The Secret To Super Sight Reading

I was personally reminded this week of one of the keys reasons of the importance of learning and getting really familiar with your scales and arpeggios on the guitar – sight-reading.

As regular readers may know I play in a guitar orchestra here in Melbourne, and at our last rehearsal last week it was decided to play through a new piece of music (that had been given out to us at the previous rehearsal, but I’d failed to look it – naughty me!). Enter supreme powers of concentration and super sigh-reading skill! Hah hah! Well, normally that might be close to the case, but I was feeling less than sparkling at rehearsal, just a bit tired and really not feeling mentally that sharp. This should be interesting, I thought.

And actually it was interesting. Almost without me thinking my hands seemingly took over in terms of playing the phrases and runs. After a couple of minutes of getting into the groove of the piece I wasn’t thinking too hard about the rhythm either. Let’s be clear here though, I’m not saying I was playing everything note perfectly or rhythmically perfectly as was written on the page (I’m sure there were a few “funky” notes in there for good measure!), but for a first play through it served pretty well.

John Price Guitar

I guess the interesting thing is that given I knew the key we were playing in, and that I could recognise the chord progressions as we moved through them, all that learning and practice of scales, arpeggios, and theoretical knowledge came into its own really without me thinking too much about it. Thank goodness! It wasn’t 100% perfect, but was enough to potentially be convincing or at least sounded like it could have been written in that way! All that drilled practice has provided me with a pretty strong foundation that my normally attentive and “active” concentration sits upon. Stripping that back on the weekend to the “passive” level of playing allowed me to see, feel and experience that foundation. It’s something I don’t normally experience, usually being switched on and active in playing. I was secretly (or not so now!) quite chuffed with myself.

And that foundation stone of my playing is not something that I built at one time and left. Far from it. It’s something that was started many years ago and gets built upon, added to and reinforced on a very regular basis. Pretty much every time I sit down with the guitar I undertake some kind of technical exercise. And usually at least I will run through a two or three octave scale for each and every major and minor diatonic key. The Segovia scales are definitely a cornerstone of the foundation. If I’ve been away from the guitar for a period, like last week for example when I was away travelling with work, the first things I played when I got to the guitar on the weekend was a full set of scales. You can get some really good exercises from simply playing your scales and arpeggios – right hand touch exercises, right hand finger return exercises, speed exercises, shaping and phrasing exercises, free stroke and rest stroke exercises, multiple right hand finger exercises, fretboard geography, improving and reinforcing knowledge of your keys and their relationships, left hand movement exercises, legato and staccato playing….. the list goes on!

So, the moral of the story is don’t forget about your humble scales and arpeggios – they will serve you well!

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One thought on “The Secret To Super Sight Reading

  1. True words. I find that the CAGED system of scales (William Leavitt) is good for getting you through all keys in all positions. Guitarists are generally weak sight-readers. It’s an awkward instrument to sight-read on, and many arrangements placed in front of the guitarist are, well, not that great. Seriously, I could probably have a full-time job just editing guitar music. The stuff that gets published…

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