Monday, March 24, 2008

17. Progress Report with Recordings

I continue to make slow but steady progress. While I see a real difference in how well I sight-read, I'm still surprised that I haven't progressed further.

I wish I had some revolutionary insights to pass along to others suffering along this path. I will say that to some extent, all that matters is doing it. That is, I've talked a lot about things like recognizing intervals, but if you do enough sight-reading, that's going to happen whether you try to force it or not.

One article I saw said that an important component of learning sight-reading involved learning hundreds of common patterns. That's happening for me. That is, I'll see some common pattern and be able to play it instantly. I can take in larger blocks of notes at once. There's an indescribable change in how I see the music.

Unfortunately, I find that even when playing the simplest of music, I can still have a problem reading some part of it. And I am still not good at playing anything fast.

I'm hoping that I'm going to progress more quickly now -- as if what I've learned so far will let me gain traction, and move faster. My #1 short-term goal is to get better at looking ahead in the music.

Samples of My Playing
Well, I've put this off long enough -- it's time to let you hear some of my sight-reading (oh, man, do I have to?). Embarrassing, but this is the best way to show what 3.5 months of heavy-duty sight-reading has bought me.

The first sample is of the song "On a Slow Boat to China." Here's the music -- not terribly challenging, but not super easy either.

Click here to listen to me sight-reading this for the first time. Pitiful, huh? You can hear how slowly I have to play it. But at least I was good about not going back and correcting mistakes, right? I also noticed, in listening to it and reading along, that I'm playing some parts the way that I remember the tune, rather than playing exactly what's written.

Click here to hear how I sound after I've read it through 5-10 times. In this recording, after I read through this first page, I start playing as if it were a lead sheet. That is, I ignore what's written, play the chord in the left hand, and play the melody in the right.

Next is a hymn from my 1937 Christian Science Hymnal, which I picked up for free from

Based on my handling of measure 2, I'm probably not going to heaven, but click here to listen to me play this with a church organ sound.

Now, here's an early classical piece:

Click here to hear it sight-read. Beautiful, huh? Sign me up for Carnegie hall. I have the most trouble with music that has separate musical lines going on at once. And for those of you who noticed that I didn't follow the dynamics, phrase markings, or staccato notations, two words: bite me!

And I'll finish off with three sophisticated melodies, "Humpty Dumpty," "Goosey Goosey Gander," and "Tom Tom the Piper's Son." These are from It's Easy to Play Nursery Rhymes, which actually has good arrangements with some surprisingly nice chord voicings.

Click here to listen to me knock Humpty Dumpty off his wall.

Click here to bring Goosey Goosey to life.

Click here for my tasteful rendition of Tom Tom.

So ends my recital. Hopefully, when I'm done with my year of sight-reading, I will be able to sight-read pieces like these at a normal tempo. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

16: Progress Report (3 Months)

Here's the short summary of this month: I'm still making progress, but I lost one week to the pain in the back, and one week to a surfing vacation in Hawaii.

Pain in the Back -- Solved?

The practicing-related pain in the back continued to get worse. Some of my jazz gigs were torture. Assuming that the basic cause is bad posture, I worked on several ways of solving it.

First was to make a wedge, to put on the piano bench, that would tilt my torso forward, and force me to sit up straight.

That didn't really do it, since I could still sit in such a way that allowed me to slouch.

I then tried putting together my piano bench such that it was tilted, and putting it end-on to the piano.

This was just too uncomfortable.

Finally, I found the solution: Use a chair.

I was surprised to find that my computer chair, at full height, was the same height as my piano bench. If I sit with my back supported by the back of the chair, the pain is much less. I had one three hour piano gig with no pain at all.

I expect this will solve my problem. Another thing that should help is a week away from the piano. I implemented this cure by flying to Hawaii with my wife for a week of surfing, hiking, and drinking.

Hawaii Vacation

We got back yesterday, so it's now back to work with two hours per day of sight-reading!