Sight-reading – you know you love it……Three tips to have you sight-reading like a legend!

I received an email this week from a reader looking for some help around improving their sight-reading on the classical guitar.
So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on this with you too! Yay!
Sight-reading can seem quite a scary prospect, particularly if you’re not used to it or not so confident with your written music. It can become less like Dante’s nine circles of hell, however, with a bit of work.
Here are three key things you can do to help you improve…
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Sight Reading?
Sight Reading? Child’s play! (Photo credit: christopherl)
(1) In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator – Do it!
The best way of getting better at sight-reading is to dive in and do it. And do lots of it. And then do some more!!
And, dear reader, as you know one of my favourite things to say is  consistency is key. Well, the same applies here.
Take something such as the AMEB graded sight-reading book and set yourself a task of reading two or three pieces at sight each day. Start at a grade or level of piece you feel reasonably comfortable with sight-reading and then up the ante slowly once you feel you’re comfortable sight-reading at that particular level.
And it matters not if you start around Grade One, or lower even, what does matter is doing it. By doing lots of it, it will seem a heck of a lot less scary too.
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(2) Keep going!
Whilst you’re building up your awesome Ferrari-like sight-reading skills, the most important thing when sight-reading is keeping going. Even if you’re playing completely the wrong notes, keep going! Play with good musical intention and feeling and a sense of pulse and that’s half the battle.
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(3) S’all about the theory
Some theory study in addition to sight-reading practice will truly pay dividends.
Yes, I appreciate that the thought of doing theory study sounds incredibly dull and about as inviting as a dry cracker topped with a layer of Saharan sand, but some regular study, perhaps working up through one of the many graded workbooks out there, means you’re ingraining the keys, scales, harmonies, and other patterns that are the building blocks of music.
By ingraining it, it becomes second nature. This means there’s not so much to actively think about all at the same time when you’re sight-reading. It can take care of itself to a point and leaving you freer to think about the music making. Which is what we all want, isn’t it?!

Here’s something you can count on…

I am very sure that most of us like to think we have an awesome in-built sense of rhythm and timing. I know I do, and then I disappoint myself when I stuff up a seemingly easy rhythm – hah hah!

The Count from Sesame Street
He can Count.. (Photo credit: Elliot Trinidad)

It is fair to say, however, that we do have to a degree an in-built sense of pulse and rhythm. Let’s just say though that this sense of rhythm and timing is not as precision as we would like it.

Not with me, not with you, not even with the seasoned pro up on the stage! I can assure you.

This is where our good friend counting comes in, especially when learning a new piece, embedding that sense of pulse and the rhythms associated with the piece into the old grey matter and fingers.

Yes, counting. I’m pretty sure that most of us can do that. Even me with my number dyslexia!

It helps us get our head around complex or not-so-straightforward rhythms, where we might have overlapping contrapuntal lines or some syncopation going on.

Even with basic rhythms – are you giving those crotchets and minims their full count?! And the rests?!

Don’t be afraid to whack out your HB pencil and write in big, bold confident strokes the counting for a bar or phrase that needs particular attention rhythmically. Count out loud or mouth the counting whilst you’re playing during practice to (a) make sure that you’re playing it correctly and (b) that you’re confirming, verifying and embedding that rhythm into your body.

I can regale you with an example of a well-known and respected guitarist and teacher, who I saw very recently on stage counting along to the music he was playing like a maniac!

There you go – even the best of the best do it, so don’t be afraid! It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish, it just means you want to play the music in the best way it can be played!