , but he prefers to teach a different bow technique, and emphasise sight reading without having heard a piece, which I find I'm a bit lost with.

Thanks in advance, I know I'll find what I need here!

Richard B

6 Responses
Posted: February 10, 2012
Last Comment: February 12, 2012

Ian Renshaw
Posted: February 12, 2012
Hi Richard,

I'd say it's worth having a look at the ABRSM books. What I like about the Associated Board system is their eight grades take you nicely through the stages of learning and you're assessed at each step along the way.

But yes, the exams are terrifying. I can't deny that. Utterly terrifying. :o)


Posted: February 12, 2012
That's inspiring Ian, thanks!

I agree that children are a bit more 'cool' about learning. Awareness of time isn't such a problem when you're a kid. And yes, I 'm falling over myself with wanting to progress to greater things.

It's funny you should say that sight reading isn't something that 'clicks'. I havent heard that said before, but it is bit like learning a language, I'd say. One with a new alphabet. I've been learning Russian for about a year now, that isn't a 'click' experience either, more of a slow build.

I quite like the sound of the ABRSM syllabus, although I swore on leaving college that I would never sit another exam again! Might revisit that descision...

Posted: February 12, 2012
Thanks all,

As it stands, I seem to be doing 'okay' (?) with playing tunes that are familiar to me without looking at anything other than the sheet music. My intonation and string crossings are awful, but my bowing stays straight as long as I'm not getting frustrated (elbow locks) I would'nt dare inflict the resulting noise on anyone, though.

Other than playing like that, I just have a habit of falling back on playing the same wrong notes time and again if I don't follow the score note to note. I think that's caused by a lack of mental alertness, and having not practiced some songs slowly enough to begin with.

With a bit more concentration, and by isolating the bowing (not using left hand) I'm hoping to 'clean up' the tone a lot. My finger still gives me a bit of trouble, so I'm having to tolerate the sound of lots of poorly stopped notes anyway.

At some point, that should be working okay, then I should be able to glance at the tapes on the fingerboard occasionally when I reach a section that sends my intonation off. Which is most of them! I'll also video myself, to check for nasty bowing when I reach those sections.

My main problem seems to be a persistant mental wooliness! I need to be almost gritting my teeth mantally, in order to avoid a sort of complacent, vacant mind set.

Jack, Karen and Eileen,

I like playing scales, I sound much better doing that. And I can watch my fingers, and name the notes and count half and whole steps as they come up. I can wobble my way through all the non-accidental major scales, some over 2 octaves, but I stopped last week when my 1st finger got painful, but I will go back to them once I have proved to my teacher that I can play the first 7 Suzuki songs through without stopping!

Playing in the dark is great for a tune that I know off by heart, with almost no possibility of mistakes. I don't know any that well! I did, now I've forgotten it, and can't find the music either.


I'm glad to hear you also don't type well! It's obviously not a coordination issue, so it doesn't mean I'll always have a hopeless left hand. AS you said, its all practice. (Now I did it...I'll leave that one in.)

I'll look up the 'Essentials' book, and also I'll get ' Rhythm a Week' a bit later on. In the meantime, I'll sight read other songs that I have recordings of. I whistle or hum when trying to read already, I think its helping me listen to my own sounds, too.

I'm finding that playing along with the Suzuki recordings is helpful, but only to help me 'polish'  a peice. I can slow them down digitally, which helps, although some of them become very soporific!

Anyway, practice time awaits...

Ian Renshaw
Posted: February 12, 2012
Hi Richard,

I completely agree with all the practical advice below - go with it! Here are my thoughts on the more emotional side of learning to sight read:

Don't stress about it; if you truly want to learn, and you practise, it WILL happen. Also, don't expect to much too soon. Were you reading Stephen King novels aged 5? As adults we tend to look ahead to the mighty goals in the distance and get frustrated. Children 'go with the flow' and increase their skills at a steady pace, without the terror of what is ahead!

Work on simple and manageable pieces with your friend watching over you (that's a great idea because practising sight-reading on your own can be tricky; how do you know you got it right?) and enjoy the process. You'll be on the way in no time.

One last thought: Years ago, when I tried to learn to sight read for piano (I still play piano by ear - I never put the work in) lots of people who could read told me that one day it would just 'click'. Hmmm, not true, in my opinion. Sight reading is not a 'riding a bicycle' learning process. Little steps, a gradual increase in experience and understanding and plenty of support from other readers, teachers and this site (of course!) - that's the way to take it, I reckon.

A personal note of hope for you: 2 years I couldn't read as much as two bars of the easiest score for violin. Now I'm graded at ABRSM Grade 5 (the British exam system) and can tackle simple scores as long as the position changes are obvious and the rhythms are basic. How does it feel to have this new ability forming in my brain? Wonderful!

Good luck,

Beth Blackerby
Posted: February 11, 2012

To go with Jack's analogy, my typing keyboard skills are sub par. I still look at my fingers, and I've been doing it for aeons. I also have a annoying habit of typing two capps in a row (especially when I type the works THe). That's because I don't lift my pinky off the "shift" key before I type the second letter. I will probably never correct the habit, or wean from watching my fingers, because I will never take the time to train or mindfully practice good typing skills (nor did I learn proper technique from the beginning, I dropped Typing two semesters in a row in college).

That's the key. The only way to become a good sight reader is to practice sight reading. The techniques Jack described are excellent.  I highly recommend beginning players to do rhythm studies, note/interval identification, and sight singing (none really ever follows that piece of advice), away from the violin.

Keeping hundreds of thoughts and instructions in your head, reading notes and thinking about straight bowing for instance, I believe, makes for inefficient learning. Your instincts are correct. For now, playing by ear is fine, and looking at your hands (bow in particular) instead of the page is just fine.

But don't put off the rhythm and sight reading practice. SOunds (see, I did it again) silly, but get a beginning book like Essential Elements and sing the exercises, count out loud, hum pitches,…etc. 

I don't know if you have an iPad or iPhone, but I found a most awesome app. for practicing rhythms! It's called "read rhythm", and I actually made a video on it, which I plan on posting tomorrow. 

Posted: February 10, 2012

I too tend to depend more on my ears, but I have gotten pretty good at sight reading anyway....Probably because that's what I started with and then my ears took over as I went along.   However, I don't think I've ever spent too much time looking at my  hands while I play....because my eyes were always glued to the sheet trying to learn the notes.

You can do it if you make yourself read the music.  Try taking a piece of music that you aren't familiar with so you can't depend on your ears and go through it slowly at first.  Give that a try.  If you were to try it with scales or arpeggios your ear might start taking over.  I don't know that I have any more helpful advice than that though.  Keep at it though, you won't ever be sorry you learned if you do !