sight reading practice advice

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mcdli861, Mar 4, 2014.

  1. I am a third year bass student who is still very poor at sight reading. I am a competent bassist with a good knowledge of theory but I have always been very slack and un interested in sight reading until I was told at my University as of late June we will be getting assessed on our sight reading. We will be given sheet music on the morning of our assessment and then we have 10 minutes to look it over before we are put in a recording studio and told to perform the songs.

    How does one go about becoming a competent at sight reader? What is some tips, tricks or just general advice you guys would give to someone like me? What are some good techniques for practicing sight reading? I am aware that I have a lot of hours of practice a head of me.
  2. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    My two cents on Bass clef.
    Start with first position, first 4 frets.
    I zero in on the D line. Fly specks on or above the D line will be on the D and or G string. Fly specks below the D line will be on the A or E string.

    Using the D line as my reference point seemed to speed things up.

    Carry sheet music with you and read every chance you have. At lunch, when the TV commercials are on, etc.

    Good luck.
  3. Smallmouth_Bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    You might also want to separate the rhythmic elements and notes to start. There are rhythm apps you can get to practice just that. Start with quarter note reading, starting in the lower positions and work your way up.

    Get some trombone books. It's like reading words; you have to start slowly and practice consistently. Do a little (or a lot!) every day.
  4. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    If you get to a part where you have to choose between getting the notes right or the rhythm go with rhythm.
  5. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    +1 on rhythms. I use a photographic memory meaning that when I look at rhythms, I know exactly what it is and I don't need to count anymore and I can focus on the notes, fingerings, by lookin a bit ahead to what is coming up.

    Read everyday not just once a week….everyday !!!!

    Read anything you can and in the bus ride work on your rhytms ;)
  6. I like to listen to songs and follow along with the sheet music in hand. (Not holding my bass.) This is similar to how a lot of people learn to speak a language: reading along in the book/study-guide, while a native speaker is pronouncing the words out loud.

    For example I bet your University's music department has the scores to lots of great classical pieces (like Beethoven's 5th). Try listening to the symphony and follow along with all the parts in the score. (Not just the bass---for example if there is a distinctive oboe or violin part, follow along with that, too.) Fantastic reading exercise! :)
  7. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I would suggest starting with classical method books, maybe even Simandl 1, or the first book of Dotzauer cello etudes. The reason is that they start simple, and are rhythmically more regular, but chock full of notes to read.
  8. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Start doing it as a daily routine.
    I did the Nanny Classical Method book, that will get you going easily
    but you will need rythim studies also.
    Check out Cliff Engel's IIB (International Institute for Bassists) He has a ton of rythim
    study exercises. This is going to be the tough stuff.
  9. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    Excellent advice. Let me amplify this. I'm a classically trained brass player, trumpet undergrad, horn graduate school. As such I could sight read very well. On bass however, I was not so good and I knew bass clef very well. The problem wasn't knowing notes and rhythm, but knowing where all the notes were on the bass neck.

    Smallmouths idea of separating the elements of reading, mastering them and putting it together is correct. Know your neck very well, and when you think you got it learned, assume there is more to learn. Play scales and SAY THE NAME OF THE NOTE OUT LOUD. One of the big problems with bass is that we can get by musically by playing patterns and not knowing the notes (a blessing and a curse). Know the notes on the staff. Without bass in hand read the notes of a melody and SAY THE NOTE NAMES OUT LOUD. Know them well. Clap rhythms. Put it together.

    Get beginning band books for trombone. They will be mostly in Bb and Eb, but they are a good start. Get beginning orchestra books for Cello. They will be in D and G mostly, but again, a good start. Suzuki Cello books are really good and have great melodies. Sadly the Suzuki bass books get into Tenor Clef early on and for that reason won't be as good for the electric bass student.

    Read Every Day. This is a skill and it takes time. Read with other musicians. I can't say too much about this. Find someone who is an excellent reader and play duets or single lines with them. Its worth the time and the 6 pack of beer in payment.

    Reading standard notation is an essential skill for all musicians and the quicker you can pick a part off the page the better for you getting gigs. Good Luck
  10. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    I've followed the learning to read by sticking with quarter notes with a bunch of walking bass books on standards.
    with a 5'er I also started mostly in C ('Autumn Leaves') with pinkie on C on 8th fret of E string. This position also works for F and Bb.
    unlike most, I worked my way down the fretboard and am now playing in Ab with pinkie on Bb on 6th fret of E string. This position also works for Bb, and Eb.
    working with songs that change keys like 'All the Things You Are' -- well you begin to understand why some songs show up in multiple books.
    it's not enough to know the fretboard you need a fingering system so you don't get driven into a corner. None of this really came together for me till I went through Garry Willis 'Fingerboard Harmony'

    so adding in rhythm, esp the world of syncopation I'm using Roy Vogt's 'Teach Me Bass Guitar' as there's enough feedback through DVD tracks to keep me honest.
    and is very helpful
  11. petergales


    Dec 29, 2009
    Leeds UK
    It's practice, practice, practice. I use the Bach Cello Suites (some of the easier ones, I hasten to add!) I bought the CD of them so I could get a sense of the music. There are some really beautiful pieces in there. Best of luck with it!
  12. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    + 1 to rhythms. see exercise link in my signature.

    Also, as Anthony Wellington advises, try to write out bass lines you can play.
    "It is impossible to write a sentence that you cannot read."
  13. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    Write! Copy out music, realize figured bass, compose, notate what's going on in the bass on a leadsheet, memorize eight measures a day and write them out ten times each day.

    Also, learn and practice solfege. If you can sing the intervals you see on the page, you can sure as hell play them.
  14. MayorMoustache


    Feb 3, 2014
    If it is the notes you are struggling with, learn to not read it as say: an Eb, but as a 3rd string 1st position, you know? Get used to where the note is on the frets, and dont think to yourself "thats an E." If its rhythm, looks like you have plenty oh help here
  15. MontzterMash

    MontzterMash Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2010
    Assuming you've got good skills reading music and practice that continually. If not, one needs to be able to read it slowly before being able to read it quickly (at day sight reading speeds).

    A trick my father told me (he was a pro) to really practice sight reading was to get a nice big book of music that you do not know, then start on page one, sight reading. The trick is that you only get to play though each piece once. Go through, one pass, no stopping no going back. Whatever mistakes there are there are. Then onto page two. Rinse and repeat.

    The key is to put yourself in the state where it's 100% cold. It's best if you've never even heard the music before. Maybe also best if you aren't worried about anyone else hearing you while doing it :).

    Was a cool idea. Hard to stick with, but I did it for a bit and it really helped me. I didn't realize how much I was relying on remembering how the music sounded when I was "sight" reading. It made me start doing things like reading ahead, read phrases at a whole, etc. also discovered some new music too.
  16. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    In addition to all the good advice offered so far - try hard to get into the habit of looking a bar or two ahead while you're reading. That is really crucially important.
  17. The problem I’ve always had with sight reading is without a teacher or other reference point I have no idea if I have played the piece correctly. What’s the best way around that?

    It's hard to find sheets for songs I don’t know, then track down a recording of the exact notation I’ve just read to check myself against.
  18. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    ^ Ear training helps a lot. Otherwise, one solution is to download a notation program (such as Finale Notepad) and inputting the notation in question so you hear the music and watch the little playback head go by the notes as they sound.
  19. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    It is rather impressive you made it to third year of university without being a strong reader. The first thing you have to address is that the biggest set back about sight reading comes from your head. People seem to elevate the idea of sight reading to an almost mystic status where only musicians touched by the hand of God are able to do it. It has already been mentioned sight reading is just like reading words. You didn't pick up War & Peace when you were 3 years old and read it front to back. You weren't capable of sight reading like that until you had more experience reading. First you had to recognise words and then put them together.

    Sight reading is just reading music quickly. I tend to discourage my students from the whole 'read a piece of music until you make a mistake then move onto a new one' method. I don't think any person ever picked up a booked and read to page 5 then because they made a mistake picked up a new book to see how many words they could read in that before making a mistake. That doesn't address the issue of where and why you made mistakes. 99% of the mistakes a person makes from sight reading comes from reading the rhythm. It is incredibly rare for someone to walk of the band stand and go 'Oh man, I completely forgot where Bb was on the stave'. People mess up the rhythms more than anything. If you come across a tough rhythm that you have never seen before and mess it up what are you going to accomplish by ignoring that issue and moving onto the next piece? I bet you when that rhythm comes up again (and it will) you'll make the same mistake and then what are you going to do? move on to the next piece of music? How exactly is that going to help you on the gig? Are you going to wait until the band finishes the piece of music so you can start the next one? Good luck with that. Keep going with the same piece of music until you reach the end because that is what you have to do in the real world. So what about those mistakes you made? Address the issue! Learn that rhythm that you made the mistake with and internalise it. When it crops up again (and it will) you won't have a problem with it. Take a piece of music, ideally something that has just rhythms. Get the metronome out and practice the rhythm until you have it nailed 100% every time. Don't worry if it takes you ten hours to get a single bar correct just as long as you get it correct. Play it inside out and internalise it. Then move on to the next bar and repeat the process with that bar. Then play those first two bars together before moving onto the third. Repeat that process and by the time you get to the bottom of the page you'll be amazed at how quickly you are able to recognise other rhythms you haven't encountered yet. Then by the time you have done with with a few pieces of music you'll be pretty comfortable with reading stuff that you can sight read some straight forward charts. The more you do it the quicker you will be able to read. The quicker you are able to read the better sight reader you are.