Sight Reading: internal dialogue
I was hungrier in my youth to learn meat than the potatos in music. My reading skills always lacked as a result of the neglect and lack of proper training.
I can sight read decently effective up to 30 bpm, 45 to 50 if it's an etude or technical excercise that has a specific direction because that's how fast I can literally read it to myself in my head.
I always had this idea I should be verbally saying the notes to myself. Of course, when I speed up the exercises, because I'm ready or just to spice up the session and push my limits, the dialogue has to stop and a certain "feeling" sets in but this "feeling" doesn't always snag the notes correctly if there is a dynamic shift away from a set pattern.
Should I be fostering an internal voice? Is it something useful in the learning phases or that I should dispense of because it will hinder me down the road?
In fact, forget my question and let me know what happens in your brain when you sight read. Thanks a lot guys.
I don't think about the note name when I'm sight reading unless I consciously decide to.
There are two types of people, one who thinks in words, the other who thinks in images. If i say "a ball" - some people will hear an internal voice saying the word in their heads, but some will get a picture of rubber ball with a number of certain characteristics. For the second type of people new languages are not a problem, they can switch easily in diaologs between languages if needed etc. For the first type of people translation in their heads would be constant, until they switche to a new language in their head to think in that language, and as i see in my students in the weekend school, the first language goes down.
When you get used to sight-reading, it's a combination of an internal voice and pattern recognition. What I mean by pattern recognition is: you see patterns that you've played before in scales, arpeggios, etudes, or other pieces, and skip straight to fingering them without even thinking about what they sound like. If it's a scale or arpeggio, an experienced musician thinks of it as an entire block -- instead of thinking of individual notes in a run, the internal dialogue might say something like "1 octave major scale in one beat."
Internal voice is an overhead. You will have additional process interfering with what Andrew described. Reading music is somewhat similar to reading a book - one does not name a letter or letters, coma, dot, etc... one reads words and sentences, sometimes skipping and looking for new information ahead.
"Should I be fostering an internal voice?" Normally you should hear the note in advance to play in tune, just as you would if you were sight reading as a singer. As Mr Milankov said above, you cannot be talking to yourself while reading or playing. It would be a distraction. Just keep practicing sight reading as well as everything else.
Gabriel there are two distinct aspects to sight reading. The first is just about reading music and has nothing to do with violin. I think it is beneficial to develop the ability to look at written music and internally be able to hear or sing it. In solfeggio classes for children this is actually trained from a young age by making kids sing written music. Then the second aspect is actually playing it on your violin. Funnily enough, for some violinists the second aspects is almost disjoint from the first. They see note shapes and automatically attach them to finger positions and strings. Typically this works only in a few familiar positions like first position and third position. With me it is quite different, probably because of my solfeggio training. What I see are really notes, like do, re, mi, etc, in various octaves, and I try to play these on my violin.
Thank you for weighing in everyone. This is one I'd meant to ask for years. Now I can adjust appropriately.
I wonder if not having learned to read music as a child is perhaps an even larger barrier for an adult beginner than violin technique itself. Research has shown that talking and reading need to happen by certain ages to be natural, and after those times they never will be. With the physical aspects of playing, on at least has body experience to build on from childhood. Reading music, though, could be a complete absence in the mind.
I am a strictly staff-to-fingerboard man! If the instrument is under my chin I sight read from staff to finger position on violin in one step - typically up to 16th notes at 120 bpm in the odd- number positions (even-number positions I have to think a bit).
Jason, interesting speculation. My idea on it would be it's like learning a new language as an adult versus as a child. Just takes a little more adament application and one may or may not reach full fluency. If I didn't have the technical aspects and some knowledge of where the notes exist, I wouldn't be able to sight read at all with my violin or I would be doing it very, very poorly. Spending a significant amount of time studying the scales and scale patterns has been a tremendous help.
In my previous life as a professional on another instrument, I would get a lot of gigs simply because I earned a reputation as being good at sight reading. And now that I'm a beginner on violin, I've found that the same skills seem to carry over. When I'm assigned something new in my lesson, if it's within my technical capabilities I can play it first time - not polished at all, not the ideal fingerings or bowings, but the right notes and rhythms and dynamics, etc. My teacher can tell what I need to work on simply by the things I stumble on when I'm sight reading.
Madeye, I've had a simple Sight Reading app on my android for a few years now that I use off and on and I have gotten pretty proficient at. Not perfect but well enough to recognize the notes in their position, above and below. I only studied treble clef, though.
That sounds really cool. The spontaniety required to perform sight reading must have made a lot of worthwhile memories, some embarassing mixed in with some really epic. You ever have an experience that was epic but you couldn't repeat twice but the memory is one to relish?
I think of learning to play our instruments as as much an athletic endeavor as a mental one. I think you have to get all beginners to accept that they are in training and will not reason their way into success. As with any athletic activity, their ability will grow with the proper exercises that will also help build their mental connections.
I learned more reading on piano than on violin. Playing through arrangements of Beethoven symphonies, badly.
I want to thank you for asking this question. In a lot of ways I find reading music (especially sight reading) difficult to teach because it is impossible to really know what is going on in a student's mind and I have to judge what might be happening based on what students tell me and what comes out of their instrument. It is very easy to think that everyone reads the same way you do. While most students eventually learn to read well, it is interesting to hear about how someone else may be processing what they read.
I love sight-reading, although I cannot play as fast as Andrew can! 120bpm - wow!!!
When you read the word "instrument" do you think "i" "n" "s" "t" "r" "u" "m" "e" "n" "t"? I don"t think so and music is no different except you don't have a fixed vocabulary. When you read, your brain relies heavily on pattern recognition. Hence "intrmnt" is still recognizable (within a context), and if asked to type write the word down would still type "instrument" without even thinking about it. The same thing happens in sight reading music to a large extent, you just have to learn the words... a fraction of a second before you have to finger them. The more familiar the words (patterns) are, the faster you can sight read.
First, I'd like to acknowledge how much I really appreciate this community, all the valuable feedback I have been receiving and the wonderful attitude of you good folks giving me advice.
A practical tip for better sight reading: Just as in any reading, context is everything.
Just some observations - hope somebody can add to this.
Pamela, I agree sight reading is very meditative and that's another reason I have picked it up. As a form of practice, I enjoy it very much. It tends to take my mind away from things I may be obsessing about and allows me to find a flow.
Gabriel - I think the Suzuki CDs can be very helpful for beginning learners.
Christopher, really interesting break down and you make a good point about intervals. In the same line of thought, a haphazard education on guitar sometimes meant I was laying or even straining my fingers in awkward positions for peices that involved finger picking only to realize later they were actually notes, like Dm that were being individually strummed.
In the beginning you can tell yourself what the notes are. But ideally, sight-reading is a result of having a library of patterns in your subconscious. The more patterns you've internalized, the more automatically you can play. Most of what we need to play, at least till you get to the late 19th century, is based on very common patterns. At a certain point, one shouldn't be using an inner voice to do everything, no matter the activity. You'd tie yourself up in knots.