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Want to learn to read? Try this:

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by colcifer, Jul 18, 2012.

  1. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    This is a simple curriculum for learning to read and write score. It's similar to how I learned.

    Note that the ability to read and the ability to sight read are two different things. If you understand the symbols, you can read. Sight reading is the ability to play as you read, in time. Since music varies in difficulty, the question of what constitutes sight reading is similar to what constitutes speaking a language; everybody will have a different answer.

    1. Get some sheet music, it really doesn't matter what it is so long as it's monophonic and a clef you want to learn. Bassists should learn both clefs but you might as well start with just one (the links below are for bass clef but you'll see treble clef more often). Under each note, you're going to write the letter name. This is to build up the association between the position on the stave and the note itself. The goal isn't to have a library of sheet music with the letter notes written out to be read from, this is just practice.

    2. Get a book of snare drum etudes (should be easy to find online) and practice tapping out the rhythms. It's best to tap with your plucking fingers so that you're building procedural memory along with internalizing the rhythms. In case it needs mention (it shouldn't), use a metronome and practice at different tempos.

    3. Once you're starting to feel some confidence, even if you're not quite sure if you're ready, start working on sight reading. Set the metronome to a slow tempo and tap out the rhythm first (a few times, if need be). For material to read, I recommend Dozauer cello method (should be easily found in .pdf online-public domain), tunes from the Real Book (also a great book to have if you want to study theory), and Ron Carter transcriptions.

    Study tips: If you're having trouble with a passage, try it at a different tempo; slower is the obvious choice but faster can work too. You should always be attempting things just above your skill level so be quick to stop tapping out passages before playing them and at a certain point, try playing the passage just once; prepare in your head as best as you can and move on regardless of whether or not you get it right. Lastly, be mindful of how long you've been practicing; once mental fatigue starts interfering, stop and move on to something else.

    Sight reading skill takes a lot of practice to build and maintain but once you build strong associations with the symbols on the page and the abstract ideas of notes and rhythms and internalize them well, you'll be able to figure out how to play any piece of sheet music (even if it takes a little time) and reactivate your sight reading when you need it.

    As always, it would be better to have a teacher to help you along; I'm happy to answer questions but there's only so much I or anyone else can do via forum posts. If you decide to get one, go with a Jazz guy.

    Reading can be hard but it's worth the effort. Besides, it's not the first difficult skill you've learned; bass playing isn't easy.
  2. bass12

    bass12 And Grace, too

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Nice post. Thanks for taking the trouble!
  3. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    Don't mention it.
  4. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    little dots on paper...pfft! Just kidding, I so want to become a proficient sight reader and I so far am so sucking at it. But I will soldier on. I will do this! Thanks for the post!
  5. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    Spend time on the fundamentals (in this case, steps one and two). You can't build a good house on a bad foundation. Once you have the notes and durations truly internalized, you'll never lose them. Even if you just want to improve your reading, the best place to start is at the beginning.
  6. I think I'll give this a try. Thanks.
  7. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Just learn one thing at a time and don't move on until you've got that concept down cold. It's better to spend 5 minutes memorizing one note on the staff than it is to spend a minute on 5 different notes.
  8. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Cali Intergalctic Mind Space
    Song Surgeon slow downer software- full 4 hour demo
  9. emor


    May 16, 2004
    I found this book at Half Price Books a while back for a couple of bucks. I keep it in the bathroom for a little impromptu rhythm study.
    I also ran across this video recently that some might find helpful.
  10. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    separating pitch recognition from rhythm recognition (steps 1 and 2) is the best approach. I am not a fluent sight reader, but I always "read" music in 2 passes: first I read the rhythm and make sure I get it, then I go back and deal with the pitches.
  11. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    I have to pass along the credit for that to my teachers.

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