Sight-reading is not always a skill developed by guitarists, but it is a very good skill to have, especially once you (hopefully) get your foot in the door in the real world as a musician. There are lots of good reasons for developing a good level of sight-reading ability. Most of them deal with time. Most musicians’ incomes tend to come from teaching, which is quite draining and time consuming. Acquiring the ability to sight-read can:
- Help you learn pieces faster and without as much work for gigs or performances that might arise
- Allow you to teach students pieces without necessarily having to completely master it yourself (will depend on the piece of music of course)
- Allow you to collaborate with others in chamber music settings easier and also without having to master the work completely beforehand
Sight-reading was not stressed much in my early guitar endeavors, and it wasn’t really until I went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon when my teacher Professor Jim Ferla strongly encouraged me to work on it. I will always be grateful for him for pushing me to sight-read better. Here are some tips and things to remember in order to get better at sight-reading.
- Remember, like all skills it takes practice. The only way to get better is to keep doing it. Even just a little bit each day.
- Start off with single line melodies. They don’t have to be written for the guitar. It could be flute melodies are even the top line of a piano score. In the beginning just stick to playing in the first position and play them SLOWLY but RHYTHMICALLY ACCURATE from start to finish, trying not to pause.
- When you start feeling comfortable in the first position, start moving them around the fretboard. You can either use the same single-line melodies or different ones, but try playing them in different positions. Check out this example of a made up melody: Sight-reading example
- As your sight-reading skills begin improving, start trying to read through easy guitar pieces. There are many relatively simple etudes and studies from the Classical era (Carulli and Aguado, for example, have many). Play them with the same process as reading through single line melodies. First play them in first position (most of them are written for this anyway). Then, if possible, try play them in other positions (even if it doesn’t make much sense to do so).
As already stated, the only way to get better at reading is to practice a bit every day. Grab some books of collected works like those from Frederick Noad and give it a try. Not all pieces are made for sight-reading, so make sure they are relatively simple. Also, keep in mind, the object of this isn’t to practice these little pieces and commit them to memory. Only to play through to better your reading skills.