How to Avoid Mistakes That Slow Down Note Reading

Throughout my years of teaching, I have noticed a pattern of things that beginning pianists all seem to do that slow down their ability to read and play notes easily on the piano.

Addressing these with my students has had great results and I think that they will help you as well.

The video portion of this lesson in the final step is very important in terms of showing you each of these mistakes on the piano and in piano music; and will cover examples that are not included in the written portion of this lesson.

We're going to look at the 5 most common mistakes I've seen and how to overcome them so they end up becoming benefits to your piano playing.

First, we're going to look at is which way you are reading your chords - because it makes all the difference in the world.

Step 1: Which Way Do You Read Your Notes?

Many times, students, in the beginning, start looking and reading chords from the top note down to the bottom note.

To correct this, simply read from the bottom up every time you have more than one note to play at once, or in other words, a chord.

  • The reason we do this is that most times the chord that we're playing is the same as the very bottom note of the chord. If we start from the top note or even the middle note, we won't know what chord we're playing.

When reading from chord to chord, again, remember to read all the notes in each chord from the bottom to the top before moving on to the next chord.

When you have a set starting point for reading your notes and chords, you'll feel more grounded and will move faster through all of your notes.

Next, let's look at how playing new music more will help you read your notes faster and easier.

Step 2: How Often Do You Play New Music?

Reading new music is also called 'sightreading' and is so important and beneficial to all areas of our piano playing.

We sometimes hesitate to play new music because it won't sound perfect and it won't be easy, but that's exactly why we need to do it. Forcing ourselves to play something unfamiliar makes our brains pull together everything that we've already learned and put it to practical use.

We have to think faster on our fingers so to say when we sightread and it makes the knowledge that we have more readily available to use.

Make sure to incorporate new music into your practice routine. The more you do this, the easier it will be for you to sightread in the future and your note reading will literally take off.

Speaking of knowledge - how much are you utilizing what you know about key signatures, note values, and rhythm? Let's now take a look at how important it is to use what you've learned.

Step 3: Are You Using Your Music Theory Knowledge?

Everything that we learn in terms of key signatures, counting, note reading, etc...are used whenever we play a familiar or a new piece on the piano.

  • If we remember that the key of G Major has one sharp in it and that sharp is F#, then we know before we even begin to play that every F we play will be an F# instead of an F natural.
  • If we see that the time signature is in 4/4, we know that every measure will get 4 beats and that the quarter note gets the beat before we begin to play, as well.
  • Identifying the chords before you play them will help get through them faster as well.

Remember to access (think back) what you have already studied and then apply that to any new piece you are learning. You will get through it a lot quicker than trying to figure out each measure's contents individually. This ends up becoming a subconscious process as you progress in your playing.

Our knowledge of notes plays an important role as a part of music theory and ledger line notes are our next topic to cover in discussing challenges to faster note reading.

Step 4: How Well Do You Know Your Ledger Line Notes?

The first notes that we learn when we start playing the piano are the notes on the staff; specifically on each line and space in the bass and treble clefs.

There are a good many notes, however, that fall either above the staff or below the staff depending on the key signature and the difficulty of the piece.

Learning the notes on the staff alone really limits the amount and level of music that you can play. It's important to learn all of the notes that don't fall on the regular staff lines so you won't have to stop and figure them out individually. This really slows down your playing!

  • In the video portion of this lesson I give you a great online resource to help you learn and even practice your ledger line notes, so make sure to watch.

A lot of times it can help to write in the note names in your music when you are first learning them and even some fingerings. As you advance in your playing though, this can become a hindrance instead of a help. Let's find out why in this next step.

Step 5: Don't Depend on This

Dependency on anything for too long can slow down our growth. Think back to when you had training wheels on your first bicycle and then when you took them off for the first time. A bit scary for sure, but you successfully rode your bike without them eventually!

It's the same with writing in our note names and depending on seeing them there anytime we play a piano piece.

It's fine to use this in the beginning - say with your first few pieces; but as you advance, try reading through your music without any note names written in and let your brain start recalling the information by itself. It won't let you down!

The more you make yourself play piano music by recalling the notes instead of writing them in, the faster you will be able to read familiar and even new music.

It might be a bit scary, but just go slowly and you'll be surprised at what you remember on your own.

Now let's go to our pianos and look at examples of each of these common issues for pianists and put all of this to practical use.

Step 6: Come Practice With Me!

This video shows you examples of each of the 5 most common mistakes I've found that beginning pianists make when it comes to fast and easy note reading.

Try to see in your practicing how you might be caught in one of these 5 situations and apply the solution to see how quickly it resolves the issue.

Some are more easily overcome than others, and some may take a bit more work, but that's OK. That happens to all of us and you will find that even as you continue to advance you will need to make sure that you haven't gone back into any of these patterns without realizing it.

If you're struggling with your note reading then this lesson will supply you will at least 5 different solutions to help you start reading and playing easier and better. Ready to practice?

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