Do you feel like you’re not making progress in your sight-reading? Here’s one thing you can do.
In life, you gotta slow down before you can speed up.
This conversation came up during our last Q&A call inside the Sight-Reading Club. One of the members on the call was saying how he was having trouble sight-reading the excerpts hands together. He was frustrated that despite the excerpts being simpler than the piano pieces he was learning, he couldn’t sight-read them fluently. He kept having to stop and start. He didn’t know what to do.
To get to the bottom of this problem, I asked him how he practises the excerpts. It became clear from his answer that it was a matter of speed. He was taking the excerpts too fast, going fast for the easy bits and slowing down for the harder bits.
So, I wanted to write a short article on this as I think it is a common problem amongst musicians and amongst anyone trying to master a skill, for that matter.
Somehow, when we learn something for the first time, we think it’s going to be easy. I mean, it looks easy and in theory, it IS easy therefore it should be easy, right? And so, we plunge right in with enthusiasm and speed through it, but then we inevitably hit obstacles. We get stuck on something. And so we try again and again, at the same speed but we keep getting stuck.
We fail to realise that the thing we’re trying to accomplish isn’t as easy as we expected it to be. So then, we get frustrated, we beat ourselves up and the little voice inside our head starts saying negative things like “I suck!”, “I’m never gonna be good enough!”, “It’s so simple, why can’t I do this?”.
Those are nasty thoughts, huh? Would you say these things to a friend? Probably not. So why say such things to yourself?
Like I mentioned in this video on the importance of questions, ask yourself empowering questions. Questions that can only give you useful answers.
Pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself: “How can I make this easier for myself?” “What can I do differently to succeed?” In other words, become aware of what you’re doing, both physically and mentally, so that you can do better the second time around.
In the case of sight-reading, what’s the one thing you can do to immediately make things easier for yourself?
SLOWING DOWN, of course!
So why don’t we do that? It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But we often forget to slow down. The thing is that we’re so eager to succeed and to make it sound like music, we’re so determined to prove to ourselves that we can do it, that we forget to take things slowly.
If you want to speed up, first you gotta slow down. That’s the rule.
Try it next time you encounter a difficulty. Slow it right down. You’ll see what a difference it makes! All of a sudden, you’ll have enough time to think, to process the information, to read ahead, to prepare the fingers. And best of all, you’ll feel a sense of flow – okay, maybe not a fast sense of flow like you wanted but a sense of flow nevertheless because you’ll keep going, one note after the other! You’ll no longer stop and start, playing two quick notes, pause, another couple of notes, pause, and so on.
And while you’re learning this new skill, remember to enjoy the process! Remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Why are you learning the piano? Why do you want to get better at sight-reading? Remember your why.
As I explain in the article How Long Does it Take to be a Good Sight-Reader?, focus on the process not the destination.
Do you ever slow down when you practise?