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Better Music Reading Through Predicting The Future

March 28th, 2011 · No Comments · lessons, practicing, video

It’s time to practice reading music, and really conquering that part of our musical development. One of the key factors that separates master readers from average readers is the amount of information taken in at a glance. Average readers let their eyes track along with what they are playing, which is actually really hard to do, because they have to visually take in the information, process what it means, figure out what to do with it, then send messages back out to the various body parts to actually make those notes happen – and that’s just dealing with note production, never mind all the other musical factors you have to deal with. That’s why so many average music readers have stutters, starts and stops, and just plain mistakes while reading music. At best, they end up with a dull, lifeless reading instead of a really musical performance.
Master readers actually let their eyes track well ahead of what they are playing, taking in whole phrases of music at a glance. This way, their eyes and brain have plenty of time to process what’s going on on the page, send out the signals to the body to make the notes happen, and have plenty of time left over to think about musicality, phrasing, and emotion.
Now, how do we make the jump from average to master? You got it – focused, concentrated practice! Start with the basics, then work your way up from there. Let’s get started!
Our first job is to separate the act of reading music from the act of playing music, and to get used to playing music that has already been read. This video is going to help us work toward that goal. Now, for this exercise, we’re just going to be working with rhythmic reading, like for a snare drum, but if you play a pitched instrument, the same process will work, so adapt this exercise to fit your needs. You can use index cards with music written on them instead of the video for your practice, or even just look at a piece of music and close your eyes between measures.
Here’s step one:
A rhythm is going to be shown on the screen for four counts. During the next four counts, while the screen is blank, play the rhythm you just saw. After that a new rhythm will appear for four counts, and then you’ll play it in the next four, and so on. There will be 16 rhythms in all. To give credit where it’s due, I’m taking all of these rhythms from Ted Reed’s excellent reading book, Syncopation, but don’t pull that book out just yet, we want these rhythms to be a surprise! I’ll play along with you so you can hear if you got it right.
Ready? Let’s go!
OK, great! Now if you need some more work with that, practice that section over the next few days or weeks till you’ve got it. If you find that you’re starting to memorize the rhythms, grab a book or some flash cards and start using that on your own instead. Remember – we want to READ, not memorize! OK, once you’re ready for it, on to step 2:
Same basic idea, except this time you’ll only have 3 counts to see the rhythm instead of 4. Try to let your eyes take in the whole measure at one look, and you’ll have plenty of time! Don’t try to sing through the rhythm – there’s not time, just visually take it in. Here we go!
All right, you made it! Now again, if you need to practice some more, go over the video again, or pull out a book and work it on your own till you can nail it every time! Once you’ve got it, on to step 3. You guessed it, 2 counts to look at the rhythm. Let’s do it!
OK, almost there! If you’ve got that one down, you’re ready for the big time – One count to take in the whole rhythm. Remember, don’t try to analyze it or sing through it, just let your eyes take in the information, then let your body spit it back out. Deep breath, here we go!
There, that wasn’t so bad, now was it? Keep practicing, and you’ll have it down in no time! Once you’ve got it, you can push your skills even further by working with longer phrases, like 2 measures at a time, picking up the tempo, and using more complicated reading material.
In the next video, we’re going to take our reading skills even further by multi-tasking – reading a new measure while we’re still playing the measure before! So practice up on lesson one, and I’ll meet you right back here for lesson two!

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