5 Steps to Better Sight Reading in Record Time!

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.


Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level I-III”


Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level IV-V”

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?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Learn Standard Notation The Easy Way: A Guitarists Guide

Guitarists, be honest. Are you terrified of giving up TAB? Are you dazed and confused by the very thought of having to read standard music notation?

The truth is most guitarists struggle with reading standard notation, and for no good reason other than lack of knowledge, or effort. TAB gives you only a fraction of the information that standard notation does, and with a little work on your part reading standard notation can become far easier than reading TAB. This excerpt shows some of the markings my students have been confused by.

Guitar_Notation_Example_1

  • Left Hand Fingerings: A composer/arranger or publisher will indicate which left hand finger they want you to use for most notes by placing a small number 0-4 above the note head. “0” indicates playing that note on an open string, while “1” indicates the left index finger, “2” indicates the middle finger, “3” the ring finger, and “4” being the pinky finger. In the rare instance where the thumb needs to be wrapped over the edge of the fingerboard to play a bass note, it’s usually indicated by a “T” under the note.
  • Right Hand Fingerings: Right hand fingerings are notated by italicized lowercase letters under the note head indicating which finger to use for plucking each string. Here’s what each letter stands for:

p – pulgar (thumb)

i – índice (index finger)

m – medio (middle finger)

a – anular (ring finger)

c – chico (little finger, very rarely used)

  • Left Hand Barre Indications: Occasionally it is necessary to barre several strings with your left hand in order to play a particular passage. This is indicated by a Roman Numeral which translates into the fret that needs to be barred, which in this example would be the V (5th) fret. You would continue to hold the barre until the bracket to the right of the Roman numeral ends.
  • String Indications: As you may already know, the guitar presents some unique difficulties when it comes to deciding where to play a particular note on a fretboard. The pitch produced by the open high E string can be played easily in 4 other places on most guitars, so how do you know where to play that E? Each string is numbered 1-6 from the floor up, with the string closest to the floor being 1, in this case the highest sounding E string we’ve been referencing. The number found encircled above the stem tells you the recommended string on which to play the given note. Sometimes a bracket is used to indicate multiple notes being played on the same string.

I would also recommend purchasing a basic classical guitar sight reading book to help you ease into playing in standard notation. I highly recommend Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level I-III by Robert Benedict.  It’s truly the best method I’ve found for gradually weaning yourself away from TAB.

Start slow, and don’t allow yourself to be overly frustrated when learning standard notation. The advantages of being able to read far outweigh the time required to learn. And remember, nothing is easy at first. You’ll probably make mistakes from time to time, but so do the pros. Even Michael Jordan missed a dunk from time to time!

Discussion Question: What do you feel is the most difficult part of guitar notation?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.