Monday, 14 November 2011

Advanced Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams, playing, or learning a new piece

Alan Dorn performing Liszt's virtuosic Mazeppa
Following the previous post 8 Essential Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams or learning a new piece, I am pleased to disseminate some tips from pianist Alan Dorn, LRSM, (Licentiate Royal Schools of Music in piano performance). Alan's skills at learning new pieces enabled him to rapidly prepare for the FRSM - the highest diploma level of piano performance. Here are his tips: 
  • If possible, have a quick ‘skim read’ of the whole piece before you start playing.  This helps you grade the dynamics, understand climactic points, set the right tempo etc.  Otherwise you can start off playing crotchets at 160 and then suddenly see some semiquavers!
  • If you are struggling to play all the notes, make sure of the melody and the bass.
  • Try and look as far ahead as possible.  Sight reading is basically looking ahead and memorising a short chunk, then playing this while memorising the next chunk.
  • Playing a difficult bit through on the surface of the keys (ie without sounding the notes) before you start can be helpful. 
  • Practice hearing the music in your mind before you play – then compare with the actual sound and see how you did.
  •  Trade-off between tempo and playability – it’s probably better to give a good performance at half-speed than half a performance up to tempo (?)
  • Articulation – don’t forget to play legato/staccato etc as indicated.
  • Phrasing – try to read phrase-by-phrase rather than note-by-note so you can play musically.
  • Voicing – don’t forget to bring out the melody.
  • Tone quality – even though you’re sight-reading, try to play with a full tone.
  • Poise – don’t make it obvious that you’re unsure about the notes – play as if you’re very confident.
  •  Rhythm – don’t play like a metronome – use rhythmic accents to bring the music across.
  • Practice reading chords so you can read them as quickly as single notes.


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