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littleplum

Problem reading music while playing the piano

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I have been trying to learn the piano as an adult pupil. However I cannot get to grips with the need to read two staves of music, bass and treble, at the same time. To me it's like trying to read two lines of text simultaneously and I just freeze.

 

Has anyone managed to crack this and what's the secret?

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If you haven't done so already, I suggest you register with the ABRSM* discussion forums - they have one for Adult Learners. I'm registered under the same name as here, albeit you're more likely to find me posting in the General Music Forum and Forums Café.

 

* Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music

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Hi Littleplum,

 

Can you sight read each line independently at this stage of your learning? Because while I am not a piano player and only dabbled with it, I have to say that ignoring the fact that I struggle to make my left hand play ball, my main problem with learning the bass clef was that I found it difficult due to the different note placement (in the main). I never really got as fluid with reading that line as I did with the treble clef and I think that might have been a factor for me, don't know if this rings true for you or not. If you can read both staves quite fluently separately and are struggling to do both my suggestion would be to really break things down and either:

 

a. learn the right hand (I find this easier but you could do it the other way round) then once you have that down, start adding a simplified bass line and build up from there by adding in the bass clef notes for the left hand.

 

b. take it either one bar at a time with both lines and gradually piece things together that way building up the piece of music step by step in a I guess 'wholer' way than by breaking it down too much (like option a would) but it might need more jumping around between the two.

 

I'm sure there are other strategies and mine is a purely basic one (because this is what I did and I pretty much transferred keyboard approaches over to the piano). But I would also say that learning to read our language as a skill is something that some of us did quite some time ago and while I completely believe it is possible to add new skills, as with any skill it might take time to be able to do it smoothly and with flow. It might be reasonable to give yourself some space and time to do so, you've made quite a lot of progress from what you say since you started playing and these stages of getting a bit stuck are normal I think.

 

Hope you are well and all the best

 

Darkshine

Edited by darkshine

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Thanks for those comments Aeolienne and Darkshine.

 

I have tried the various techniques you suggest Darkshine and, while I can play each part separately very well, it falls apart when I combine them. In fact, I find that the more I practise a piece, the less able I am to play it. I have read accounts by dyslexics of the frustrations of their schooldays and my own experience of musical notation seems quite similar.

 

I have never been able to do more than one thing at the same time - I can't speak during a meal for instance. So playing the piano, which really involves doing three things simultaneously (left hand, right hand, and reading) is beyond me.

 

Perhaps this is linked to AS, which is why I was interested in hearing from anyone on the spectrum who has managed to become reasonably proficient on the piano. I think age is a factor too though, and it is certainly better to learn at a young age before the brain has become hard-wired.

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Hi Littleplum,

 

I think while age may be a factor and adults may have less plasticity in terms of new connections made in the brain, this does not necessarily mean adults cannot learn, but perhaps it may be true that it might take longer to learn some things. If anything I wonder if the hardwired behavioural differences between adults and children is that children seem to have a tendency to believe things are possible. I find as an adult that it is all too easy to form a lot of perceptions about things as well as beliefs formed from years of personal experience and I believe that at times these things can actually serve as a block to learning.

 

I understand why it might mean more to you if someone proficient offers advice or suggestions on this, and it is possible someone will. Admittedly I only passed grade 1 in piano - the keyboard I completed grade 5. I think even though there are significant technical differences between the two, the basic principles of using left hand, right hand and sight reading remain (in simple terms) the same and it is on that loose basis that my suggestions come from.

 

When it comes to remembering music I can do so in the forms of patterns relatively easily, in contrast I found/find sight reading harder - I think that even though synchronising three different actions is not easy, it is possible when the whole sequence of actions becomes so automatic that it does not require thought any more. Perhaps for some this happens swiftly and fluidly without excessive amounts of conscious intention, for others it might be more a process of repetition that is fuelled by determination and maybe belief of the possible. I myself am somewhat out of practice but when I did devote myself to music I played for a few hours a day every day, the constant practice and engagement with the instrument is what helped things began to become fluid to the point where I could read the notes and move my hands without really looking where I placed my fingers. Even when I wasn't playing the keyboard or piano I would be tapping out note patterns and doing finger exercises on any available flat surface or just inside my head. In many ways, I sort of lived the music, it was so much to me at the time and that level of meaning mattered because I loved the feel of it coming together.

 

I used to joke that my left hand wouldn't 'play ball' to people when I have spoken of why I didn't continue with the piano, it was part of it, the bringing together of far more detailed levels of movements and notes. But really I just never felt it with the instrument, beautiful to listen to but just not me. What prompted me to reply to your post Littleplum is because when I looked at continuing the exams with the piano, something that I clearly decided against, I was able to play simple tunes by sight with both hands, slowly at first but it was workable enough to improve upon, and I did so by transferring the principles of the keyboard learning over to it.

 

But I think its about more than just tips and techniques and stuff, because I believe my improvement was to do with my take on it all - because if all else failed I was either determined or stubborn enough that I wasn't going to admit defeat - especially with the grade one piano stuff, if all I could play was a couple of notes and there was no progress for days and days until I could almost do another bit and another bit, then that's what it took and believe me it took a long old time compared to the keyboard. A lot of things in my life have been like that, not just music and piano playing, I think there may be easier ways of going about things but I guess sometimes its about finding your own method and finding out what works for you, but just as importantly it might be about not giving up.

 

With both the keyboard and the piano my philosophy was that if I could play one extra note then it was enough for me to believe that if I could manage one extra that time, then I could find one extra again. Even when it all fell apart, the fact I had found three notes with both hands meant that I could do it again and make it four, five and eventually I'd have a few bars and so on. It helped to keep changing the music I was working with and have a broad variety of pieces that ranged through various ability levels from simple to complex and also having variety in music I liked, did not like, sort of liked, hated, was neutral about. I'd listen to a piece sometimes to help fill in the texture of it and I'd mixing different types and styles of music to play, along with a range of exercises, always keeping things brief and fluid by covering a lot of ground there would always be progress somewhere and its all good practice and better than ramming ones head against a brick wall with one tune and feeling like I'm getting nowhere (which I've done all too often lol).

 

The thing is, many skills with music do not come naturally to me, I have no pitch, I'm quite uncoordinated at times, because my movement memory was clearer than my memory of music notation I need to work constantly on keeping that fluid. Its the first thing to go for me even though I can still play many known songs and I need the music because I haven't memorised them, but I don't need to think about it as I read the music I can just play the piece at speed and correctly. But with new stuff I very quickly realise that the memory is not connected, somehow I can play the known songs and know exactly what the notation patterns mean but I can't do this with a new piece of music in the same way, I used to be able to when I practiced regularly and had the skills developed enough - but this skill of sight reading and playing has almost reset to a more basic level due to a lack of updating that knowledge. It isn't that I can't read the music, I know what the notes are and with the bass clef I can work out what they are, its that I am unable to connect what I'm reading with the movement and the notes on the keyboard/piano and that the fact I'm not doing this for a few hours a day is part of that as well as utilising what you have got to help compensate for what you have not.

 

Sometimes........

 

I'd just visualise myself playing the piece wonderfully in my head and then in reality I'd place my hands on the piano or keyboard and bang my fingers down in the right times for the perfect notes in my head - I'd pretend to follow the music I was looking at and ding dong the piece out - and while I'm sure that this might be viewed as completely pointless, sometimes its good to relax and make a row because then the real practice sounds a whole lot better, because for a minute or so it just doesn't matter and can be fun, bit like excessive improvs that make no sense whatsoever, sometimes its good to just do something because you can rather than because you cannot.

 

All the best

 

Darkshine

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