Sightreading in difficult keys eg F# major

February 3, 2019, 10:12 AM · Hello I am aiming to take my grade 8 exam in the summer. I am a fairly good sightreader but am struggling to sightreading when there are more than 5 sharps or flats. I seem to lose all sense or 5ths and 6ths and struggle to think within the key. Hope that makes sense. Any help much appreciated

Replies (16)

Edited: February 3, 2019, 10:28 AM · Your sightreading test will almost certainly not go past 3 sharps or flats.

I would be more worried about getting your repertoire prepared than sightreading in F#. It's only worth three marks versus what, 50?

February 3, 2019, 10:30 AM · You have to practice sight-reading to get better at it. In other words, do much more of it in such keys, and you'll solve the problems along the way.
February 3, 2019, 10:38 AM · Grade 8 sight-reading can easily contain 5 or 6 Sharps os flats! 21 marks out of 150.

For F# major, use F major fingerings with the hand shifted up a semitone: "high 1st" position, i.e.2nd position spelled differently.
For Db major, half position.

February 3, 2019, 10:44 AM · thanks for replies so far. Apart from gaining marks I really want to get better at playing in these keys And I want to develop my ability to quickly recognise the best position to move too. Adrian thanks for your useful advice. I will try that.
February 3, 2019, 12:07 PM · Sightreadingfactory.com
I swear by it, though you're limited to 20 exercises if you don't get a subscription...
After you click the violin option, go click customize, and then go crazy with your options. Have fun (and hopefully not frustration).
February 3, 2019, 12:17 PM · For Keys with many sharps or flats, I find it mechanically easier, sometimes easier to sight-read, to use 2nd position or half-position.
Regular 2nd position is one half-step higher than 1st. 1/2 Position is whenever Both 1st and 4th fingers are on the low spot; ex. on the D-string, 1st finger on Eb/D#, 4th finger on Ab/G#. A related skill is "enharmonic fingering" which can make passages technically easier, but Not easier to sight-read.
February 3, 2019, 12:26 PM · Also, I second (or third) the idea of using half position or second. Joel's comment is pretty good.
February 3, 2019, 12:46 PM · "you're limited to 20 exercises if you don't get a subscription.."
If you are adept, you can probably use your browser to delete the site's cookies and thus use it indefinitely.
February 3, 2019, 1:30 PM · I'm with Joel. My starting point for flat-heavy or sharp-heavy keys is to reimagine "first position."

If you want to practice this, just take any Kreutzer or Mazas study in C and imagine that its in C#, or if it's in F you can make it into F# (B-flat becomes natural), or if it's in E (four sharps) you can change the key signature to three flats. Of course you have to know what to do with accidentals but that's part of the fun. I used to do this all the time when I was a kid because I wanted to surprise my teacher by playing something a half-step up and then suddenly shift back to the regular key after a few bars. He'd always laugh.

February 3, 2019, 3:28 PM · Thanks Paul, Nina. Transposing Etudes ? I hadn't thought of that. That might actually be a good idea, but most of them are hard enough already.
February 3, 2019, 6:29 PM · One of the great "necessities" in sightreading is technical proficiency. For all keys where you sightread less fluently, find many technical exercises, and get down to them.

It sounds silly to say these keys are "not more difficult", just unfamiliar, but after six months of solid work on the unfamiliar keys, you will sightread these far more readily. That must say something. (And, if the technical study is never done, the keys will always challenge your sightreading.)

February 3, 2019, 9:51 PM · If one practices scales daily, the number of sharps of flats soon becomes irrelevant.
February 4, 2019, 1:12 AM · A big thank you to everyone who has replied so far. Some really useful tips which I look forward to trying out. As a pianist I don’t find any difficulty sightreading in these keys but the violin is of course different. I haven’t actually learned any pieces in keys with more than 4 sharps or flats which doesn’t help. As a piano teacher I always make sure my pupils play in the more unusual keys and there is lots of material out there for this which helps. Thanks also for the link to the sightreading website.
February 4, 2019, 4:16 AM · About transposing etudes: Kreutzer #5 is a famously easy one to transpose, place second finger *anywhere* on the E-string, think of that note as a G, and go for it! Just don't use any open strings, which is no problem except in measures 13 and 14. For these measures you can temporarily shift one position up (for the rest the etude is basically a fixed-position etude). The Peters edition (edited by Davisson) provides this fingering. Highly recommended exercise for learning to use the violin as a transposing instrument!
February 4, 2019, 1:20 PM · Side note on transposing; It improves overall musicianship and can be a transition to improvisation. It breaks the mental cob-webs, forces one to think of the melodic line instead mechanical-finger-numbers. For most of what I do (Mariachi violin!) we have to be able to transpose our memorized parts, both melody and harmony, to different keys, depending on who is singing the solo. As the show proceeds, the leader announces the next song and the key. You have about 10 seconds to figure out what to do.
Edited: February 4, 2019, 2:29 PM · Joel wrote, "Transposing Etudes? I hadn't thought of that. That might actually be a good idea, but most of them are hard enough already."

Well, you don't do that with Paganini Caprices! You do that with easy Wohlfahrt and maybe Kreutzer No. 2. And No. 5! Good call, Jean. Some things transpose more easily than others.

Or Suzuki pieces. Let's remember that one of the features of the "Suzuki Method" is that the basic tunes from Book 1 can be dressed up and modified in all kinds of different ways to teach bowings, etc.

Along those lines, another good study, recommended by Buri: Kreutzer No. 2 played entirely in 2nd position. Only one note requires a reach! I found this very instructive. It took me about 50 times playing it to get truly comfortable and to the point where the intonation was as well as I could normally play other stuff. If that's possible then C-flat major should be not only possible but fingered the same.

Finally, I am reminded of the jazz pianist Dwike Mitchell, who was kind of a savant-like person. It was said that he could play many of the Chopin etudes in several (if not all 12) keys. If true, that would be insanely difficult.


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