V.com weekend vote: How long did it take you to become a fluent music reader on the violin?

October 3, 2014, 10:44 AM · As with learning to read words, learning to read music takes time and practice before one becomes fluent.


If violin is your only instrument, learning to read music can seem a little illogical, as the concepts relate much better to the piano. For those who started on another instrument, like the piano, that background can be helpful because the concepts do transfer. But theory and concepts can't take you all the way.

When you read music, you have to read it aloud, on your instrument, in real time. Passing a theory test is one thing; playing what you see is another. To get good at sight-reading, you have to practice doing it, and that simply takes time. For me, I'd say it took a very long time to call myself a fluent note reader -- and I began reading from the very first day that I put the violin to my shoulder!

How long did it take you to become a fluent reader, to be able to play what you see reasonably well the first time? Or are you still working on that?


October 3, 2014 at 03:57 PM · Getting there, not there yet, especially with &%@(^$()*&@Q)&% clef switching.

October 3, 2014 at 04:16 PM · I really don't remember not being able to read music.

October 3, 2014 at 04:30 PM · Having studied piano first made a world of difference, much easier I think.

October 3, 2014 at 04:39 PM · I learned to read music as a choir singer, so it took me VERY little time to translate to violin--a matter of days. In fact, I was delighted at how much easier it was, since the violin notes were always just "there."

October 3, 2014 at 05:41 PM · I read fine, just not as well as I would like. With a total of almost 20 years of active learning, I'm still getting better.

October 3, 2014 at 06:22 PM · I think I'm a fairly fluent sight reader at this point: I can pick up almost any piece within my basic level of ability and play it reasonably well. However, it took 10 years, tons of theory study, a bunch of etudes, and many struggles/embarrassing errors for me to be able to do it. (And I don't plan to stop here - I'll bet I could get better if I keep working at it.)

Yesterday, when I went to get my driving permit, I learned that I have a vision problem. So that might explain a good part of my struggle...

I will probably always tell my future students, "Sight reading is highly learnable. If I could learn to do it with a vision problem, you can probably learn it even better without."

October 3, 2014 at 07:10 PM · I started playing by ear on a 1/2-sized fiddle before I had lessons. But I could already read elementary violin music. I'd had basic piano instruction, less than 6 months as I recall, before the violin muse got hold of me. Thanks to piano basics, I already knew key and time signatures and knew how to count.

Initially, I watched a couple other kids play from my first violin instruction book. Then I tried it. My first teacher, when I began lessons with her soon afterward, was very pleased.

In some ways, I found violin easier than piano -- only 4 fingers instead of 10 to make the notes, only treble staff to read from. But in other ways, it was more challenging -- had to learn to tune and listen for intervals to know when something was off pitch. That gave me the early incentive to hear the tune in my mind by reading it before actually playing it. I got the hang of this in the first year of violin.

On sight-reading: I will always remember how Kato Havas said a thorough knowledge of the fingerboard is essential. Besides scales, shifts, and chords, I found the study of the positions invaluable in this regard.

October 3, 2014 at 07:46 PM · I can relate to the comment about vision problems. As soon as I made the notes larger and got better reading glasses, site reading became much easier. Before the "A" and the "C" floated around so much I could hardly tell them apart. Now I am happy to say that I can read music almost as well as I can read English.

October 3, 2014 at 07:48 PM · I taught myself to read music on the piano, so I already knew pitches by the time I started violin. But I never really understood rhythms, would just copy what I heard and if things got complex I would get lost, until I went to college and studied music theory. I think I was able to sight-read commensurate with my ability to play, that is not a big issue for me thanks to college solfege and, prior to that, experimenting on the piano.

October 3, 2014 at 10:50 PM · I have played multiple instruments. Fluency though takes a while. Some instruments months, others, I'm still not there.

On the violin first position did not take long. Still working on the other positions.

October 3, 2014 at 11:26 PM · I really don't understand the difficulty in reading music... I don't mean to sound snotty, I just simply don't remember having to struggle to read it, or to not think notes!

I've learned solfège (do-re-mi) since the beginning (age 9), in Eastern Europe. I can read fluently in all four clefs and play violin, viola, cello, bass (the least) and piano. Now, in my ripe old middle age, I've picked up guitar and I'm learning tab, as well (but I will draw the line at harp and dulcimer :). I find learning new repertoire and new instruments far more appealing than, say, sudoku, as a way to keep sharp and mentally flexible...

While I'm most fluent on the violin, viola (2 clefs) and cello (3 clefs), some things can be a little tricky for a few moments, but then it just flows. For example, playing viola from tenor clef or cello from alto clef - it must be those "C" clefs!

What works for me is to ALWAYS think notes, in any clef, regardless of the instrument I happen to be playing. In other words, to focus on playing the music, NOT the instrument, to listen, and correct...

I learned to say the solfège syllables while playing (in easy songs, in elementary scales and etudes, then only mentally), later transitioning to ABC when moving to England and the US. In my head, I still think in solfège most notes as I play (except in fast runs like 16th or 32nd notes), even though I use ABC verbally in all my teaching and in chamber/orchestra rehearsals.

Fascinating topic!

October 4, 2014 at 01:45 AM · It’s not clear what’s meant by “reading fluently,” that is, whether we’re only discussing fluency for sight reading, or reading music more generally. I also must state that one’s ability to play anything read at sight is necessarily limited by one’s technique.

My mother started teaching me piano when I was a child, then I was already able to read basic musical notation when I began on violin. I continued studying music theory & composition in college, even taking a graduate course in the Theory of 20th Century Music.

Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the music that I read mentally. This has changed how I play. I used to play by associating the sight of written notes with fingering & bow-strokes. Now, though, I see, then hear & feel, then play. Of course, all that occurs in but a tiny fraction of a second. I don’t, maybe, feel so fluent playing this way as I’d like to, though.

My greatest difficulty in reading music, though, is the presbyopia that I’m dealing with. Ledger lines especially seem to blur together above the staff sometimes. Bifocals or progressive additive lenses (PALs) help some, but now I’m considering a pair of glasses just for reading music.

October 4, 2014 at 02:52 PM · I don't remember having difficulty reading words; I do remember learning to read music but it's native by now. But trying to do what I want to do in Photoshop, then watching my 14-year-old son whiz through and do something in five minutes that was taking me three hours? Yes, this gives me sympathy for people trying to quickly get fluent in something new!

October 4, 2014 at 07:07 PM · Playing for over 30 years now, hard to say when I "became fluent" but over the last decade or so I find myself wishing I were better at it so I'm trying to actively work at it. I know quite a few people who are amazingly good sight-readers and I think it came from growing up with group music (I didn't do a lot until after university). In group music it's often a ready-or-not situation where you just have to play through a piece as best you can so it's a great training ground for musical fluency.

My mother also started me on piano, I played for 2 years before taking up the violin. I do think that it's a very good strategy so that the student can learn the basics of music before piling on the numerous challenges that come from just trying to get a decent sound out of a string instrument

October 5, 2014 at 07:56 AM · I love my Parents; especial my Father for the 'love' of music. I and my siblings were "blanketed" in classical music (via LP records {at home} & local concerts of visiting symphonies & vacations from Virginia to New York City's Treasure Chest of concert halls filled with 'glorious' music).

I started piano at eight, shortly thereafter I joined a youth choir & sang tenor, continued on with piano & evtl. Adult Choir being able to sing tenor 'and' bass. Began violin at 22yrs old and by that time different clefs were "logical"; thus, although I 'voted' [sic] above for 1 - 5 years; it was more like "a month" to transpose & switch from piano clefs to violin 'positions' (mostly at the beginning, I just sat and 'stared' at the violin's strings-&-finger-board just to get it all straight in my head), then like piano, where I had "forced" myself to never look at my fingers, I applied that same discipline to the violin; thus, "muscle-memory" took over. - {And, no, I am 'not' a professional musician, just a devoted & passionate (private} amateur playing violin, viola &, still, piano.}

October 6, 2014 at 12:59 AM · Reading is one of my best skills. Grew up with it. I would rather have developed a better ear, but with work I accomplished that reasonably well as an adult.

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