Sight Reading Recommendation
Sight Reading Recommendation
I get many musicians who contact me about how to approach sight reading music. For many musicians it’s more like “fright reading” that sight reading. I’ve taught at a lot at Universities such as Princeton University and Berklee College of Music. In most cases I’ve found that students ability to read is not up to a professional and many times they have certain issues and weaknesses that I will discuss below. I hope these Sight Reading Recommendations help you master the art of sight reading music.
Reading Different Manuscripts
The first sight reading recommendation is to read different manuscripts. You need to train your eye to be comfortable with many styles of penmanship and music fonts, as you never know what will be thrown at you unexpectedly (see #10). Along with the many books I’ve written for Muse Eek Publishing Company I also place a lot of public domain classical music in Muse-eek.com’s “Member’s Area” which is free to join. By combining targeted sight reading music books that I’ve created and the many engravings of classical music a student gets exposed to many style of presenting music within a manuscript.
Feel Time Not Count Time
The second sight reading recommendation is to Learn to FEEL time and not count time. I usually get into this with students that have read for a while. That said, this is a crucial step in taking yourself to next level of rhythmic understanding. Understanding the ideas presented here will greatly benefit your ability to sight read music, have a great feel when you play and strengthen your foundation. One benefit of understand the idea of “long line rhythm” is an ability to superimpose rhythms and feels when improvising. I discuss this a lot in the Big Metronome. Also the use of the MetroDrone is not only super helpful with these issues, but working with it also helps with your ear training at the same time as you are sight reading.
The next 5 points are dealt with in New York Guitar Method Ensemble Book One which goes into more depth on the subject and has midi files and MP3s for some exercises which will really help you develop these concepts.
The third sight reading recommendation is to understand your eye movement when reading music and how that directly affected by its ability to move ahead of the music. You can learn to take in information much faster than most people, and read more accurately at the same time, if you can master the technique of what I call “beat reading,” where you read only what is on certain beats of the measure. This will make a huge difference in your speed and ability. This is “beat reading” and it is your secret weapon to improve your sight reading in an incredibly short period of time.
The fourth sight reading recommendation is understanding different “feels” in music. When of the main “feel” considerations is understanding Straight 8ths vs. Swing 8th. As many of you know there are two major ways to feel eighth or even sixteenth notes: where you play them straight (like in rock music) or with a swing feel (found in blues and jazz). In the latter, you are playing eighth notes something close to beat one and the 3rd note of a triplet. There is much more to this idea of feel, especially when we talk about a swing feel, but I’m just touching on key points.
Learning Rhythmic Levels
The fifth sight reading recommendation is learning the different ways of counting through a piece of music. Depending on the style, tempo and other considerations you may want to count the music with quarters, halves, whole notes etc… There is no one source to learn what is appropriate it what situation but I will say that working through the Time Studies Books will help you realize all the metric levels that are involved when become a great sight reader. Knowing how to count based on the metric level or odd time signature situation can be crucial to your success. I would start with the Rhythm Primer which gives you a lot of suggestions on how to count through a piece of music.
Understanding Rhythm Notation
The sixth sight reading recommendation is understanding rhythm notation. There are two key factors with this. One, for rhythm section players is understanding how to read rhythmic notation along with chords. Second is being able to read on multiple rhythm levels. There are four common rhythmic levels in music. Think of it like this: you could have your basic beat be a whole, half, quarter or eighth note. Fast jazz is written at the whole or half note level, jazz is written at the quarter note level ( but felt at the half note level), Really slow music in any style is written at the eighth note level. The New York Guitar Method Volume One along with the whole Rhythm Series of Books is all about rhythmic levels so it’s an excellent source for mastering each one. This Rhythm Series has now been expanded to twelve volumes covering common rhythms as well as quintuplets, sextuplets and septuplets as well as combinations of these odd groupings.
Mix it Up
The seventh sight reading recommendation is the realization that when you work on reading it’s best to use a bunch of different types of sight reading materials rather than just one book by one composer. Commonly when students decide to learn to read they grab one of Bach’s masterpieces. While it’s great music you should be using more that one book. Bach’s music isn’t going to help you read that chart in a funk band; it’s just not rhythmic in the same way. So mix it up, get written music in as many different kinds of styles as you can to prepare yourself for the real world of sight reading.
Be Consistent in Your Practice
The eighth sight reading recommendation is that you need to be consistent in your practice. I did one hour a day of sight reading for 5 years which put me at a super pro level but if you can do 15 minutes a day within a few months you are reading better than most musicians and in a year or two you will be approaching an “OK” pro level.
Sight Reading Improves Your Musicianship.
The ninth sight reading recommendation is an observation that I noticed about myself and my students. That is that sight reading music improves your musicianship. When you have to address learning rhythm and how to play melodies you get into a host of issues that will help raise your playing, composing and ensemble balance skills. It will help you understand how music is felt and written. It will help you see and solve the problems you might have with speeding up or slowing down as you play. You will be able to understand how to organize music and styles into different notation conventions. It will allow you to get inside a composer’s music to understand their inner workings from a very fundamental place because you are playing, rather than only reading, the music. I could go on, but again these are just a few key points among many.
Sight Reading Pays
The tenth sight reading recommendation is a simple consideration. You can make money sight reading music. I have many examples like this but this is short and sweet. I got a call 8pm at night when I was living in Boston. The guitarist that was supposed to play with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Boston the next day just had an attack of appendicitis. I walked into symphony hall and started sight reading on the spot from a book that I’d never seen before. Maybe I missed two or three notes throughout the evening but no one seemed to notice. But I made enough money from that one gig to live in Boston for six months. Reading pays, my friend.
These 10 sight reading recommendations are some of the important subjects I talk to students about from the onset of their lessons. I’m constantly added sight reading titles to the Muse Eek Publishing Company list so please check there for updates. If you decide to get away from “fright reading” and move towards sight reading get in touch, and I’ll make some recommendations.
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Bruce Arnold Music Education Genealogy Chart
You might enjoy checking out the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located on my artist’s site. You will clearly see the historic progression of pedagogy that is the basis for Muse Eek Publishing Products. Great musicians throughout history have been studying the ideas presented by Muse-eek.com which derives its content from a a lineage that stretches back to Scarlatti!