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Improving reading


(@nichi_jin)
Eminent Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 21
Topic starter  

So everyday I'm practicing reading music. I just find I'm so slow, retardedly slow almost. I'm determined to learn however and just need any advice on how to speed up my reading. I find that when I read the notes it takes me a while to register where they are on the fretboard and what finger to use - I'm practicing in 2nd position now. It's like I know which note it is and where it should be but my mind goes blank. I also find it hard to concentrate, that's probably my adhd kicking in. I know it takes time and I'm willing to put in that time but does anyone have any extra advice or maybe materials or books they use for improving their reading?

Also, just wondering are those that can fluently read music able to just pick up a piece before hand and then follow it and play it perfectly or do they too have to sit down and practice a bit first before they can play it perfectly? And if so how long does that take the average musician?

Cheers


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(@noteboat)
Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

It takes time, and patience.

Standard notation is a written language, and just like reading English, it won't happen overnight. The real trick is to read OFTEN - when you learned English, you were constantly surrounded by it... watching Sesame Street or similar educational programs, reciting the alphabet, following along while your parents read to you, etc. But it still took you months to learn the alphabet, and years to recognize some words without sounding them out first.

Music's the same way. The more you do it, and the more often you do it, the more comfortable you'll be, first with the 'alphabet' (the basic pitches and rhythms) and then with the 'vocabulary' (the sequences, scale runs, arpeggios, etc. that happen over and over in various forms).

How long it takes depends on individual aptitude, effort, frequency, etc. 2-4 years seems pretty typical before you can just pick up a piece and play it. But like any other reading, there's stuff that's easy to read and stuff that's hard to read. You might be a 'good reader' of English and still struggle with some of the vocabulary in "Paradise Lost".

Music is the same way. I'm probably reading music at least 30 hours a week, and I've done that for years. But probably less than 10% of the reading I do is literally 'at sight', where I've never seen the music before. I can play the majority of what I read the first time, but not all of it - if something is heavily syncopated or highly chromatic, my first pass may not be right.

There are a few tips I can give you for becoming a good reader:

1. SING what you see. Reading music is making a connection between a symbol and a sound. On some instruments, like the piano, you can do that mechanically - middle C is always the same key. But on the guitar, we can get that pitch in five different places, and we can reach most of those from more than one position. So reading 'mechanically' is tough to do. But if your eyes are telling your brain what it should sound like, you'll make the eye/mind/finger connections more accurately over time - and if what you hear doesn't agree with what you see, you'll catch your own mistakes. Almost all the good sight readers I know can sight-sing.

2. There's a huge difference between reading (deciphering the notes) and SIGHT reading (doing it in real time at first pass). You learn to read through repetition... think about how many times you read that one Dr. Seuss book as a kid! But you learn to sight-read by always practicing with music that you have NEVER played before, even once. That takes a lot of work - and a lot of music. I spend some time every day playing from fake books, and I buy several of those a year so I'll have a couple of thousand tunes I can run through that are 'fresh' to keep up my reading chops. When I was young and I hadn't the funds to do that, I got creative... I'd take the music I had, and play pieces backwards. Many books - especially method books - have music with the bar lines lined up vertically... so I'd play down a column of measures instead of left-to-right. I'd borrow music from the public library, or from friends who played clarinet or violin or anything else in treble clef, and play that.

3. On the guitar, there's a complicated mechanical aspect to reading - we can play exactly the same melody more than one way. So take the stuff you can already play, and do it again in a new position. Some will be easier than others, but it's the practice of doing a piece in as many ways as you can that will help you master reading for the guitar.

There are lots of books on how to read for guitar. Most method books (Mel Bay, Berklee, etc) mix in chord reading with note reading. In practice, you'll master single line reading a lot sooner than chord reading. The best single line reading book I've seen is "Sight to Sound" by Leon White - with that, and some fake books, and plenty of practice time, you'll build confidence in your reading, and you can then go through the easier method books at a faster clip.

Hope that helps!

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@nichi_jin)
Eminent Member
Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 21
Topic starter  

Thanks for your advice, it was really really helpful and encouraging. Just a few clarifications...

1. SING what you see.

Do you mean when I play an A I should sing "a" etc.?

I spend some time every day playing from fake books, and I buy several of those a year so I'll have a couple of thousand tunes I can run through that are 'fresh' to keep up my reading chops.

What are are fake books?

Thanks again


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(@noteboat)
Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

1. Yes... but also try to sing the melodies you see WITHOUT playing your guitar - then play them with the guitar to check how you did. The idea in reading fluently is not to translate a note into a fingering, but into a sound in your head. Skipping that step is what I referred to as 'reading mechanically'.

Think about how you read English: "take a bow".... "tie a bow around it". You pronounced 'bow' differently in your head, right? That's what reading fluently is - you're translating the symbols into the appropriate sound, and that depends on context. On the guitar, the context isn't the pronunciation, but the fingering - if I see a phrase on a page, I'll translate it into a different "pronunciation" (fingering) depending on where my hand is on the fretboard.

2. Fake books are collections of songs that include a (usually) single note melody line, lyrics (if the tune has them), and chord symbols. They're not full arrangements, but a stripped down version, sometimes called a 'head chart' (because you make the arrangement up in your head as you play) or 'lead sheet'. Fake books are expensive - ranging from about $20 to more than $50, but they tend to have a LOT of songs - typically 200 to nearly 2000. They're usually all songs in one genre, like blues, gospel, folk, Irish tunes, etc.

Depending on the style, fake books can be a tool of the trade. When I get a jazz gig as a sideman, the band leader will typically say something like "we'll play from the Real book", and I'll know to bring my copy - we'll all use the same fakebook, and make up the arrangements on the fly.

For single line reading material, I've found fake books to be cost effective, because on a per-song basis they can cost as little as a nickel or so. That's a lot cheaper than other songbooks or sheet music. There's some standard notation stuff available on the internet for free, but many of them include chords - which is also good practice, but as I said, you'll end up finding single note stuff better for building confidence in your reading chops.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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 Ande
(@ande)
Honorable Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 659
 

Another thought on reading- singing is a cool way to practice, because it makes it less dependant on your guitar chops.

There are some things I can sight read, practically performance ready.

There are others that I have to sit down and practice quite a bit before I can even play through them without stopping.

This isn't really about reading, it's about the fact that some pieces are too hard for me to play without focused practice.

Your reading will get better fastest if you practice reading daily with music appropriate to your level. Your progress will slow if you're constantly trying to read things you aren't ready to play.

Best,
Ande


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

I think you need to mix them up a bit. Reading things well within your present limits builds confidence... but you also need to read some hard things - otherwise, how will you stretch your limits?

I got in a good long (roughly 3 hour) practice this morning before teaching. The majority of it, like most practice sessions, was well within my ability. But I spent a good chunk - more than 20 minutes - reading a couple of really difficult pieces. That makes you THINK about the notes, and their placement on the fretboard. I won't do the same pieces tomorrow, but I will do them Monday... and they'll go a little bit better, and when I hit the really awkward stuff it won't be quite as difficult. Maybe two months from now - or three, or ten - I'll have added more arrows to my quiver. And I'll be ready to add some even harder stuff.

A couple more things to think about...

1) One huge advantage to sight read is you can get ideas to use when you're NOT reading. We often get stuck in improvisational ruts, where we're just recycling old material. And if all you have to draw on is what you've done before, that's inevitable. But other people have other musical ideas, and through reading we're exposed to tons of melodic ideas we'd never have thought of on our own. So be sure to LISTEN while you read, and take note of what turns you on. I found a great little four-measure phrase today that I'm going to mess around with tomorrow... while remembering what Picasso said: good artists borrow, great ones steal :)

2) When you're reading at your limits, you're fully engaged, concentrating on getting it "right" - as in playing the right note, at the right time. When you're reading well below your limits, you've got excess brainpower available. When you find you're partly on auto-pilot, start using those resources! Go beyond pitch and rhythm - start thinking about dynamics and phrasing while you read. Playing a piece right leads to an adequate performance. Interpreting a piece right leads to a great one.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@staffan)
Estimable Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 125
 

Wow, really interesting replies! I´m not good at all at reading sheet music apart from the most basic stuff (I attended a 12 hour course in sight reading last year, but that´s about it). I would really like to learn more in this department and I was wondering if someone might have a tip for a really good book (or other learning material) to get things started? There´s so much out there I find it hard to know where to start...

Thank you in advance!

AAAFNRAA
- Electric Don Quixote -


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(@sean0913)
Trusted Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 65
 

I recommend "Music Reading for Guitar", by David Oakes on MI Press. It's the best guide I have ever seen on the subject of sight reading. 5 Stars Plus.

Sean

Guitar Instructor/Mentor
Online Guitar School for Advanced Players
http://rnbacademy.com


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(@dklumph)
New Member
Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 1
 

I'm new to guitar and sight reading as well. I've only been at it for two months but love it and feel I've been making great progress. So far as sight reading goes one thing that has been helping me is a smart phone application. I found a free sight reading application for my phone. You pick either piano or guitar and it basically gives you 60 seconds to identify as many notes as you can. It shows the note and you identify the note by touching a correct string/fret combo. The app I'm using only shows first position (I haven't checked but maybe if I buy the full version of the app more positions are available). It's simple but it's convenient and makes it easy to practice anytime I have a few minutes, wherever I am.

I'm not saying this is the best way to learn...just saying for me it's convient and fun and has helped me recognize notes more quickly. There may be something similar for the pc.

Don


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