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Beginner Sight Reading Tips


I know nothing...
Rather foolishly I've avoided learning to read music all my life. I've always played guitar by ear, although I have dabbled with simple classical pieces using written music. I know what the notes are on the clef and understand all the stuff about key signatures and time signatures etc.

But what I have trouble with is timing.

One of the great things about reading music for sax is that unlike with guitar music I only have to read one note at a time, and so over the last 4 months, since I started playing sax, I'm finding that my sight-reading skills are gradually improving. But what I'm finding is that if I know a tune, I can more or less sight-read it, but if I don't know it I find it very difficult if the timing gets a bit quirky...

So for example I was looking at an exercise last night with dotted quarter notes, and I can't for the life of me hear in my head what that should sound like when it is on the off-beat.

So for example playing a half-note followed by an 8th note rest and then a dotted quarter-note... (this would be so much easier if there was a music notation tool..) I can clap the rhythm easily, but put an instrument in my hand and I just can't land that dotted quarter-note, I think it's a multi-tasking problem...

So has anyone got any tips or links to resources for helping me improve this (not just off-beat dotted quarter-notes, but reading rhythm generally) quickly, or is it just one of those things that will gradually get better the more I read??? I guess I'm looking for a fast-track approach :)
One technique that may help is to play a note the value of the rest in the rest a few times to get a feel for the rhythm and then "ghost" the note in the rest. "Ghosting" a note is playing it but not letting it sound.

Another method I use with my students is to feel the subdivision with the airstream called the "breath impulse" method of counting. A half note would be Tu-oo-oo-oo. A dotted quarter followed by an eight would be Tu-oo-oo Tu. A syncopated rhythm, eighth quarter eighth would be Tu Tu-oo Tu and so on.
Great thanks people.

That Tu-oo-oo-oo thing feels like it would work, gives the rhythm a musical sense that I don't get from tapping...

And the book looks like a great resource too.
For an unusual unfamiliar phrase I tap it out and make up some words that fit. Once you've got it you can drop the words. The thing to remember is that the dots are only a guide. It's why the pooter sounds so fake when it plays the dots. Once you understand it you can add some expression and make it work musicaly for you.
Getting there very slowly by playing very slowly.

My metronome now has a name - Relentless.

I've started talking to it, actually more like shouting, such "Will you just shut up for a second and let me think!".

Someone should invent a metronome that slows down when you get to a tricky bit!

That's a joke by the way, illustrates well the importance of using some kind of time keeping device though, without its really easy to practise your mistakes!!!
My teacher is like that - she never slows down when I get to the tricky bits!
Mind you, it makes for an interesting demonstration of just how well you can do under pressure, when you are "not allowed" to slow down or stop or go back over a bit.
Good luck! Sorting it out slowly is good. Then inch the metronome speed up slowly, and you be playing it at the correct speed in a few weeks.
The rule is :
You should approach things slower during practice, but not faster when gigging. :)
Metronomes are short, strangely dressed creatures who apparently frequent the underground railway system in Paris and are rumoured to possess magical powers.

I am not speaking from personal experience, you understand.
"Tricky bits" sounds a bit like a snack food to me. We dull Americans just call those the "hard measures". :)
Slow down for the tricky bits, then make up for it by going extra fast over the easy bits.
Whiskey or whisky Jeanette? One is Scottish........and the other isn't........!:D
Sometimes it helps to work back from the end of bar, and if the problem includes a tied note to sound all the components of the tie separately. I've been reading music for about as long as I've been reading words, but some jazz phrases still make me stop and think. It does get better with practice.

A fine example of the advertisers art...

I love the juxtaposition of 'genuine Scotch' and 'whiskey'...

I'm not sure if advertising executives become politicians or vice versa... the qualifications for both seem similar...

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