Reaction from a dedicated guitarist, 28th Aug 2002:
I strongly feel guitarists arent given the respect they deserve with this diary enrty when you say "They are the worst". I do agree with the fact that sight reading is by far more complicated than sight reading is for a keyboard instrument. But that does not make them the worst. The worst sight readers are those who lack the knowledge or the technical skill. Indeed knowing music theory helps a lot. I reckon that is a basis for good sightreaders. I would appreciate it when you could rephrase the section I referred to. Sincerely, A dedicated guitarist
This is the gist of what
I wrote in response to an email from an investment banker in Chicago:
Sightreading, or sight reading, or sight-reading, refers to playing a piece by reading the music for the first time.
So much of what we are today is based on the teachers we've had. There's so much emphasis on getting to know a piece and then performing it that at least in my day, I've never learned sightreading from any of my teachers. There was no such thing as a sightreading exercise, let alone a course. I learned to sightread because I was impatient and I loved variety and novelty.
Perhaps you could try sightreading easy and short pieces. Just select pieces below your level. And then gradually move up. I say "select" because you should choose pieces you like and enjoy. I go to the libraries here or secondhand music shops. Libraries are better, because you don't have to "buy" or commit to a piece. That's what sightreading is all about - not committing yourself.
There is tension involved in sightreading. You're fully alert because you're reading - just like when you read something outloud to an audience. It's very different from playing a piece you know well.
Beware of the overconfidence bias. When you first sightread a piece, you are alert because you've never seen it before. After the first time, you may play less well because you are less alert. So don't attempt to sightread when you are tired. And don't perform a piece you've sightread only recently.
People have suggested that I give a course on sightreading. I'm not aware of what's available out there or how successful/popular they are. All I know is, people are easily impressed when they see that I can sightread. Flutists and other single note instrumentalists are better at sightreading than guitarists, who have a harder time than most musicians. Guitarists have choices and decisions to make regarding where on the guitar and which fingers to use. And it's hard to do so without taking the time to figure it out beforehand. As a pianist, I can sightread pieces that are less difficult than pieces I would spend time studying. The more sharps and flats, the harder it is. The more accidentals, the harder it is.
If I were to give a course on sightreading, I would share some tips on sightreading. Some of these tips are to do with music theory. Others are to do with technique. For example, once you know the chords and chord progressions, it's easier to check that you're in the right key. Similarly, beware of the key signature. Once you feel the time signature and tempo, you will be in sync. Sightreading is about recognising patterns and going with the flow.
The secret to sightreading is nothing more than "practice makes perfect." The more pieces you try to sightread, the better you will be at sightreading. Of course, when you're sightreading, you're not studying the piece. You're merely reading from sight and getting an impression.
28 August 2002 Wednesday
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