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Develop Your Guitar Sight Reading Skills with These 6 Tips

Guitar Sight ReadingPhoto by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Guitar sight-reading is one of the recognized skills for learning and performing music easier and faster. Sight-reading is the study of performing music on cue and in the moment once we have learned to read music notation.

Yet it is also one skill that is frequently pushed aside or simply ignored. One of the reasons you may ignore practicing guitar sight-reading is that you may not know exactly what to do in your practice to enhance your sight-reading skill.

Learn how to practice guitar sight-reading as you read this article.

What is Guitar Sight Reading?

“Sight reading” or “reading music” are commonly used terms that refer to seeing a note and playing it. It takes note-taking and putting them into music.

Most sight-readers can play expressively with corresponding tempo and rhythm, with slight twists, swells, and fades. All these from a piece of music they have never played before.

Why Practice Sight Reading on Guitar?

Guitar players are known for being poor sight-readers. This is because it is difficult to read multiple notes on guitars.

There are 2.8 places to play each note on the guitar neck on average. It’s difficult for guitarists since we have to continually decide where on the neck we’ll play the notes on top of reading the music.

As a result, very few guitar players become proficient at reading music. However, those who do can learn music faster, recall music pieces more quickly, and recognize common musical themes and patterns.

The Goals of Guitar Sight-Reading Practice

Setting time for practice sessions will help you hone your guitar sight-reading ability.

Here are some of the primary goals you should keep in mind throughout practice to help you learn to sight-read music faster.

Keep Moving Forward

The ability to keep going even when notes are missed is one of the most essential skills you will learn in sight-reading practice.

There is no need to go back and re-do your missed notes. Sight-reading exercises urge the eyes to keep going forward even if anything goes wrong.

Expert sight-readers keep their eyes several bars or lines ahead of their playing, checking for potential obstructions and planning their next moves.

Practice the Sound of the Notes

Classical guitar sheet music sometimes includes extensive instructions, such as which fingers to use in each hand, as well as roman numerals for fret recommendations and bar chords.

When you are practicing guitar sight-reading, do not focus on your fingers. The only aim of sight-reading is to sound the note at the correct time.

Perfection is Not The Key

Aim to get 60 to 80 percent of the notes and rhythms correctly. Slow down if you’re getting fewer notes correctly or missing rhythm counts.

If you hit 80 percent of the notes correctly, you can either speed up or pick a more difficult music piece.

Tips for Honing Your Sight-Reading Ability

You don’t need to be a master of music theory to become an expert sight-reader. Here are some tips to have an effective and efficient guitar sight-reading practice.

Use a Metronome

A metronome is essential for musicians. Set it on a slow tempo at first and play music with it.

When you get used to playing and get 80 percent or more of the musical notes right, you can set the metronome to a faster tempo.

Use Single-line Music

For beginner students, single-line music is ideal for sight-reading practice. This will allow you to continue moving and keep your eyes forward.

As your music reading abilities improve, you will be able to deal with increasingly complicated music.

If you find single-line music too easy, simply increase the metronome tempo.

Use Music Below Your Current Playing Level

Music that pushes your existing abilities is too tough to practice sight-reading with.

Instead, pick music pieces and key signatures a level or two lower than yours. It is okay to avoid music with ledger lines and different time signatures.

You can choose from flute music, violin music, fiddle melodies, jazz charts, or anything else that you think would work well. The Charlie Parker Omnibook is an excellent sight-reading material for practicing sight-reading.

Remember that it is not necessary for the music you select to be written in concert pitch. Expert sight-readers like to give any piece a glance to identify potentially tricky sections.

Scan Before Playing

Look over the music beforehand to see if there are any challenging sections. Identifying shifts, stretches, or difficult transitions before you begin allows you to be more prepared.

Set a Timer

Because practicing sight-reading can be tedious and difficult, we tend to take breaks frequently and do something more relaxing.

Setting a timer or deciding on a timeframe might help you keep working as you set a time goal for yourself.

Be Consistent

The key to learning sight-reading is consistency.

It is far more beneficial to spend a few minutes a day practicing than a large chunk of time doing so over the weekend. Guitarists who consistently practice a little every day get better results.


Bryan Wesley (guest author)
A Math teacher who is also music enthusiast who loves teaching guitar lessons, particularly classical guitar. He is also a professional classical guitar player who has advanced knowledge in sheet music.

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