|Mike Prigodich-forced me against my will to sit in|
|The late Vince Loving|
There's a funny bit by underrated comedian Todd Barry, where he talks about seeing Aerosmith performing with the London Symphony. He thought it was weird that Aerosmith had no sheet music, while the conservatory trained London Symphony needed sheet music for such simple music! He imagines the strained thoughts of the orchestra members: " A major...uh, oh, A MINOR?" I think he actually has a point in that be able to read it might actually make us lazy. Written music can be a crutch.
I suppose I'm off on a tangent about memorizing. I think it's important to develop that skill as well. One of my piano students at the University of Manitoba brought in Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" to a lesson. I had assigned this months prior, and asked him why he hadn't memorized it. " Well, if you hadn't played this tune in a while, would you REALLY be able to play it from memory?" "Of COURSE!" I exclaimed. "Maybe there's something else which is holding you back? You do realize that Cannabis has an effect on memory?" My student stuck his tongue out at me....
However, being able to sight read well can make things go much faster in the studio, or on a gig if there is no chance for rehearsal, or if there is no recording of the piece, etc...I've always envied musicians that could really read well. As a trumpet student at Peabody Conservatory, I met many great classical piano students who seemed to be able to sight read anything you put in front of them. I had a pianist roommate for a brief time who seemed to be a flawless reader. I actually tried to write something really impossible, to see if he couldn't read it. He didn't bat an eye and played it down flawlessly. So much for that.
I was a decent sight reader on trumpet, but trumpet only requires that you read one line at a time. Piano can be a much more challenging proposition. My teacher Wayne Cameron helped us with our sight reading. One of my classmates was trumpeter Alex Norris; during one masterclass, another trumpet student declined to play a solo piece, which he had been assigned a month earlier. Mr. Cameron said, "Alex, why don't you sight read his piece?" Norris expertly sightread the music which the other fellow was unable to play at all after working on it for a month! Talk about intimidating.
|Kenny Drew, Jr.|
I've mentioned before in this blog that there are many misconceptions about jazz musicians. You'd be surprised how many jazz musicians can read BETTER than classical musicians. Especially when it comes to rhythm. Plus, even if a jazz musician doesn't read on par with a classical musician, he can take the music home and maybe in a week or a month, come back and play on par with classical musicians. And yet, you can't give a non-improvising classical musician a jazz tune and say, "Come back in a week and be able to improvise..."
|James Reese Europe|
The top 6 things you can do to improve your sight reading are as follows:
1. Try to sight read brand new music everyday. Don't worry about what it is, or whether you like it, or what it sounds like. You are now a sight reading robot. You will read anything that is put in front of you. Go to the music library, dig out sheet music from your attic, borrow some books from your friends, whatever. The only criteria is that you've never seen it before.
|"He'll read anything that's on the teleprompter"|
3. Look over the music just before you start and find the trouble spots. Check for key changes, lots of 16th notes, weird rhythms, etc... just so you have a fighting chance before you put the pedal to the metal.
4. Look as far ahead as you can while you play. This is tricky, but it will help you to plan ahead. It's a different level of alertness. It's kind of like driving a car; you always have to keep your eyes far ahead, not just focused on the road in front of you. That way, you can react before it's too late. Same with sight reading music. The best sight readers read one or two systems ahead, let alone a few bars ahead. Try it next time you read and see if it helps.
6. Sight read and set the metronome; keep the tempo and don't worry about wrong notes. This is especially important for professional playing, because there is no time in the studio or in some accompanying situations to perfect every nuance. You need to play it up to speed. Especially with pianists, you might have to leave some notes out in order to keep the time. Basically, this is known as "faking it." But it's a good skill to have.
Good luck, and above all, be patient. Just 10 minutes a day can help. Maybe spend 10 fewer minutes on Facebook and sit down and sight read a new piece. You might surprise yourself if you keep at it.