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41Hz

Sight reading with multiple sharps/flats in the key signature

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I’m trying to get my sight reading skills up to scratch. I’m Okish in Cmaj/Am or if there are are only 1 or 2 flats/sharps but I really start to struggle once there are lots of flats/sharps. Does anyone has a strategy for this, I’m basically just try to remember which notes I need to flatten/sharpen but should I be trying to think more in terms of scales?

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The old mnemonic for remembering the order of accidentals is....

Sharp keys- Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

Flat keys- Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father

So for example, if you see 3 sharps in the key signature (A maj), you can think of the mnemonic and know pthat F, C, and G will be sharpened.

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Thanks Doddy, It’s the extra layer of brain processing of flattening or sharpening the notes which Is slowing me down, so this will certainly help.

Still wondering if an alternative method is to visualise the notes of the scale/key all over the neck and think in terms of the intervals between the notes rather than thinking in c major and sharpening or flattening the appropriate notes.

Either way, it’s hard work!

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Try practicing everything using the circle of 5ths, and make it a long term habit. Scales/modes, inversions, arpeggios, going up and down the neck in major/minor 2nds through to octave, or whatever you choose to do. After around 4 months or less they will become second nature.

With the circle of 5ths, the sharps and flats go up by one each time.


 

Edited by TheLowDown
typo
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1 hour ago, 41Hz said:

Still wondering if an alternative method is to visualise the notes of the scale/key all over the neck and think in terms of the intervals between the notes rather than thinking in c major and sharpening or flattening the appropriate notes.

Either way, it’s hard work!

You should do that as well, really.  Like @TheLowDown said, go around the circle of 5ths and you'll be adding one sharp or flat each time you change key, with the order being the same as I said above.

When I'm reading, I don't think really about the intervals. If I'm playing a C and the next note is E, rather than think 'up a 3rd', I just think 'E' and know the 2 or 3 places where I can play it. I know some people recommend thinking in intervals, but my head doesn't work like that when I'm reading. 

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Just practice reading in all keys, one at a time. It is as simple as that. If you haven't nailed it, you haven't practiced doing it enough.

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Thanks Bilbo, Interestingly I was looking at some of your transcriptions and noticed you don’t indicate the key signature on most of them but add the sharps/flats as accidentals  throughout the transcription. I find this easier to sight read as you don’t need to remember which notes need to be sharpened/flattened  but I guess it’s not the way most music is written unfortunately. 

Edited by 41Hz

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15 hours ago, 41Hz said:

Thanks Bilbo, Interestingly I was looking at some of your transcriptions and noticed you don’t indicate the key signature on most of them but add the sharps/flats as accidentals  throughout the transcription. I find this easier to sight read as you don’t need to remember which notes need to be sharpened/flattened  but I guess it’s not the way most music is written unfortunately. 

I was discussing this recently with greater minds than mine (remember; as a reader, I am self taught so there are inevitably gaps). I asked the question 'what key signature would you use for a Blues in F: would it be F or would it be Bb major (given that F is an F7 and, therefore, the V chord of Bb major)? It was explained to me that there is a subtle difference between different genres and the ways in which music is engraved (written down). Without over-generalising, what I was told was that, historically, music was written in certain keys e.g. Nobby Fishcake's Symphony in A minor, Giblin Blapp's Concerto in E and so on. With popular songs like Jazz standards or show tunes, it is common for the key changes to be all over the place with the harmony slipping in and out of keys throughout. Also, the use of dominant 7th chords in blues type tunes creates chaos when you try and put a key signature on the chart as the key centre and the passing chords are conflicting all of the time. As a consequence of this, there is a tendency in Jazz to write the whole thing out without a key signature and to include the accidentals in the way I have done. A lot of the lines in bass playing linked to Jazz and other secular musics are chromatic and lead into chord tones which means key signatures can interfere as you can have the same note three times in bar, one sharp, one flat and one natural; sometimes more than one of each. Key signatures can confuse the issue even more. In short, there is no universal solution to these pitfalls and people deal with it differently.

 

I try to use key signatures when it makes sense to do so but, sometimes, it makes more sense to keep things open. I am constantly reviewing this, though, as I am aware that this is 'a thing' and that my knowledge of notation is potentially flawed.

Edited by Bilbo
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Yesterday I got a score of the Sleigh ride, with 5 flats. It took quite some time with double flats etc. I have thought I read quickly, but I think I am not so fast after all...

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Music is a language, and like any other language, if it’s written vaguely or with too much obfuscation it can be hard to understand. The point of notation is to display the maximum amount of information about the performance, as simply and clearly as possible. So as Bilbo says, on some jazz lead sheets they might indicate a key signature relevant to the melody, but in practical terms a key signature is probably unhelpful, as many tunes go through different key centres, and changing the key signature several times in a short piece of music isn’t making life simpler! It’s more common in classical music but even then, more atonal pieces render a key signature useless.

As a sometime sight reader, having a piece of music put in front of you where it’s expected that the second, or at most third run-through is being recorded, or a big band book with 300+ charts handed to you, and page 168 is in 5 flats, is the kind of experience where your reading comes on leaps and bounds. With fewer and fewer of these opportunities available, by far the best alternative is again as Bilbo says - just read lots of music in all different keys. The Internet has a lot of freely-available PDFs - something I sadly never had when I started :)

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...and that score was made by a pianist, not a bassist... I just have to rewrite it.

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