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Sight-Reading and Memorization. Connections?


paganiniboy
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Oh no, I just wish to vacate this particular conversation because you, Tononi, and I are the only folks aboard who know what we mean.

HKV et al know that I admire and respect them

for their expertise. It just happens that what the three of us were talking about is apparently not being understood, so I am guessing that for the larger good of that group, we might just as well let it go to them to analyze, thrash out, and dissect, and then perhaps we can simply start fresh on another thread so that we can figure out a resolution to what we actually meant.Your point was quite clear to me, and I knew exactly what Tononi was saying too, so I think it's simply that it's an issue of pride that the three of us are simply speaking of things on another level than the others are thinking of. That's why I said I gave up.

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Ann,

You've gotten a direct answer to the question. They are 2 distinct approaches to learning music. The human tendency is to favor your strengths to the detriment of your weaknesses. Unless you are disciplined, if you are good at one, you will tend to favor it and the other will atrophy. Both HKV and I have mentioned it.

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I applaud DavidK's post.

I'm not much of a muscle memory person; I'm sure it's probably there, but I find that I need to be able to clearly hear a passage in my head in order to play it. This is the difficulty of learning 20th-century works -- cementing in your brain how the thing really sounds. When I was learning the Khachaturian concerto, for instance, I could practice some of the bizarre chromatic runs to easily reach tempo pretty quickly. The next day I'd go to play and it'd be practically gone from my brain, which would never happen if I were doing a run of equal or even greater difficulty in a tonal setting. The latter is more likely to hit familiar finger patterns than the former, but after enough playing I'm not convinced that finger patterns are really the key -- Robert Gerle, for instance, clearly illustrates that everything breaks down just into a handful of finger patterns. If that's all there was to both memory and sight-reading, we'd just need to drill those patterns.

I actually think sight-reading is much more recognition of harmonic patterns, and eventually, of the characteristic gestures of a given composer. And if you've heard the work before, sight-reading it is a zillion times easier.

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Why thank you, Iwl!

Ann, I will answer the question, Sight Reading Skills are a 100x more important than memory skills, no doubt.

Years ago, I made the finals for a Job with a major Orchestra, actually 2 of us did. At the end of the final round they put The Rite of Spring on the stand and asked me to sight-read it. I got the job. Later the commitee told me it was close, but the sight reading put me way ahead. Memory had nothing to do with anything.

I have done the same when I am chairman of a commitee, if its close, out comes the sight-reading material.

For amateurs, hardly any experience is as fulfilling as read the great chamber music,no matter how you play. You gotta be able to read well to get through a Beethoven Quartet, even if you cant hit the notes.

For pro's, reading well in certain situations, like Recording Sessions or traveling gigs, it's obviously paramount that you can read anything, or else you arent going to work again. But for amateurs,I think your enjoyment of music will increase 10-fold if you can buy a duet book and play through them with a friend.

Sight-Reading is a very important part of being a well-rounded player, Memory is great too, but not a problem for those who choose not to.

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About memorization:

Hmm, I'm not sure if I agree that whether or not a performer uses music has no consequence. Alright, I'm sure that I don't agree hehe smile.gif

I just watched a video of a master class with Heifetz, and I believe Eric Friedman was playing Brahms, and Mr. Heifetz walked up and took the music from the stand. The playing was instantly more engaging.

I see this same phenomenom every week in studio class: pieces that were metric and "correct" the week before (with music) become passionate and expressive when memorized. I'm not saying that if you memorize your music, you will be a master artist, but for myself and many others, there is a tangible difference in the level of playing that can be achieved.

I'm not trying to force this opinion on anyone, and I recognize that different people are, um, different, but I would much rather be performing or listening to memorized music.

-Jesse smile.gif

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quote:

Originally posted by DavidK:

Ann, I will answer the question, Sight Reading Skills are a 100x more important than memory skills, no doubt.

I would agree totally with one caveat. For people outside of classical music, walking into a jam session or some other kind of get together without the knowledge of certain basic repetoire can be embarassing. From what I understand, in an Irish session it is considered the hieght of bad form to attempt to play along unless you know the tune. Asking some people for the sheet music can get you laughed right out of the place. In a practical sense, having some volume of memory can really help you out of some tough places and is worth developing. However, I wouldn't trade my reading ability for it.

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(I swore I was giving up, but I'm game for just one more try). Given that the same person was both a top-notch memorizer and a demon sightreader. Over the course of time, this person made a personal observation that he/she (I) preferred to work with music than not, although when the need arose, could still memorize with no big problem. Ah suddenly, reading back in this thread, I see what has happened. Jane asked the question and the thread shifted. OK, now I feel better.

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Oooops didn't mean to confuse everybody

quote:

Originally posted by lwl:

I think the answer depends on your chosen career path.

If you want to be an amateur (doing lots of chamber music, orchestra work, etc.) or an orchestra player, being able to read things at sight is almost certainly vastly more important -- you will face far more unfamiliar music than familiar music, at least 'til you exposed to the gamut of repertoire.

If you want to be a soloist, memory is going to be vital.

I *want* to be a soloist, but in reality it's too late for this, I should have started playing abot 40 years sooner! So I will happily settle for chamber music and orchestral work as an amateur. So guess I must keep plugging at the old sight reading skills then.

Jane

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I would like to share my experience in this most interesting topic.

I am particularly bad at memorizing music, poetry,anything, but I actually am very good at sight-reading. And I think I have a few possible reasons why.

First of all, I learned to read music, from my parents, who were pianists, before I could read words. When I was 3 years old, my mother was teaching me notes and fingerings on the piano. And she had flash cards for me, so that I could identify the notes, both treble and bass clefs. And she was tough on me, and I was crying a lot, by the way, but I appreciate it now. (But she could've been gentler.)

Second, I actually have very fast eyes. I have worked as a proofreader, and needed to find errors quickly, and I do. I also taught myself, apparently, to speed read and scan. That has helped me with quickly seeing the music in front of me, as well.

Third, I have done it since I was little. I would take any piece of music my mother had, and want to surprise her by playing it, so I taught myself the piece by sight-reading it.

I was never Suzuki-taught, and perhaps this is why I cannot memorize, and I don't depend on my ears nearly enough.

I think there needs to be a balance, however, and I am working very hard learning to memorize. I find the muscle memory to be easiest so far, but very undependable when my mind gets in the way.

Thanks to all of you for a very intereting topic!

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quote:

Originally posted by Violinflu:

I just watched a video of a master class with Heifetz, and I believe Eric Friedman was playing Brahms, and Mr. Heifetz walked up and took the music from the stand. The playing was instantly more engaging.

I see this same phenomenom every week in studio class: pieces that were metric and "correct" the week before (with music) become passionate and expressive when memorized. I'm not saying that if you memorize your music, you will be a master artist, but for myself and many others, there is a tangible difference in the level of playing that can be achieved.

Some of this may just be the result of having learned it differently (or better).

One other possibility-- there may be an effect on the audience quite independent of how the musician is actually playing. One winter the programs for Boston Baroque's annual Messiah were stuck at the printer due to a winter storm. I found the chorus uncommonly expressive and articulate until there were xeroxed libretti made available for the second half. Were they singing better in the beginning, or were we just listening more attentively without a piece of paper blocking our view?

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Bohrazva, (I hope thats the right name, I just looked at it once, and then read you're whole post, and now replying... Ha!) Thats a GREAT story you had to share. I am now almost certain it really depends on how you were taught. I know there is the stuff like, well it depends if you're just genetically more on the memory side, or more genetically on the sight-reading side, etc... But, most of it probably has to do with how you were taught.

Just, in my case, i'm still confuzed! How could I be good at one, bad at the other... Then, over the years, completely reverse the two!!! smile.gif It's complicating... But one thing's for sure. I'm so happy for ALL the posts in this post. I'm glad I have two posts that have recieved more than 35, and 40 posts on the first page of Maestronet!!! It means I am asking good questions, not just dumb ones I usually do!!! smile.gif

Take care all,

laugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.gif

P

P.S., very appropriate most-recent post Ann... I love people like that!

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P (PB),

You can't judge the dumbness or smartness of your questions by the number of replies you get. Sometimes it can even be the opposite.

Be yourself, that's the main thing.

But if you are looking for alot of replies, you might get it when your questions are ones which alot of people have something to say something about, like what violin do you have etc.(because here, about everyone has atleast one, and most would like to talk about it). Also, stay in the thread. Don't just run away for two weeks and then wonder where the thread has disappeared to, and then give up trying to find it after a few seconds.

(In your last post you are keeping everyone happy in every way! That's nice)!

[This message has been edited by staylor (edited 04-11-2001).]

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quote:

Originally posted by staylor:

P (PB),

Staylor,

You can't judge the dumbness or smartness of your questions by the number of replies you get.

[This message has been edited by staylor (edited 04-11-2001).]

I know that, for sure! It would be extremely stupid for me to think that I'm 'smarter' because I have a lot of replies. But, it is true that a stupid question doesn't get replied to, while a good, informative, or contriversial one DOES... I've asked a couple of questions that are pretty lame, and I know because I dont get ANY responses... However, when I do ask a 'good' question, there are plenty of people to talk about it...

About me leaving for "two weeks, and wandering back in trying to find the post, and giving up after a few seconds", you don't understand my schedule around here. The only time I can really post is after 6 p.m. to about 8, and then at aroune 6:45 of each morning... It's a lot harder for me to keep up, and I just figure, if the people around here can converse with eachother, it still is great! I don't have to monitor the whole thing. I'll 'wander' back in after a bit, in and out, and read the posts so I can get a firm, varied answer to my question.

laugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.gif

P

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This is a great post, which has really made me think. Here is my experience:

About six months ago I joined a really high powered orchestra. Until then, I’d been playing almost entirely on my own (or occasionally in very amateur orchestras). Pre-good-orchestra, I was the world’s worst sight-reader, but I would have said that I had good memory skills. Now I have to confess I do not memorise anything, and things – piece, studies whatever- don’t just take up residence in my brain and hands in the way they used to. Meanwhile – sight-reading has come on by leaps and bounds!

The sight-reading has in part improved because of the sheer volume required by the orchestra; but the change in fortunes of the two skills has I’m sure been caused more by changes in the way I practise.

Now I really spend large portions of time working in ways that will help me play my best in the orchestra: practising my part, playing in other orchestras and learning those parts; practising sight-reading (well – in principal, been very remiss lately); working on tone production; playing things up to speed. There simply is the same amount of time left that I used to devote to learning even studies inside out.

I'm sure Borzhava's right that training in childhood can help, but it's certainly not the only thing that explains the skills adults have.

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It is interesting to read the various replies. Some are very strong, others are rather more reserved. I wish I was as absolutely sure as some who maintain that in must be in the memory to be outstanding. This thread I have been interested in since I first studied memory at Columbia Union College in 1959 and later at the University of Maryland and Southern Illinois University. My first wife had a M.S. and all her course work toward a Ph.D. in Music Education. We discussed this topic many times with each others and with other music types and in addition looked at lots of research. People learn differently. Some easily memorize, but all can, but the time may be great. All can read music over time. Some read fast and effortlessly very quickly. All can improve if they work at it. Some peoples memory is they see the score, others have muscle memory. Others can use both. I know of no double blind tests of quality comparing playing with or without music. I have heard wonderful and awful with both. Personally I have known people who hear a piece once and know it forever whether words or music. I have sung or played a piece in performance over a hundred times and have it completely disappear. My humble conclusion. If you want to improve find methods and work on them daily. Of course you are always free to turn up your nose at others if they do it the "wrong way".

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Hi everybody! I joined before but hardly posted... so I'm new (13 year old girl violinist from the Philippines) and this is my first post laugh.gif

Anyway, I quote Ann:

quote:

I also find that when I do memorize, especially instrumental music, I tend to do so more as a mechanical, or muscle based skill.

Well, I don't know, just another one of my thoughts: Maybe the reason your fingers memorize the piece (and not your ears) is because you need to listen carefully and really HEAR the piece when you practice. Maybe it could stem from bad practice habits (just moving the fingers while not actually CONCENTRATING or listening to yourself play).

It's important to always be mentally alert, as Itzhak Perlman and Ivan Galamian always say.

Also, this little snippet from Ivan Galamian's book Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching could help everyone:

quote:

In the complete rendition, the addition of vibrato, the concern for expression, for nuance and dynamics, all add entirely new elements that were not present when the passage was segregated for the cold technical study. These additional factors disturb the smooth functioning of the practiced passage. What has been overlooked is the fact that after this first step (correcting technical problems) has been taken and the passage has been mastered from a purely technical point of view, it must be practiced again as a piece of music, in the context of a larger section and with the expression that is its due.

I don't believe your memory decreases when you get better at sightreading. Look at this; when you get better at sightreading, you're playing more advanced pieces. Before while playing the simple pieces, you always listen to the melody (so you can memorize the melody). When you practice more advanced pieces, you are paying attention on correcting the technical problems. That's why it's important to follow Ivan Galamian's advice ABOVE...After mastering the technical problems and sightreading, you have to think of how to interpret it - how to phrase it properly... AND THEN, you have practice playing it WITHOUT STOPPING.

[This message has been edited by DoggieLove (edited 04-11-2001).]

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What a fascinating topic. I’m one of the old adult returnees to the violin but also one of those who learned to read music before words. I understand quite well about needing technique developed to a certain level to sight read well.

I have always regarded the ability to deliver an acceptable performance from sight-reading as a way to identify a real professional. I play by ear a lot but no way can I memorize anything of any length. I have no film in my photographic memory. I think sight-reading and memorization are separate skills. People may excel in one more than the other because of natural talent or because they work harder at one than the other. Losing the ability to memorize could easily result from spending more effort reading if your talents for both are equal. The comments from are Old&NtheWay are my idea of the compleat musician.

The old joke about some conductors memorize the score and some young ones conduct without the score comes to mind. The ultimate sin is getting lost because you are too vain to use the music when you should.

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Welcome, DoggieLove. (I'm half Pinoy.)

The sight-reading vs. memorization "swap" may only be in your head since your sight-reading is so much better. Or you could be sight-reading more than you're memorizing and learning that new way of reading/thinking without employing the old memorizing way when necessary.

-Aman

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quote:

Originally posted by Beaven:

Some peoples memory is they see the score, others have muscle memory. Others can use both.

I've seen this already two times, but, what IS "muscle memory", and i'm assuming, sorry, that "...they see the score..." is being reffered to photographic memory...

laugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.gif

P

p.s. Staylor, I have a new schedule!!!! I can now check maestronet around this time (12:55 p.m. eastern time) on my class 'spare-day'. Soooo what that means IS... Today, and Thursday (no school friday or monday) and (next week) Wednesday, Friday, Tuesday, Thursday, ect... (get it?) thats when I can post on Maestronet, because I have Yearbook class, and We use the internet, okay?

Take care...

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Ann, PB, and Tononi: After reading some of your reservations about some of the posts here, I suspect that your original question might have had less to do with music than with cognitive science. Here's an essay I dug up the reference for that might lead you in some interesting directions:

Michiko Nuki, "Memorization of piano music," in Psychologia:-An-International-Journal-of-Psychology-in-the-Orient. 1984 Sep; Vol 27(3): 157-163. Here's the abstract:

30 university students studying either piano or composition were presented with a musical piano piece for 3 min, after which it had to be performed by sight-reading. Ss were then allowed to memorize the piece using any method (visual, acoustic, kinesthetic, or any mixture of these). When memorization was complete, Ss performed the piece without music. Even if complete memory hadn't been achieved, an S was asked to perform the piece after 1 hr to determine how much had been memorized. A 15-item questionnaire was administered to assess Ss' attitudes, methods, and salient abilities used during memorization as well as the degree of difficulty of the piece's musical structure and the number of years the Ss had had in practicing piano and solfege (sight reading). Results show that sight-reading abilities were basic to memorization of the piano piece. The ability to thoroughly grasp musical structure through extensive training in harmony and compositional elements were also factors in memorization.

The gist of the article seems to be that the important factor in memorization isn't so much the ability or lack thereof to sightread, but the ability to identify musical structure. If anybody wants to look at more articles on this topic, you could ask a reference librarian at your local college to run a search in PsychINFO on the terms "music" and "memorization."

Hope this helps, or is at least useful,

Trent

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