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  • Learning Sight Reading on Piano – *faster*

    Posted by Stephan Ware on October 4, 2022 at 12:00 pm

    I’m just getting started on the “Beyond Practicing” course so I apologize if this is already in there in some regard but at a glance I’m guessing not. One of the things I’m trying to get better at is sight reading. All the advice I’ve found centers on techniques like “do it a lot”, “now do it a lot more…”, “never look at your hands”, “feel for/anchor off of repeated notes to place your hands”, “read the chords” etc. but not the structure of the practice. My current favorite tool is the Piano Marvel web app, which has a bunch of fairly precisely-level-sorted repertoire and connects to my digital piano to track how well I match the notes. It also sets a steady tempo I must keep up with in it’s “performance” mode. Hence I can do “level 10A” practice, where I’m barely holding on at the 80% correct notes “passing” level, or I could focus on “Level 9b” works where my first try might be more often in the mid 80s, or level 9a, where I’m sometimes touch the 90s, or “level 8” where I could try for 100s. I wonder if any studies about learning would indicate where I should focus? I imagine “variety” and “do it all” is somewhere in there, but how much should I work at the bleeding edge where I’m barely getting 80s (which feels terrible, but I *think* actually makes me better faster), vs. easier stuff where I can actually (or more easily) layer in some focus on “techniques” like finding notes that are repeated from chord to chord and anchoring on those, etc. Then there’s the question of repeat attempts: my 2nd try is sometimes 10 points better as maybe I’ve micro-learned some key repeated pattern, and sometimes worse because I maybe try for harder parts and miss what got right the first time. By the 3rd try I’m often clearly better, but maybe my 3rd try at a level 10A is similar to adding in a “level 9A” type effort as I micro-learn the piece — and that variety seems good to some extent (?)

    The best I’ve come up with so far is “whatever scares me or ‘hurts my brain’ the most is probably what I should be doing right now” 🤣

    Stephan Ware replied 1 month, 3 weeks ago 2 Members · 2 Replies
  • 2 Replies
  • Noa Kageyama

    October 4, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    Hi Stephan,

    Great question. So there was a study that came out a few years ago that I thought I wrote about, but now I’m thinking maybe I didn’t because I couldn’t figure out how to make it apply to music. But this is perfect – because now I think I can write about it! Long story short, the goal is to be in your “zone of proximal development,” just outside of what’s comfortable, but not too stress-inducing. And that sweet spot for learning seems to be about 85%. So if you’re barely getting 80’s that might be a little too challenging. And if you’re getting above 90%, that might also be not challenging enough. Somewhere in the middle there is probably your best bet.

    Hope that helps!


  • Stephan Ware

    October 4, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Fascinating. All the complexities of a learning process (theoretically) reduced to one number. Ultimately it affirms maybe my main intuition: living on the edge where I’m barely “passing” and barely getting 80s to move on to the next work feels kind of crazy, and when I’m reliably in the 90’s, it feels too “static” and while I’m sounding more “successful” in the moment, my day-to-day learning progress seems to slow. Thanks!

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