Playing issues vs. reading issues

"[233] If you could see it through my eyes." by Linh H. Nguyen is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Sometimes when I struggle with a musical passage it’s because I can’t quite play it—maybe my fingers or tongue won’t move quite fast enough yet, or there’s a difficult slur or interval leap that I’m still mastering. The solution is methodical practice, which of course takes significant time and effort.

But there’s an additional set of issues that can be solved more efficiently: reading issues. These are caused by a variety of things: unclear printing, bad editing, poor eyesight, or something just not quite clicking in my brain for some reason. On flute I sometimes get a little lost in the ledger lines, and on bassoon my switches between bass and tenor clefs aren’t always as agile as I’d like. Plus I still sometimes stumble over a double-sharp or some other less-familiar symbol.

Reading issues aren’t shortfalls in my ability to physically operate the instrument—they are a disconnect somewhere in my eyes-to-brain-to-execution connection. And they often don’t need hours of drilling to solve.

Keep in mind that reading from your score is 100% optional. Would it solve the problem if you just memorized those few notes? Made some nice clear pencil marks? Rewrote that measure in a clearer way? Scanned the whole thing and reprinted it at a larger size?

Taking reading out of the picture when necessary can save many hours of frustration and tedium. Try it!

2 thoughts on “Playing issues vs. reading issues

  1. I played in a masterclass for John Dee, Professor of Oboe at University of Illinois, once. He spoke about having all of his performance music enlarged to an over-sized print just to reduce possible issues of misreading in the middle of a performance. He mostly enlarged because of lessening eyesight due to age, but seeking a better view should never be a problem. It’s always a good option to keep in mind – especially if time and pencil marks aren’t clearing up the issue.

  2. Memorization of a few short passages is a good strategy. Other ideas: 1. I’ve sometimes entered a poorly printed score into Sibelius just to get a cleaner copy. It’s a good strategy for an etude, but usually not practical for a longer piece. 2. Some of the rental scores for musical theater are much more legible if the book or even just the offending page is copied onto unusually bright white paper. I keep a ream of 97 brightness paper just for scores. 3. I’ve replaced the incandescent bulb in my stand light with an LED or (even better) an iPad. I can get a whiter, brighter, and more uniform light on a page with sharper contrast.

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