5 Refining Your Practice

INTRODUCTION

This is the last unit in the series. It consists of eight strategies to continue refining your sight-reading practice on your own. Most strategies discussed below include links to other relevant resources.

REFINING YOUR PRACTICE

Practice Sight-Reading Daily

Dedicate at least fifteen minutes of each practice session to sight-reading. Your sight-reading skills will continue to improve and you will experience the additional benefit of encountering new music. Take time to find good sight-reading repertoire. I’ve included some recommendations below to get you started.

Public Domain Scores

  • Play the Guitar 2 parts of the compositions and exercises in this series.
  • Forrest Guitar Ensembles offers free guitar ensemble music arranged and composed by Andrew Forrest.
  • IMSLP offers scores in the public domain. I suggest you find guitar duets or trios and read one part at a time. Unfortunately, most scores in this database are not for guitar. You can, however, play music composed for other instruments. For example, since solo keyboard music is written in two staves—with the top part in treble clef and the bottom part in bass clef—I suggest you play the top staff only. The flute, oboe and violin are also written in treble clef and have a similar range to the guitar. As a result, you can play music meant of those instruments too. Here are some links to get you started:
    • For Two Guitars is a list of all the guitar duet music available on the database.
    • Inventions by J.S. Bach is originally a collection of solo keyboard music. However, this collection has been arranged for two guitars.
    • Keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti is a list of the hundreds of solo keyboard piece. You can read the top staff in treble clef.
    • Flute Sonatas by G. F. Handel can be found in IMSLP, but this link provides free sheet music as well as audio tracks!
    • String Quartets by Joseph Haydn is a list of string quartets (two violins, one viola and one cello). You can read either violin part.

Other Scores

Play in Different Positions

In this series, you have been formally introduced to fifth, seventh, ninth and twelfth positions. Yet you probably realize that guitarists can play in other positions as well. To develop the advanced skill of sight-reading in various positions, I suggest the following:

  • Play the Guitar 1 parts of the exercises and compositions in this series in higher positions on the neck.
  • Play the Guitar 1 parts of the exercises and compositions in this series an octave higher or lower than written.

Clap Rhythms

  • Clap the rhythms of all the exercises and compositions in this series.
  • Acquire Louis Bellson’s books: Modern Reading Text in 4/4  and Odd Time Reading Text.
  • Find free, online resources such as this one.
  • Seek out and sight-read music with meters and tuplets beyond those taught in this series.

Listen to Quality Recordings While Viewing Scores

Listen to excellent performances of compositions and follow along with the scores. I prefer to use a hard copy. But if you prefer an online experience, listen and watch any of the countless YouTube postings of great musical performances combined with scores. I usually use the search terms ‘score’ or ‘scrolling score’ as well as the name of the composer and instrument(s) that interest me. For example, I found this while searching the terms: score, Villa-Lobos and guitar.

Improvise

One recent study theorizes that regular improvisation practice contributes to better sight-reading.[1] It is worth noting that some the best composers (and sight-readers) in the Western musical tradition, such as J.S. Bach and Beethoven, were famous for their skill at improvisation.

Develop Chord Reading

This series only touched the surface of chord reading. Most guitarists work for years to sight-read harmonies with relative ease. Consider the following while developing this skill.

  • The lowest and highest notes of the chord often dictate the position in which it will be played. 
  • Take time to memorize the shape of recurring chords.
  • Learn music theory to gain a deeper understanding of harmonic structure.

Apply Music Theory on the Guitar

Knowledge of music-theory will certainly help sight-reading. You can practice scales and harmonies in different positions. For free, online and guided learning, I recommend MusicTheory.net as well as OpenMusicTheory.com.

Compose, Arrange, Transcribe & Notate Music

The best way to recognize musical symbols is to notate music by hand, or with notation software (Sibelius, Finale etc.). You can print free staff paper via this site. Take a few hours to notate some of your unique musical ideas. If composition is new to you, start by notating a melody or chord progression. If you are not drawn to composition, then notate an arrangement of your favorite song. Another useful activity is to create a guitar transcription. A transcription is a musical piece created for an instrumentation that differs from the original. Try turning a violin solo into a guitar piece.

Congratulations!

You have completed the series! I hope this experience dramatically enhanced your sight-reading ability, expanded your sense of wonder, forged new pathways to your creativity and augmented your capacity for resilience and poise, especially while under pressure. May these virtues continue to enrich your life.


  1. Mcpherson, Gary E., et al. “Path Analysis of a Theoretical Model to Describe the Relationship among Five Types of Musical Performance.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 45, no. 1, 1997, pp. 103–129.

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Sight-Reading for Guitar by Chelsea Green is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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