One of the most stressful, frustrating, and intimidating things about playing a guitar is learning how to read music for the first time, or relearning how to read after many years away from an instrument. The good news is that there are some easy tried and true ways to improve your music reading skills while not subjecting yourself to endless hours in a practice room! Here’s 5 shortcuts for Better Sight Reading!
1) Start with good music!
One of the most important things in learning how to read music is starting with music that’s appropriate for your reading level and your instrument. Many books move way to fast into difficult content leaving students confused and frustrated. The method I use personally for my sight reading practice, and for my students is Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level I-III” and Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level IV-V”. These two method books take the student all the way from whole note exercises on a single string to finely honed sight reading skills that can be applied to learning any piece in the classical guitar repertoire. In my opinion there’s simply not a better sight reading method for guitar available.
2) Start with a plan!
Never practice without a plan! Always approach sight reading just as you would a regular practice session, by setting a very clear and definable goal for yourself. If you only have a minute or two to devote to your sight reading, then keep it simple. Maybe you’re goal is to study one line of music and play it perfectly. If you have more time then plan accordingly, but always have a clearly defined plan. Without this plan, it become very hard to measure success!
3) Sight read daily!
The only way to get better at something is to do it often! If I want to play golf like Tiger Woods you better believe that I’ll be swinging the golf club daily! If I don’t I’ll end up playing golf like Dorf. You are much more likely to succeed at sight reading if you’ll practice daily. I can’t stress this point enough!
4) Record yourself!
It sounds a little strange, but it really works! By recording yourself using audio or video you’ll be able to see some things you’re doing without even realizing it. Perhaps you always mess up when it comes to playing your A above the staff. I had a student that lost their place when sight reading because their hand was in a bad position to reach this note with their pinky. Chances are if you are able to see or hear yourself sight read you can find a pattern or trigger that causes some of your mistakes. For basic video just place your cell phone on your music stand and video yourself! If you’re looking for a high quality audio recording for regularly analyzing your playing, or making high quality recordings to distribute, try the Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder.
5) Stick with it!
This point ties in with point 3 (I told you I couldn’t stress this point enough!) Even if you aren’t able to sight read every day, or you plan to and miss a day or two, get back on the horse and try again (though you’ll find it difficult to maintain good form and play accurately on horseback). In all seriousness, it’s easy to become distracted when practicing. New pieces of music demand your attention, pending performance or test deadlines, or pure boredom can all cause you to neglect your sight reading. DON’T! All great guitarists sight read on a regular basis. As you get better at reading you can transition your sight reading skills to new pieces of music, but for now keep it simple. Make sight reading a regular part of your practice routine, and you’ll get there soon enough!
Discussion Question: What are some ways you have improved your sight reading skills?
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