V.com weekend vote: What has helped you most, in learning to read violin music?

August 25, 2017, 2:13 PM · Learning to read music takes time, patience and practice, and it can cause a lot of frustration along the way.

Ironically, a good ear can hold back one's reading progress, when the ears take over for the eyes, allowing a student to learn without having to consult the written page.

scroll and music

Reading has a number of components: the theory, and the practical application of it. Knowing names of notes and values of rhythms helps a lot, but it doesn't automatically translate to the practical task of playing what is on the written page. Fluent reading requires practice and experience. That can happen during lessons, in the practice room or very commonly, in an orchestra or ensemble.

The best teacher for me was youth orchestra -- jumping right straight into the deep end. I still vividly remember my panic on the first day, looking at an arrangement of "Orpheus in the Underworld" and puzzling over the symbols for tremolos, long measures of rest, etc.

What has been the best teacher for you, when it comes to reading violin music? Tell us what helped you become a fluent reader, or if you are not yet, how you are going about learning to read.


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Replies

August 25, 2017 at 11:11 PM · I admit to being torn between reading in orchestra/ensemble and practicing reading on my own. The opportunities to sight read in orchestra occur only a half dozen times a year at the first rehearsal. But sight reading in that environment really makes me step up my game! I have a 3 ring binder with hundreds of etudes, and pounds of music books at my fingertips. They are the source of sight reading at home and really keep me on my toes and ready to sight read in orchestra.

August 26, 2017 at 12:04 AM · 6 months into learning violin w/o prior musical experience through my high school's beginning orchestra class, I was put in the 2nd violin section of my high school advanced orchestra. The main pieces first semester were RV565 (Vivaldi l'Estro Armonico No. 11), the finale from St. Paul's Suite by Holst, Corelli Christmas Concerto, and a bunch of Christmas songs. 2nd semester consisted of a bunch of Broadway pops tunes, including a Wizard of Oz medley.

This past year I was a section leader in orchestra and rotated between front stand of the 2nds and 2nd stand of the 1sts. I had to play a few solos and the upper divisi 1st violin part to an orchestral arrangement of the soundtrack for Polar Express, which was extremely awkward.

I think the sink or swim situation with my high school orchestra (and string quartets) forced me to become a very strong sightreader, and that I would be a much weaker reader and player in general had I only played pieces *actually* within my skill set at the time. I also have a much stronger knowledge of music theory than I think I would without primarily having played in ensembles. I've been playing for 2.5 years now and I'm currently working on unaccompanied Bach.

August 26, 2017 at 02:37 AM · Playing with others (Orchestra and chamber groups) is definitely the best way to improve with sight reading. However, I have been mostly working on my solo repertories in the past, with occasional chamber workshops and orchestra playing. I find it's more fun to play with others when everyone has prepared, at least we know our own part. I haven't been reading with others as much as I should. To improve my sight reading skills, this year I will, for the first a couple of orchestral rehearsals, go with minimum preparation to improve my sight reading skills. I will also read with others as much as possible and not too worry about how I sound.

August 26, 2017 at 02:55 AM · Youth orchestra for sure. I was twelve, barely out of Suzuki Book 3, and somehow I was assigned to play in the first violins and we were doing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Survival and terror are powerful motivators, and you can learn a lot of the symbols by just looking at what your better-informed peers are doing.

August 26, 2017 at 11:53 AM · I no longer recall how I learned to read music but I don't remember having any trouble. When I start a complete beginner I introduce reading at the first or 2nd lesson and with some exceptions, it's rarely a problem.

August 26, 2017 at 01:29 PM · learning to play piano as a kid. Its easier to process one maybe 2 notes at a time vs 4 to 6. This is about the only thing thats easier on the violin.

August 26, 2017 at 02:18 PM · I first learned to read music on piano. I was 7 y/o.

I had probably had less than 6 months of basic piano instruction when the violin muse grabbed me. My first violin-playing was by ear on a half-sized instrument. But thanks to elementary piano training, I already knew key and time signatures, rhythms, and how to count. Very soon I got hold of my first violin instruction book, some weeks before I had lessons, and started reading and playing from it. At first, I also watched a couple other kids, more experienced than I was, play a little from the same book. This undoubtedly helped. Then I tried it. When I began lessons a bit later, my teacher was very pleased with what I had done on my own up to that point.

Regarding sight-reading: My experience bears out what Kato Havas said -- namely, that a thorough knowledge of the fingerboard is essential to overcoming sight-reading difficulties.

August 26, 2017 at 03:16 PM · Piano, far and away.

August 26, 2017 at 03:35 PM · I learned to read music like I learned to speak my mother tongue. Don't know how I did it. Both were acquired effortlessly. The wonders of childhood! Wish other things in life were so easy.

August 26, 2017 at 04:28 PM · With a teacher banging a pencil on your music stand as a metronome because you couldn't feel the rhythm... Worked out pretty well :) notes are fine tempo meh

August 26, 2017 at 06:21 PM · Reading under pressure, from wedding gigs to last second subbing, reading parties. At home, learning to recognize patterns (sequential and across strings, especially in high positions,) note grouping, learning markers along the fingerboard (5th position, 7th and 11th position harmonics with all fingers,) getting comfortable shifting thirds up and down "over the hump", the transition where palm hits the bout, 121212 ascending from 3rd and 5th, 2121 descending from 7th, 6th, 5th, 1321 descending from 8th and other high places, etc.

August 27, 2017 at 04:03 AM · Needed "all of the above," because that was the way of it...singing/sight singing, practice on my own, w/ my teacher, & playing in ensembles all contributed.

August 27, 2017 at 08:49 PM · I've always kind of envied having the piano background -- everything about reading and theory makes so much more sense on the piano! I started backwards, learning to read on the violin and then later learning piano.

August 28, 2017 at 01:32 PM · I chose orchestra because I don't remember what helped the most when I learned the violin/how to read music, and I did not have a private teacher until high school. The two (playing/reading music) went hand in hand together, and I never really had a problem with it the way others did growing up. Seemed fairly natural. The wonders of childhood indeed!

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