Sight Reading Recommendation

Sight Reading Recommendation

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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’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.

Beat Reading

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.

Different Feels

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 which derives its content from a a lineage that stretches back to Scarlatti!

Bruce-Arnold-Guitar-Flutterby-18 sight reading recommendation

Pitch Class Set Improvisation: The Sonic Resource Guide

Pitch Class Set Improvisation

Guitarist Bruce Arnold BLOG Logo Pitch Class Set Improvisation

Sonic Resource Guide

The Sonic Resource Guide is a guide to pitch class set theory, providing a structure with which to organize music. When utilized, it will broaden your improvisational and compositional palette leading to a personal, and unique sound.

Sonic Resource Guide: Pitch Class Set Theory for the Improvising Musician, pitch class set improvisation

What is a Pitch Class Set?

Basically, a Pitch Class Set is just a fancy name for a scale. This scale can have between 2 and 12 notes. What makes it a bit different is that a Pitch Class Set also includes many groupings of notes that we don’t usually think of as a scale like a dyad or triad.

What sets a Pitch Class Set Apart from a Scale?

What sets a pitch class set apart from a scale is how these 2 to 12 notes scales are organized and categorized. A good example is a three note scale. A Major Triad could be thought of as a three note scale. If you consult the New York Guitar Method Volume One you will find a complete list of all the possible three note scales. There are 49 three note scales in total. These 49 possibilities are listed as degrees. For instance a Major Triad is 1,3,5 and we can then figure out the inversions from there i.e. 3,5 up to 1 is 1st inversion and 5 up to 1 up to 3 is 2nd inversion.

Let’s Dig a Bit Deeper

But this can be a very inefficient way to work with music. As you dig deeper through this list you also find 1,b3,b6. Well, that is actually the 1st inversion of a Major Triad in Ab right? Let’s think of both instances starting from the note “C.” If we take the 1st inversion of 1,3,5 the “3” is “E.” We have 3,5 up to 1 which is E,G,C. If we take 1,b3,b6 and make “1” an “E” we again have E,G,C. So both are the same. This can make processing a list such as the one you find in the New York Guitar Method Volume One tricky. If you aren’t a pretty advanced musician, organizing 48 three note combinations plus their inversions is a crazy amount of work. Besides, in some cases those inversions are already listed as other groups! In my opinion, this is not an effective way to practice with or organize sound. Not to mention that remembering 48 plus inversions is a daunting amount of material to put to memory.

Why Pitch Class Set and Prime Form?

Now let’s look at the difference if you think of scales as pitch class sets and establish their prime form. Go back to the New York Guitar Method Volume One list and this time choose 1,2,5. In “C” that would be C, D, G. But you would also find 1, 4, b7 and 1,4,5 in the list. But wait! Aren’t all three of these combinations the same things? 1,2,5 could be C D, G. If we make “1” a “D,” 1, 4, b7 would be D, G, C. Then if we made “1” a “G.” 1,4,5 would be G, C, D. Hopefully you are starting to see that we are running around in circles with this list and hopefully we could organize things more easily, so we aren’t always taxing our brains to make sure the information is not overlapping or redundant.

Enter Prime Form

With Pitch Class Sets there is a thing called “Prime Form.” The idea behind “Prime Form” is to reduce all scales (pitch class sets) into “one” grouping of notes so we don’t have to remember so many combinations as we have seen in the previous examples.

Example of Prime Form

“Prime Form” always reduces any group of notes into its smallest interval combination. For example C, D, G is already in Prime Form. You would find that if we called “C” “0” or the starting point and “D” “2′ because it’s two half steps above “C.” Then we called “G” “7” because it’s seven half steps above “C.” Using this system C,D, G can be reduced to a scale i.e. a pitch class set that is “027.” Let’s look at another example; what if we had D,G,C. If we start from “D” and make that “0” the D= 0, G is up a fourth so it’s “5” and C is up a minor 7th from “D” so it’s 10. So a D,G,C is a 0,5,10 but of course we can reduce this to 027. This is why changing your thought patterns over, so that you think of everything you play in its Prime Form, you have drastically reduced the number of things you have to remember.

Less is Best

When you are an improvisor the less you have to think about, the more spontaneous and creative you can be. So I call improvisation where pitch class sets are a part of your thinking “pitch class set improvisation.” This technique gives you a serious leg up on organizing improvisational ideas, not to mention creating some really awesome contemporary-sounding melodic and harmonic music.

Reducing our 48 Three Note Combinations

If we shrink all 48 three note scale down to their “Prime Form” we only have 12 three note combinations. OK now we are talking about something that is easy to remember. Anyone can remember 12 different groups of three notes. This is why working with The Sonic Resource Guide is so awesome. It shrinks every scale down to its smallest combination, which means in total there are only 220 possible scales that exist with all 12 notes.

The Sonic Resource Guide is really a reference book that provides you with all kinds of information about chords and scales using Pitch Class Set Theory. This helps you to switch your organizational principle over to a pitch class set improvisation way of thinking. With this book, unlike others on the same subject, everything is presented simply and clearly, without advanced math or equations. In addition, unlike these other books which are targeted toward classical music, the Sonic Resource Guide is for any improvisor, no matter the genre. This makes it unique. Using it, you can organize all scales and chords into a system that is logical and shows you relationships that might have been previously unseen. Additionally, the Sonic Resource Guide reduces all possible scales down to a manageable 220 possible combinations.

Organization Principle = Pitch Class Set Improvisation

The Sonic Resource Guide‘s logical organizing principles allow a musician to see all of the possibilities behind any scale (Pitch Class Set) in a clear and concise way. So really we are switching over to a pitch class set improvisation way of thinking. If you are a musician who wants to explore new sounds for improvisation or composition then this book will be a great resource that you can refer for years.

Bridging the Gap

The aim of The Sonic Resource Guide is to bridge a gap in music education; it is a balance between the highly mathematical approach to pitch class theory and the often limited scope of jazz improvisational methods. By demonstrating numerous theoretical relationships that an improviser can use to create original musical content, the Sonic Resource Guide provides a breath of fresh air and sound to your musical expression.

Jazz Theory Within a Pitch Class Setting

Within the The Sonic Resource Guide you will find various melodic and harmonic relationships of each pitch class set listed. This makes it easy to locate and utilize these relationships within your own playing. Along with each pitch class set is a listing of possible related jazz chords so that you can plug these sounds into your playing immediately.

Sonic Resource Additional Content

Where appropriate a listing of all three and four note chords can be found to aid in creating varied and unique harmonic palettes, as well as three, four, six and eight note subset relationships to help in exploring subset based musical ideas. All musicians will find this book user friendly because all Pitch Class Set (Scales) relationships are listed as both pitch names and scale degrees. Set theory students will find each pitch class set is expressed in its prime form so it will be easy to navigate.

Using Pitch Class Set Improvisation as a way to Organize

Thinking and organizing via pitch class set improvisation will give your thought processes much more clarity. You will be able to create any scale on the fly and immediately discern their hidden relationships. You can investigate the common scales you know, or create new scales at your whim. All this can be done quickly by using the index which helps you locate any group of notes in its prime form, which will then be your guide to finding the scale within the book. There is also a brief theory section exploring some of the many uses of the information presented.

Supplemental Materials

Think of the The Sonic Resource Guide as a reference book where you find cool relationships. But now that you’ve found some, how do you apply them? To that end I’ve created a series of books. Here is a list of them to check out, to help you develop pitch class set improvisation ideas.

Here are some Pitch Class Set Improvisation Books

CD and DVDs where I use Pitch Class Set Improvisation

Pitch Class Set Improvisation is Not Style Specific

Many times people think that using Pitch Class Set Improvisation techniques means you are playing “avant garde” melodies and chords. This could not further from the truth. Pitch Class Set Improvisation can be used with any style.
Here are some examples:

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 which derives its content from a a lineage that stretches back to Scarlatti!

Bruce-Arnold-Guitar-Flutterby-20 pitch class set improvisation