At some point, every serious guitar player needs to master sight-reading if they want to call themselves a true working musician. Whether it’s sight-reading new pieces on your rehearsal, auditioning, or subbing for someone, this skill definitely comes in handy on many occasions.
That’s right — sight-reading is a skill and your proficiency depends on how much you’ve practiced and continually learned. With that being said, improving your sight reading chops by doing it repetitively isn’t going to give any results if the steps you’re doing are not quite there yet.
These 7 great tips may help you make fast progress in your sight-reading for guitar. You will also want to check out Chris Buono’s upcoming Sight Reading for Guitar Players course and his live online teaching session on sight reading for even more tips!
1. Focus On the Notes, Stop Looking at Your Hands
As if it isn’t hard enough dealing with new notes, you also have to make sure your fingers are pressing the right strings. This way, your eyes are employed shifting from your hand to notes to the neck and so on. The less you look at your hands, the more you’ll be able to focus on what you’re sight reading and before you know it, your guitar player will sound more natural and uniform.
2. Focus on Rhythms First for Sight-Reading Success
To help yourself achieve great guitar performance, view the music in a larger time frame and familiarize with common guitar rhythms. Sight-reading time is precious, so this way you won’t get lost in deciphering notes and rhythms that you already know. Make some time for practicing, try writing all of the possible rhythms for one measure, then do the same thing for other durations and practice all the various rhythms that can be assembled. This can help you understand how these rhythms appear visually on notes, which will simplify the whole process and give you time for other things to focus on.
3. Be Prepared: Practice Thinking Ahead
The point of sight-reading is actually being able to simultaneously coordinate your hands and eyes and concentrate on what you need to play. The secret to multitasking of this kind is always being one step ahead of your body, so your brain gets to analyze things first. Simply put, to be able to sight-read on guitar, you need to get into the habit of continually looking ahead at the notes and rhythms coming up. It’s easier said than done since we have a tendency to linger over what we’ve just done, so a rookie mistake is to get caught staring at notes you’ve just played and lose the flow of your music. The key is to think about larger chunks of music. Practice mentally dividing notes into larger strings and it will help you keep your eyes a beat or two ahead of the notes you’re playing.
4. Practice with a Metronome
Beginner guitar players often experience a problem of rushing, which can be a big problem when obliged to read completely new pieces. When you’re reading, you need to nail the rhythms, notes, play in the pocket, and most importantly, play with expression. Dynamics, vibrato, and articulation still count when reading. To avoid sounding like an amateur, use a metronome at a manageable tempo and slowly progress towards confident playing.
5. Don’t Underestimate Chords
As uninteresting as scales, arpeggios, and chords may be, they are essential sight-reading skills. However, knowing how to strum through a guitar chord chart isn’t enough. When you come across chords with added tensions or reading rhythmic notation can be tricky, so consider all of the aspects when sight-reading.
6. Explore Different Genres
Being acquainted with classical manuscripts is a solid base for sight-reading, but who can tell what kind of genre you could encounter on different occasions? Consider practicing reading rhythms and grooves that are unique to different genres of music. Find and study big band charts, musical theatre parts, and transcriptions of guitar parts and solos in Pop/Rock, Country, R&B, Latin music, or anything else that may occur as an option.
7. Made a Mistake? It’s Not the End of the World
Although we always tend to aim for perfection, when sight-reading it’s inevitable that you’ll at some point miss a note. Of course, that’s not the reason for your sight-reading performance to completely fall apart. However, some mistakes are worse than others. While a missed note is an unfortunate error, a wrong rhythm or bad counting can completely throw you off track, so try to focus on important elements of your performance. In any case, keep in mind that it’s all part of your progress, collect yourself, keep a cool head and move on. Dealing with mistakes is necessary for making progress!
In the end, perfect practice makes perfect, don’t forget that. The key to good sight-reading on guitar is mastering all of its elements to the point of reducing the thinking process as much as possible and bringing out the feeling and acquired skill to surface. The less you consciously think about what you’re doing, the more confident and capable you will perform and sound.
By Simon Dupree
Simon Dupree has discovered he has a passion for music from a very young age. Ever since then, music has been an essential part of his life. When he is not practicing, he’s probably behind the keyboard writing for Music Groupies.