Sight reading: are you a push bike or a Ferrari?

I was checking out Carlos Bonell’s blog recently, reading some of his witty little 100 lessons for life plucked from the guitar.

Number 5 of these referred to himself in his formative years as being a push-bike of a sight reader in comparison with sight reading Ferraris of orchestral-type instrumentalists. This little anecdote and life lesson reflects my own thoughts (and blog post only t’other day) that we as guitarists can sometimes suffer in our musicianship. This is what Carlos had to say….

While at William Ellis School in North London I played music with violinists, cellists and pianists. None of them were much older than me, but their music reading skills were way ahead. They were like Ferraris on their respective instruments, accelerating to 100 miles per hour in a few seconds. While I pedalled away on my push-bike guitar still at bar two, they were already at bar seven. I resolved to change this humiliating situation and through hard work and determination eventually replaced my guitar pushbike with a motorbike. It was a big improvement, but I kept working at it right through my teens and during my student days too until one day my persistence paid off spectacularly – but that’s another story.

Lesson for life:
Improve your guitar-reading skills so you can keep up with other musicians. Illiteracy is a handicap in all walks of life.

And check out his full blog post here:

As Carlos states, working on your musicianship skills can really pay dividends with your playing.

I believe ensemble playing can really help in that, push you outside of your comfort zone slightly, but inevitably coerces you in to really, really, REALLY learning your way around the fretboard. Did I say REALLY learning?! After playing with a group of others for a while fifth, seventh, ninth, tenth, you-name-it position playing will not be a problem – in fact, you won’t even think about it anymore. I can pretty much guarantee you this!

I remember after having played in an ensemble for a little while, being faced with a bit of sight-reading with shtuff around the seventh and ninth positions – I didn’t have time to think! Argh, I thought! I’m going to bugger this up aren’t I? My hands and sub-conscious brain thought better, however. They were moving around with ease – yes, this note is here, this one here….Noicely done. Noice… I was very pleasantly surprised. Whoop whoop! I’d dumped the treadley on the side of the road and was opening the gull-wing doors of my Ferrari Enzo. Yay!

This kind of ease of movement in terms of fretboard geography is brought about through diligent and daily practice of scales (those finger patterns and movement just become second nature) and putting yourself into a group situation where the ability to play on is crucial. With just a little study and pushing your boundaries a little one can achieve a lot. If I can do it, anyone can.


3 thoughts on “Sight reading: are you a push bike or a Ferrari?

  1. Hi Nicole,
    I occasionally read your interesting blogs, and get your CGSV posts. Thanks for those. My brother, who is learning guitar, and a member of CGSV, introduced me to the society. I don’t play guitar, I don’t even live in Australia! But I do play a bass viola da gamba — a bit like a cello, but with 6 or 7 gut strings and about 8 or 9 (gut) frets. Tuned in 4ths except for a 3rd between the 3rd and 4th strings. I struggle to sight-read. Single notes in lower positions are not so terrible – but chords — I’m a tricycle. And chords are very important – as for guitar. So your comments hit home. I think, not only scales, but actually associating frets with note names, and practicing chords (with note names) in positions too. Knowing that the same fret on the next string over is a 4th or 3rd — that stuff. You inspired me to go home and practice that tonight! (Actually tablature might help too. Do you have experience with that?).
    OK. Keep blogging! and playing. Hope to meet you one of these days.


    PS. Agree with your comments on ensemble playing too.

    1. Hi Bev,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your comment. I’m so glad you enjoy the blog and I’m even more pleased that I’ve inspired you; that’s brilliant!

      The viola da gamba sounds pretty cool. I should imagine same things apply when learning your fretboard geography as with the guitar. I can’t comment too much on tablature I’m afraid, but keep on practicing – a little bit and often, consistency and perseverance will pay off for sure. You’ll get there!

      Happy playing!


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