How far can I get with synthesia? Difficulties with reading

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Postby svarn » 12-31-14 1:23 pm

So I've been teaching myself to play piano with help of synthesia for about 8 months now, and I'm having a blast with it, it's really fun to do, and I have no problem whatsoever to sit down to my piano every single day. And I think I'm making an enourmous progress with it. But I'm stuck with some things and I wonder if it's even possible to get throught them with synthesia, or am I goin to have to switch to music sheets at some point. So I was hoping that somebody in here has been throught this already, and can tell me how difficult of pieces they can play with just synthesia. And I mean in a way of sightreading, without having to sit and learn a piece, since obviously I can memorize any piece and then it doesn't really matter whether I learned it from synthesia or music sheets.
I can play difficult pieces if I memorize them, but it is quite a pain. It's not really fun (since it takes quite a lot of time and effort) and I keep forgeting bits, unless I play them every day, and then have to go back to synthesia or experiment quite a bit to relearn it.

So the main issue for me is to be able to read both hands at once.
Atm I can "sightread" most of Chopin nocturnes (left hand at 80% and right is usually fine at 100% speed, with exceptions in some parts), even trying some etiudes or concertos (those don't go so well unless around 30% speed :d), with hands separatly.
But the moment I try to play both hands at once I just fall into pieces, even with some of pieces provided by default in synthesia.
So I started wondering whether, I just need more time to do this ? or maybe methods I'm using to teach myself are wrong, or if it's even possible to do this with synthesia ? Since notes can be quite far away from each other on the screen. While on music sheets, You can easily see what both hands are supposed to be playing without having to move your eyes.

Also just as with memorizing, I'm doin fine with both hands when I improvise, nothing fancy, but I can play chords or single octave arpeggios with my left hand and then play around with right.
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Postby kiwi » 12-31-14 2:28 pm

Singing when Learning help for memorization ;)
Playing directly both hand is hard for many of us i think (depending on the complexity of the piece)
Anyway before to read both hand you must be able to read one hand at a time perfectly.
Then playing what's you read is another story ^^.
Also a good sense of rhytm is required if you haven't practice different rhytmic pattern.

I am like you i often forget the piece that i have learned but if i practice a little the piece then i can play it like the way when i had mastered it.
If it's not you're case yep there's maybe something wrong in you're method.

Notice music is an art and like any art it's not so easy but it become more easy with the years so 8 month for 80% of the peopple is not so much.
So my only advices take you're time,enjoy and also improvise it's really funny too :)
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Postby svarn » 01-01-15 6:32 am

Yeah I'm aware that 8 months is not much at all in terms of learning how to play piano, so I'm quite happy where I got in that amount of time. However I think that it's plenty of time to give a single method.
What I wanted to say is that I've been working with synthesia for some time, and I'm not like, "Hey I've been doin this a for 3 days! why haven't I mastered this yet?!".

Problem is that even if I can play both hands perfectly with ease, then when I try to play them at once I need to slow down even to 20%. So I have enought time to look on the left hand, and then on the right one, press the keys and then repeat the process, before the notes end. And then when I'm jumping in between those things I tend to get lost, and can no longer tell where my hands are and then I have to look down on the piano. And things go down the hill from there.

I'm goin to continue with how I'm working atm, since I don't really have any better idea and I'm not really willing to learn how to read music sheets (efficiently) just yet :d
And who knows, maybe the problem will resolve itself with time. I was just curious if anyone has been throught this and maybe has a solution.
I consider piano a hobby, so I'm not really in a rush either.
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Postby Birdman87 » 01-01-15 10:49 pm

I have been learning with synthesia for about 3 years and here is what i learned.

If you are just starting off, even one hand will seem a challenge let along two, at 8 months you should pick a song as simple as humanly possible and follow this pattern

- play it with your right and left hands separately until you can play it at at least 90% speed of the song
- count how many times on average it took you to get with the hands separately to that 90% speed, if for example it took you 10 tries with the left and 10 with the right, you should play the song at least 80 times with both, take it as a 20% separate and 80% with both, separate hands is important to get the gist of the song but you will not learn the song until you put them both together and start practicing ONLY with them together. I made a huge mistake that i only practiced with them separately most of the time and now i pretty much suck with both hands.

Don't be discouraged by the fact that you can only play 20% with both hands, most songs i play even now i have 95% on separate and when i put them together barely 30%, but that 30% increases each try with both hands.

If you want to increase your progress even further i highly recommend you do the scales and arpeggios in the free exercises, the majority of the songs you will be playing will be using the scales and arpeggios hand movements to help you glide along the keys faster, that's why teachers force students to do scales over and over, cause it forms your hand to automatically know when to go and transition between sections. Also try to advance to two handed scales as soon as possible, it will advance your piano playing even further.
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Postby svarn » 01-02-15 6:22 am

Thanks you for your replies.
I already realised the importance of scales =) I tend to get lazy about those, but I understand that some bits are unplayable without that. I try to practice them the "Russian way" (up, down and then one hand up and the other down), it can sometimes give me a headache, but I'm getting fluent in a couple of those.

I'm afraid thou that we are getting back to the idea of "learning songs" instead of sightreading. Perhaps I should explain what brought this whole topic on me.

About 3 months ago I was set on memorizing songs, it was going ok and I learned to play some songs that I didn't even think I would be able to, it was quite a lenghty process. Then however a friend visited me, she used to play piano as a kid, but later she stoped and haven't played for a couple of years now. So she sat down to my piano, took a piece of sheet music and just started playing it both hands together, not full speed, but faster then I could with my one hand and she has never even heard or seen it. And it was a rather difficult piece.
And then I realised that memorizing songs doesn't really help me with playin other songs, even if they use similar techniques. So at that point I changed up my practice routine to just reading synthesia, and I think that I started making much more progress this way.

And please don't get me wrong, I'm not dumb to expect to play like my friend that used to play for a couple of years. That's not what this whole thing is about. I just would like to know if it's possible at all, couple years down the road, with just the help of synthesia.
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Postby Birdman87 » 01-02-15 12:06 pm

Sight reading even with synthesia is a process that can up to 5 years to properly being able to instantly play simple songs(hard songs can take wayy more years). Right now i guess i could say i can sight read very simple pieces instantly on synthesia at about 80-90% speed with both hands together, and each run of the song i get a dramatic speed increase as i get more familiar with the song. It all comes down to practicing with both hands as often as possible since this has a tendency to create automation for your hands as you get more and more familiar with patterns and chord shapes on both hands.

If you are interested in sight reading sheet too there is a very nice software called Presto Keys, it just shoots random sheet notes at you and you have to play them on the keyboard, makes learning sheet music fluently an extremely rapid process. Not to mention the fact that it's fully customizable with the note range and specific keys.

Here is a video showing it:
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Postby jimhenry » 01-02-15 12:11 pm

Sight reading sheet music is just one of many skills that are useful when playing piano. It is useful but not essential. If you want to be better at it, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine too.

Synthesia is not a good tool if your goal is to play from printed sheet music, at least not until Synthesia 11 when support for MusicXML is promised. This not a skill I have pursued but I understand two "sub-skills" that are needed are the ability to quickly recognize intervals, chords, and rhythms in sheet music and the ability to play without looking at your hands. It sounds like you have been practicing the second sub-skill with Synthesia, which is a good start. I would guess that knowing scales is important so that you can quickly understand what notes are being used based on the key signature. Knowing at least basic theory would also help in knowing what are the more likely notes being used at a given moment.

You are going to need sheet music to study and it should be a selected graded progression of music to allow you to develop your reading skills in a systematic way. I am pretty sure a lot of the early stuff is going to be boring. Here are two books I found with a quick search at Amazon: ... 184761132X ... 0739009796

From the Amazon reviews of the second book:

I am a teacher, and this is a good program for adults who need to improve their sight reading. Examples are simple, as they should be. For those of you teaching yourselves, use a metronome at a very slow speed and practice an example till you can get through it smoothly with the beat. Limit your time working your sight reading, give it your full concentration, then stop and play something you enjoy. If you practice sight reading for too long a period, you will get burned out and defeat the purpose.
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Postby svarn » 01-02-15 1:35 pm

Thanks, five years for simple songs is quite a lot of time, I'm glad however that you're not eliminating the possibility.
I've already seen prestokeys, I think it's a really awasome program, I did however get bored quite fast with it, since it does indeed shoot random notes ... It can also read midi files, you need to specify scale for each song thou, but it defeats the purpose of sightreading a little. Since You have to find and pick songs beforehand, which means that You know them and it's not really sightreading anymore =) Plus thats kind of a lot of effort ^ ^
But overall it seemed like a really awasome way to learn to read notes, since You don't need to tackle everything at once, and You can learn things like rythm, note recognition and hand cooperation separatly.

These posts made me realise, that my goals might be a little bit unusuall. And that for most people sightreading with synthesia might be a weird skill to have, because You can't really take it outside =d But I guess that for the most part I'm playing for myself and it's just fun to have such an enormous repertoire.
In terms of sub-skills.
Could You specify what do You mean by "recognising chords" ? When I play chords, I just look at shape and try to play it. Should I instead be thinking in terms of, what chord is it and in which inversion ?
Actually now that think about it I probably should =) It sounds difficult thou, so how important would You is that ?
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Postby jimhenry » 01-02-15 3:02 pm

For sight reading you want to be able to see a cluster of notes on the page, or in Synthesia falling note patterns (although I am still not sure if I see the value in being able to sight read a MIDI file played through Synthesia, but whatever floats your boat), and just have your hand form the shape and find the position to play that chord. In the ultimate goal you see and play with no conscious thinking in between. Before you get there you'll probably need to think of something but that can be whatever helps you get to see and play.

Now if you are going to play improvisationally, then you probably want to think a bit more about chords by scale degree and function. But that's a different skill area.
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Postby Birdman87 » 01-02-15 9:33 pm

Five years for an average student who practices 30-60 min daily, that is about the amount i have put in and i can say i still have about 2 years to go until i can master any simple song you throw at me. If for example you are a prodigy and are able to focus 2-4 hours per day, you might reach that point in 2-3 years maybe, it all the depends on how much focus you put into each of your sessions.

What i meant about recognizing chords is, i have practiced so many songs, that when a 4 note chord appears my hand just immediately forms the shape of that chord without paying too much attention to all the notes in it, this of course will come in time with lots of practice. At first i had no idea what an inversion or how a chord was formed, i just learned all the shapes by heart, only recently i looked deeper into it and have a basic understanding how all of this works

If you are really serious about piano, i can safely say learning the basic theory will advance you light years in terms of understanding what you're doing and learning any new song. There is a a piano lessons series by a dude called andrew found here: ... A8&index=1

He also has an entire series about the entire music theory you can also find on his channel. Overall synthesia can be fun to sightread but sheet music will turn out to be much more practical and useful in the future.

You also have the option of training your ear to recognize notes and learn to play by ear, this coupled with basic theory can turn you into a master pianist in a few years, you just learn the chord progression and key of the song and your hands improv all the notes by sound, no sheet or synthesia needed. An exercise to start training your ear can be found here:
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Postby svarn » 01-03-15 5:17 am

O wow, this seems like a really awasome series of lessons, thanks a lot. When I first got my piano, I went throught some lessons on youtube, and basic harmony, but I haven't seen this. And it looks like a much more comprehensive and complete set of lessons.
As for ear training, I'd love to be able to do that, I just assumed that it's way too early to even bother with that. Cuz atm I can sometimes guess what an interval is, but never a note.
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Postby jimhenry » 01-03-15 11:15 am

You can start ear training and learning to play by ear (they aren't the same thing) just as soon as you have the basic mechanics of how to play. In fact, reading for too long before you start playing without music can set you back on that side of things.

Very few people can recognize a note in the abstract. Learning to hear intervals when notes are played one after the other is all you need. Starting on any note and hearing unison, fifth up, unison, major second up, unison, major second down is the start of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. By picking the starting note, you can play that in any key. You should spend a few minutes every time you practice just picking out simple melodies that you know very well. When you have the melody, try figuring out chords to play as harmony with that melody. Then try making up your own melodies. And then harmonizing them.

Music is a language. You want to learn to read it, write it, hear it, speak it, and be able to converse in it.
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Postby mateusqp » 01-08-15 5:19 pm

Hello, I've been playing for almost 5 years with synthesia, but I'm almost always on memorization, I do some sight reading just to test pieces, find fingerings and fun.

I can sight read chopin nocturnes at 50% with both hands, but some of the hard parts may get messed hehe, of course.

So far the only person I saw learning advanced piano through synthesia was one guy playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata - 3rd mov, and me myself. Here's a video that I uploaded just yesterday. My first focus was to learn lots of hard pieces with memorization, but not learning them perfectly, in order to understand the "piano geometry", and now I'm learning how to improve them.
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Postby chuku1981 » 01-19-15 4:30 pm

jimhenry wrote:Sight reading sheet music is just one of many skills that are useful when playing piano. It is useful but not essential. If you want to be better at it, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine too.

Synthesia is not a good tool if your goal is to play from printed sheet music, at least not until Synthesia 11 when support for MusicXML is promised.

I bought synthesia at patch 10. It has the sheet music for the songs. Is there something different about update 11 that would make reading the sheet music a bit better from what we have now? (apart from having to remove the keys and floating notes before each song)
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Postby jimhenry » 01-19-15 5:40 pm

Yes! Up through version 10, Synthesia has been reconstructing the sheet music from the MIDI files. MIDI files do not have all the information needed to produce sheet music. An obvious example of this is that the information about whether a note appears on the bass or treble clef is not in a MIDI file. Synthesia has to guess where to display the notes around middle C.

When Synthesia adds support for MusicXML in version 11, it will be able to read the additional information included in a MusicXML file that describes how the music score should look. At that point, Synthesia's display in sheet music mode should be very close to playing from a printed piece of sheet music.

The one caveat is that there is not a great deal of music available in MusicXML format compared to the amount available in MIDI format. And I don't see that situation changing anytime soon.
Jim Henry
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Postby chuku1981 » 01-19-15 8:37 pm

I had to look up what MusicXML is. That does seem like it would be nice. but I couldn't imagine it would be a retroactive thing. I couldn't see Nicholas(sp?) going back and reconfiguring all the midi's to MusicXML. Unless, is that the plan? or is it just that Synthesia is going to support independent xml files. In any case, I'm ecstatic that this game is so frequently updated. Makes me want to buy something from the store from time to time just to support the application.
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Postby jimhenry » 01-19-15 10:41 pm

Synthesia will just add support for MusicXML files.

I believe Nicholas has said that they have been making MusicXML files for all the songs they sell in the Synthesia music store.

I think it is likely that the included song library will be updated to MusicXML files, possibly as a project by the Synthesia community. (That's how finger hints were added to the library.)

Beyond that, I think it will be slim pickings.
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Postby Nicholas » 01-20-15 9:05 am

jimhenry wrote:I believe Nicholas has said that they have been making MusicXML files for all the songs they sell in the Synthesia music store.

We can't for the licensed stuff (that's a negotiated digital print license vs. the compulsory mechanical license), but we've got a few MusicXML files already stashed away for some upcoming classical stuff.

jimhenry wrote:I think it is likely that the included song library will be updated to MusicXML files...

That's my goal for the 11 release. That the entire built-in set will be adapted to beautifully engraved sheet music. (Whether the community helps or I have to badger my arranger into doing it, it'll get done! :lol: )

jimhenry wrote:Beyond that, I think it will be slim pickings.

It's not so bad. And the format is picking up steam all the time. With import/export support in every major notation editor, the accessibility is there now.

And those gears are starting to turn in the big companies. I had a conversation with someone from Yamaha a couple years ago and learned that NoteStar actually uses MusicXML under the hood for their entire catalog. (Of course, they don't make those files available to the user... even after you "buy" a song.) Still, it's progress.
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Postby draco2023a » 02-16-16 8:49 am

Anyone interested with help with sight reading, Head on over to and utilize the tools they have to offer....It's all free and I think if you test yourself once daily with their reverse keyboard identification quiz, you'll know the notes in no time.
You can completely customize each quiz here..
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