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8 Week Sight Reading Challenge, Oct. 2021

Tom

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Ok, friends and foes, here's the next challenge for us all!

Hopefully, if you participated in the "21 Tunes in 21 Weeks" challenge, you discovered some techniques to effectively hone your repertoire by adding new tunes in a scientific way.

Here the goal is to work toward the goal of "sight reading at playing speed." This means the ability to play your accordion to sheet music that you either have never seen, or have seen, and know, but have not played enough to have memorized or have "down cold." The sheet music should be at your playing ability level. The goal is to be able to expand your performance repertoire without hours of study of particular pieces. Ie. what if you could bring books of 300 or 3000 (internet) pieces to play at random, even if your audience is your dog sitting before the fire?

So, for the next 8 weeks, (starting October 3, 2021) your mission is to sight read 6 days a week. That's it! No time requirement, no recording necessary. Of course, you can post recordings if you are so inclined, guaranteed to improve the challenge for you.

You are encouraged to report your weekly progress and any insights you gain.

Ok, who's in and what do you think? What advice do you have on improving one's sight reading?
 
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NickC

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I'm on board for this. This is something that I've been considering since I posted my 'how to handle requests' thread. It would be nice to bring a few books to each gig and just read through them when there is a request.

I'm not a great reader on the accordion, but I'm fairly decent on the bass. As for advice:

-Check the key signature.. at the beginning of the tune, and any key changes.
-Look at the chords to identify any large left hand jumps, and substitute chords if they present a problem. (They do for me).
-Try to identify common chord progressions so we can focus on the melody. (Knowing that the next 4 bars are ii-V7-I in C makes it easier to focus on the right hand.)
-Check the highest and lowest notes to see if we have enough range.
-Maybe check for any phrases that require different bellows technique?
-Pick tunes in different keys.

It's also good practice to try to transpose while reading. So, play the song up a whole step. (Maybe that's a challenge for another time.)
 

NickC

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I had a few more thoughts (in random order):

-I figure since my goal is to be better prepared for requests, I might as well start with tunes that I think will be requested. I have a ton of books by a publisher named Carisch. They have a series of books that are 100 lead sheets in a particular genre. There is one for Neapolitan song, one for Italian folk, one for Ballabili, one for Opera, etc. They can be hard to find at good prices. They pop up on Amazon for crazy prices, but I have been able to find them, with some digging, for around $30. Plus, I have all the music from www.Novalis.it and other compilations. So, I probably have 1000 lead sheets that I accumulated over the years.
-This is a challenge that can be made permanent. It doesn't take long to read through a tune (it should only take the length of the tune). So, this is something that we can add to our practice routine. We could add progressively harder tunes and become expert readers.
-I want to switch between reading the melody/chords and trying to read an accompaniment version. If there is a vocalist who wants to sit in (maybe the father of the bride), it would be good practice. In this case, it would be good to work on transposing too. But that will be in the future.
-I'd also like to mix in a few tunes that I've never heard. Taking a tune that we have not heard before presents different challenges.
 

Tom

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Thanks for the advice, Nick. You're right that this should be part of regular practice, something I have not had the fortitude to do up to know.

I'm getting music ready for the challenge. I'm starting with (the dreaded) Christmas songs since I always do a few shows of them, either alone or with friends. I have several books as well as sheet music I have downloaded.

It occurs to me that one important thing is the ability to read the chords and melody ahead and quickly shift to the proper right hand position. I tend to like to play a lot of chord notes below the melody and a lot of my preparation is picking the proper inversion. I hope that with enough experience this could become "second nature."
 

JeffJetton

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A good source for practicing full arrangements that might get requested is Hal Leonard's "First 50 Songs You Should Play on the Accordion". It lives up to its name--nearly every accordion "standard" is in there (yes, including Lady of Spain).

For working on basic treble clef reading, lead sheet style folk collections can be useful. For beginners, Dave Mallinson's "Easy Peasy Tunes" is wonderful. More intermediate players might enjoy "The Fiddler's Fakebook" by David Brody.

These are all available in the States at the usual places... Amazon, SheetMusicPlus, etc.
 
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Siegmund

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I used to do a lot of this as a violin student. It was actually a requirement from one of my private teachers when I was in college: sightread at least one new piece of music every week, briefly tell her what I thought of it and how it went. I mostly used the first-violin part of Haydn string quartets (he wrote 68, with 3 or 4 movements each -- one a week of those would have gotten me all the way through college.) It was handy to identify pieces to go back and really learn later, too.

Jeff's recommendation of the Fiddler's Fakebook is a fine suggestion, for anyone who likes that type of music. Play just the melody semi-slowly if you want it easy, play faster or sightread both hands for a harder challenge, try to add extra harmony notes if you really want to wear yourself out.

For music new enough to be in copyright, I imagine the main snag is getting enough of it to maintain this sort of daily practice for long.
 
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JerryPH

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Pretty much EVERY exam at the Royal conservatory requires both sight reading, sight playing, and at least the first several require clapping out what they play and then playing what they play as closely as possible. I have only once sight read and that was at one of the competitions that I participated in when I was like 12... lol

I have a few books coming that have tunes for the RCM exam, the others may be great for this. I may have to do this just because... lol

So, what are the rules, does one get ANY time to pre-read it, or run through it once slowly or is it like open a random book look at the speed and go for it?
 

Tom

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Pretty much EVERY exam at the Royal conservatory requires both sight reading, sight playing, and at least the first several require clapping out what they play and then playing what they play as closely as possible. I have only once sight read and that was at one of the competitions that I participated in when I was like 12... lol

I have a few books coming that have tunes for the RCM exam, the others may be great for this. I may have to do this just because... lol

So, what are the rules, does one get ANY time to pre-read it, or run through it once slowly or is it like open a random book look at the speed and go for it?
Hi Jerry,

The "rules" are pretty loose. It's not necessary to play something you've never seen, or some tune you've never heard. The only thing is that it's a tune you're not totally familiar with playing, either from sight or memory. That is, for example, I play certain songs almost daily from memory, so for me these would not qualify. The only requirement is that you sight read 6 days a week for 8 weeks, starting today. There is no time requirement and you don't have to be successful each time, it's a learning experience.

I think a quick look through would be fine. But not a run through slowly. Again, the goal is to have a bunch of sheet music to bring to a gig that you can play by "sight reading at playing speed" the first time through (not necessarily perfectly). There will be tunes you know, and maybe have played before, but have not been committed to memory, or are not in your repertoire as sheet music.

I'm starting with Christmas music, for example. I know and have played many of these tunes but could not play them by ear or from memory. Many I will sight read multilpe times during the challenge as my mind is so thick that reading and playing these tunes 2 or 3 (20 or 30) times will not cement them in my memory. Don't you love getting old?

I imagine there are many people on here for whom this is by now a trivial task, but for me, not so much!
 

losthobos

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I can't promise to be on board with this as a challenge... I don't really sight read as my eyes are shot...
However I've played a few gigs in last couple of weeks since lockdown and gonna confess to being pretty disappointed with my memory.... I used to just get comfy somewhere and play... But alas memory would tie me to a handful of tunes and and feel cosy in this safetynet and play themextended 12in versions..
Then driving home I'd recall a dozen songs I'd probably have prefered to play...
So for me I'm now gonna practice every day with sheet music in front of me amd get into tje habit of using as a visual prompt / memory aid and see how that affects to next gigs even of i do have to take a stand full of fly paper....
 

Tom

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Ok, here we go! One day in. Here's (part of) my arsenal for this challenge.

20211003_153111.jpg
 

Tom

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Ok, here we go! One day in. Oops, posted twice, sorry.

Played twice through each of the 12 Christmas tunes I arranged last year, as if performing. Torture, my head was smoking. Hardly any harmony, not really conscious of inversion position, just trying to get notes and not stop.
 
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NickC

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My first tune was a standard. "Vitti 'na Crozza." If this was a request on a gig, the person requesting it would probably be happy, but the rest of the audience might not have been so pleased. After a few more run throughs it started to sound better. The cool thing is, all these tunes that I am sight reading now will be better prepared if someone requests them.
I also ran through a few tunes that I've played on PA but not CBA. Malafemmina and 'Na Sera 'e Maggio.

I just stuck with the melody and chords, so they didn't have a lot of depth to the arrangement. Hopefully I can start to add more improv to the reading.

One other nice thing is that this forces me to keep my eyes off of my right hand and on the page. On to day 2...
 

Valski

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Ok, friends and foes, here's the next challenge for us all!

Hopefully, if you participated in the "21 Tunes in 21 Weeks" challenge, you discovered some techniques to effectively hone your repertoire by adding new tunes in a scientific way.

Here the goal is to work toward the goal of "sight reading at playing speed." This means the ability to play your accordion to sheet music that you either have never seen, or have seen, and know, but have not played enough to have memorized or have "down cold." The sheet music should be at your playing ability level. The goal is to be able to expand your performance repertoire without hours of study of particular pieces. Ie. what if you could bring books of 300 or 3000 (internet) pieces to play at random, even if your audience is your dog sitting before the fire?

So, for the next 8 weeks, (starting October 3, 2021) your mission is to sight read 6 days a week. That's it! No time requirement, no recording necessary. Of course, you can post recordings if you are so inclined, guaranteed to improve the challenge for you.

You are encouraged to report your weekly progress and any insights you gain.

Ok, who's in and what do you think? What advice do you have on improving one's sight reading?
I've noticed that my ability to sight read has improved with age unlike the rest of me.

I now suffer from "Goldfish Syndrome" this condition is named after the common household pet because apparently they never become bored swimming in circles around their bowl. It’s the same thing for me because when I get to the end of a chart and see a repeat all of the music is brand new to me! So every time that I play I'm sight reading πŸ€ͺ
 

NickC

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Day 2 wasn't as kind to me. I pulled out my opera lead sheet book and read through a few tunes. No one wanted to hear that. I've decided to start slower since the goal is to play through the tunes without stopping.
 
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Jeremyh

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I am not sure if it qualifies, but I sight read most things. I have about 5 I am trying to get up to speed on the accordion at the moment including :
The Arran Boat Song, Willow Waltz and Tabhair Dom Do Lamh for the folk band and Shalom Aleichem and Night Show 29 from the Haas book.

I have got that Southern Italian book Tom, I'll have to look a couple of tunes out.
 
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Tom

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Day 3, I volunteered about an hour of music, decided to mix in some sight reading with mixed results. Interesting singing with a mask on, not sure how to approach this interesting turn of events. Not a venue where an amplifier is helpful. Weird.

Anyway, seems like I rely on intervals for the most part and can see how this will work until I gradually come to anticipate the hand positions for inversions. Maybe by week 3?
 

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I can finally chip in.

I found myself prima-vista sight-reading after a long time in the real world once again.

I'm accompanying an older guys choir. During practice these guys get real enthousiastic (after having beers), and start to call unlisted tunes.

Not wanting to let them down, we plowed through The Irish Pub, The Spanish Lady and several of these classics with some squinting here and there, but still acceptable.

Luckily I was only on my second beer myself.
 

NickC

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Day 3 went well. I found a nice (and not too fast) Castellina Pasi tune called Campane Di S Maria. Then I opened up the PH course books that I've been meaning to read through.
 

JerryPH

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Still waiting for my books to come in, but I do have some old music binders that I haven't seen for 45 or more years. At that point it qualifies as new to me... lol.

It has a mix of German folk and what I call semi-classical pieces. Not sure I want to record myself playing through that mess, but its on the agenda for tonight, just one song at a time. :)
 

Tom

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Still waiting for my books to come in, but I do have some old music binders that I haven't seen for 45 or more years. At that point it qualifies as new to me... lol.

It has a mix of German folk and what I call semi-classical pieces. Not sure I want to record myself playing through that mess, but its on the agenda for tonight, just one song at a time. :)
Good luck, I think it will be good and you will like it, Jerry. I find it very difficult, hence the challenge. Is it possible to learn to sight read at speed when you are old? I don't know, but I hope we find out. I'm not recording it, not necessary for the challenge. Yesterday I worked through one of the Christmas song books. Today I think I'll look at that southern Italian mandolin book that Jeremy has.
 

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