Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sight-Reading for Guitarists

One of the most important skills a guitarist can possess is the ability to read music.

I've said it. I mean it.

Great guitarists don't need to know how to read music, but well-rounded ones do - especially when it comes to comparing musicians of other instruments. Guitarists are the target of a lot of snobbish derision when it comes to their abilities to sight-read. But if we can read music, then we get the best of both worlds: playing from the heart (without music) and playing with precise calculation and technique (reading music).

I owe a big apology to one of my former guitar students, for whom I was supposed to write this special blog post a few days ago. This one is for Joe.

The attached image can be used for sight-reading in any position. Don't memorize it. When you feel like you're starting to get familiar with the order of the notes, flip the sheet upside down. Voila! It's a new page to practice. Here are the most important positions and keys to start with:
  • I - Keys: C, G, D, A, E, F
  • II - Keys: C, G, D, A
  • IV - Keys: D, A, E, B, F
  • VI - Keys: E, B, F
  • X - Keys: G, D, A, E
As you begin, start by reading a single note at a fairly slow pace. Consider each note head to be the same duration.

You're reading whole notes. When you feel comfortable with single notes, move on to reading two notes at a time. Now you're reading twice the information at one time, and you're reading half notes. I think you get the point. Increase the number of notes you read at a time. Some key benchmarks are as follows:
  • 3-note groupings - reading in 3/4
  • 6-note groupings - reading in 6/8
  • 8-note groupings - reading in 4/4
  • 12-note groupings - reading 4 measures of 3/4 at one time
  • 16-note groupings - reading 4 measures of 4/4 at one time
If you're hungry for more, and you're serious, you can write out your own pages, following mine as an example. In my page, I've limited my notes to C3 up to A4. However, the reading range for guitars goes down to E2 and all the way up to E6, approximately, so if you make your own practice sheets, be sure to utilize all of the pitches in your given fret position. (You won't be able to flip the sheet over when the notes become too familiar to "make" a new sheet, but it will give you the full range for guitarists.)

I have based my sheet on David Hickman's book, Music Speed Reading, which is out of print as of this post. Original copies of Hickman's book are currently fetching $150+ on

Have any questions or comments? Please use the form below. And good luck!

Disclaimer: All resources on this blog are intended for personal use only. If you are a music instructor - public or private - and would like to use some of the resource materials I have created, please contact me to get permission before using them with your own students.

No comments:

Post a Comment