Essential Musical Skills: Sightreading

Although you can get by in this business without reading music it becomes a crutch, is impractical, and limits your gig options greatly. Most people have to be even more developed in another area of their musicianship to make up for a lack of reading skill. It’s similar to your 5 senses. If one of them is weaker or non existent then you’d have to be even stronger in your other 4 senses to survive.

For those of you who don’t read music please keep this in mind. Learning to read music is very easy. I’ve taught people with no prior musical experience to read music in 1 hour. I repeat…1hour. There is no excuse for not being able to read. If you insist on leaving this skill undeveloped your limiting your money making ability considerably.

A more advanced but really essential skill is the ability to sight read. Sight reading is being able to read down pieces of music that are put in front of you the first time you see them. There a many gigs available for people who can sight read. In fact I venture to say if you can sight read there will always be financial opportunities for you in music. Here is just a small sample of gigs that I’ve done specifically using my sight reading skill. I’ve played at churches/temples, played for choirs, played for dance classes, accompanied singers, played charts in band/corporate gigs etc. etc.. I won’t even get into all the studio work available for accomplished readers. Sight reading and some basic marketing equals payday.

Here’s some good news for those of you whose reading is not quite what we want it to be. Contrary to popular belief good sight readers are not born they are made. It’s a learned skill and can be practiced. Just like anything else if you practice it daily it will improve.

How to practice sight reading

So, how do you practice sight reading? Put a metronome on at a speed you can read a piece clearly on without stopping. I repeat don’t stop no matter what. Even if you leave out many notes as long as you keep form and rhythm your improving your ability. Read through it a couple more times each time trying to look ahead and pick up a couple more notes. Do this everyday and slowly progress to harder music.  This simple task repeated daily is all it takes.  Guaranteed improvement.

Jaco Pastorious (one of greatest electric bass players ever) was considered by many a virtuoso and a rising star when he decided he wanted to become a great music reader. He started at ground zero and read through kids books in the beginning. Even though he was a world class talent he didn’t allow his ego to get in the way with developing the skill he desired. With focus and daily practice Jaco became a great reader. You can too!

Tip: Take a “sight reading”lesson with somebody on your instrument who is a great reader. Watch how they approach things. Pick their brains. I did that myself and the $50 lesson paid off a thousand times over.

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