Mr. J.V. Presogna
Presogna Productions

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Reading Technique From Sheet Music

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Musical Passage

Technique can be read from sheet music,
but it takes practice and patience,
as well as a little artwork of your own.

Music Lesson
Reading Technique from Sheet Music

The first thing you must learn is that your hand "works" for a period of time, and these periods of work must be understood on the sheet music itself.

The second thing you must learn is that your next period of work is dependent upon the previous period of work.

In the passage of music above, you will see the "phrases" marked off by red rectangles. These red rectangles define the "periods of work."

You will see, however, if the right hand plays the first two phrases in the sequence of 4-2-1, it works well, but the same sequence will not work for the third phrase. That is because the third phrase is longer, and needs a different work period.

The right hand in the third phrase needs something like 4-1-3-1-4-3-2 as a sequence. This is because it must also prepare for the next work period, which needs the "4" finger free to begin again. Now, this leaves some "leeway" on the tail, because the comfort level of this is idiosyncratic for each piano player. But, the "4" finger must be free at the end.

The same holds true in the left hand where each period of work is defined in the same way. In this piece, the two hands generally work together, but the music may be more complicated in other pieces. This is why the sheet music must actually be studied first.

There are three ways to play the piano. You can play with the hands "playing together." You can play with the hands "playing separately." You can play with the hands "playing independently."


The lesson above is a short introduction to reading technique from sheet music. This is something few piano players pick up along the way. Many piano players get stuck trying to duplicate the numbers on the sheet music written by someone else, but this is the WRONG WAY to learn how to play the piano.

The RIGHT WAY to learn is to "discover the periods of work." Once you do this, your own comfort level takes over, and you can easily place all of the work periods together to make a single piece of music. You will be surprised how much easier this method really is, rather than trying to follow the "fingerprints" of someone else.

The "fingering" I have drawn above is simply a "guideline" for you. In each piece, you are required to "discover the periods of work" for each hand. It is not necessary for you to actually repeat my "fingering" exactly as I have put it in this example. Each piano player has a comfort level which is different, although many pieces will be played in the same fashion.

One last hint: The piano is not a one-note instrument like a clarinet or a trumpet. The one-note instruments can rely on sight reading many times. The piano, because it plays up to ten notes at a time, is hardly ever sight read in concert pieces. You cannot possibly read the sheet music as fast as it is supposed to be played in concert. What a concert pianist does is to "mark off the sheet music" into "sections," so that the pianist can then keep track of which "section" comes next. This way, the pianist does not get lost while performing. The pianist might remember each section as "exposition, followed by first variation, segue, double run, second variation, del capo, third variation, coda." In other words, the concert pianist studies the sheet music, learns the various techniques, and remembers the piece by "sections."

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