A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Simplified Sight Reading for Bass

So, earlier this week, I mentioned that I’d ordered Simplified Sight-Reading for Bass, by Josquin des Pres after reading about it on Talkbass. It arrived yesterday, and I read through it. I was really impressed.

The book differs a lot from the Hal Leonard Bass Method. Its about 70 pages, in total. The 1st half deals with rhythm. It has tons of exercises for notes and rests up to 16ths. The 2nd half adds in actual notes and reading, with information about identifying how certain note groupings (like specific chord types) look for quicker reading. Its suggested that the book be used in conjunction with another bass method, if you’re a beginner. Here’s some text from the introduction:

Simplified Sight Reading concentrates on rhythms and phrasings most commonly heard through decades of bass playing. You’ll begin to learn what you need to know; not everything there is to know. This book also places a strong emphasis on reading rhythms, because good rhythm reading skills are as important for a bass player as they are for a drummer. 

Although Simplified Sight Reading provides some music fundamentals, if you are a beginner you may want to supplement your studies with a basic bass method. To maintain and further your reading skills when you are finished with this book, get your hands and eyes on any piece of bass music you can find.

This particular advice on reading rhythms really blew my mind. I tried it, and its indeed much faster than counting using the old 1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, etc.:

A different way of counting notes in a measure

A different way of counting notes in a measure

Chapter 1 goes over general reading fundamentals like the staff and bass clef, measures and bar lines, time signatures, note duration, rests and pitch. This is covered in about 1 1/2 pages.

Chapter 2: Rhythms, begins the actual meat of the exercises. It starts by showing how to count. First is just tapping a foot 4 times to quarter notes. Then, it shows tapping on both beats and offbeats (I think this is the downbeat and upbeat mentioned in other materials, unless I’m confusing it with downstroke and upstroke). The exercises then start, with at least a page for each topic such as:

  • Simple Notes: whole note + half note + quarter note
  • Simple Notes: whole note + half note + quarter note + eighth note
  • Simple Notes: whole note + half note + quarter note + eighth note + sixteenth note
  • Simple Notes & Rests: whole note + half note + quarter note + whole rest + half rest + quarter rest
  • Simple Notes & Rests: whole note + half note + quarter note + eighth note + half rest + quarter rest
  • Simple Notes & Rests: half note + quarter note + eighth note + quarter rest + eighth rest
  • Combining Eighths and Sixteenths
  • Combining Eighths and Sixteenths with Rests
  • Recapitulation
  • The Dot
  • The Tie
  • The Triplet (quarter note triplets, 8th note triplets, 16th note triplets)
  • Recapitulation (another one)

Chapter 3: Rhythms and Pitches, simplifies the rhythms and adds in pitch, or actual notes. One of the disclaimers says:

To keep things manageable, the following sets of exercises begin with notes on a single string – the low E – and then progressively expand to include notes on the A string, the D string, and finally the G string.

Here’s a list of the sections for Chapter 3:

  • Notes on the E String
  • Notes on the E and A Strings
  • Notes on the E, A and D Strings
  • Notes on the E, A, D and G Strings
  • Studies on All Four Strings
      • Without Rests
      • With Rests

Chapter 4: Intervals, shows how each of the following look: major 3rd, minor 3rds, fourths, fifths, octaves and 7ths. This was really interesting to me, because I like the idea of seeing a stack of notes and immediately knowing what kind of structure I’ll need to play. Knowing what certain chords or intervals look like really is key to that. A note at the beginning of the section says that being aware of the interval we’re playing is another aspect of effective sight-reading. Then, the exercises begin:

  • Thirds
  • Fourths
  • Fifths
  • Octaves

Chapter 5: Accidentals introduces us to sharps, flats and naturals. I didn’t even realize at first that they were missing from the mix! A note before the recap section offers the following:

When two note names refer to the same pitch (e.g., C# and Db), those notes are called enharmonic equivalents. While a typical piece of music normally uses just one of those note names, this last exercise uses both – to give you practice in recognizing enharmonic equivalents and in reading a single pitch in two ways.

That’s interesting to me, because I distinctly do remember reading elsewhere that generally, a written piece uses either sharps or flats, but not generally both. It also makes me think about just how hard some of the exercises in the HLBM are to me when they include both sharps and flats instead of only one type.

Here are the exercise sections for this chapter:

  • Whole Notes with Sharps and Flats
  • Half Notes with Sharps and Flats
  • Quarter Notes with Sharps and Flats
  • Quarter and Eighth Notes with Sharps and Flats
  • Recapitulation: Enharmonic Equivalents

Chapter 6: Key Signatures, deals with major and minor key signatures and the scales that represent them. It gives the notation for each of the keys and tells us how many sharps and flats are in each, as well as naming them. A note here says:

If you encounter a piece of music with no indicated key signature, it means either the music is in the key of C major, A minor, or a related mode, or it has no specific key and the accidentals will be written in as they occur.

This is followed with 22 exercises and the advice to play the scale that’s related to each exercise before beginning.

Chapter 7: The Entire Fingerboard gives us the notes for all 4 strings for the fingerboard. It then follows with 2-octave fingerings for all of the major and minor scales – and for the 1st time includes tab. I think its meant to take us up to the higher frets on the neck. This is also interesting to me because of reading the 1st chapter of Mick Goodrick‘s book, The Advancing Guitarist, a few months ago. I discovered it on Tom Kenrick‘s blog, and although its a bit more advanced than I am at this point, that 1st chapter included this idea about playing using only one string, before advancing to another. It was meant to banish fear of higher frets and also to really teach playing based on intervals and sound and note relationships instead of positional playing across multiple strings. I just discovered a new blog, this morning, which also mentioned it and has some great art, philosophy and history notes to boot. Here are some links, for those of you who want to explore this more:

Simplified Sight-Reading for Bass

Simplified Sight-Reading for Bass

Finally, Chapter 8: Bass Patterns and Styles, gives us exercises in the following styles of music: Blues, R&B/Funk, Rock/Pop and Latin. It includes the following instructions/advice at the beginning:

Now is the time to use your photographic memory! The exercises in this chapter represent bass patterns heard in all styles of music, through decades of bass playing. Repeat each pattern several times until you are familiar with its contents – rhythms, notes, intervals, and key signatures. Memorize not only the sound of each pattern, but the way it looks as well.Becoming familiar with a variety of common bass patterns such as these will give you a jump start the next time you try to read a new piece of music or some up with an accompaniment to a new tune.

The book then closes with a Glossary of Music Terms and Symbols.So, my initial review of the material really impresses me. I like the idea of using it with another method – and in this case, its going to be the HLBM, since I’m working through it. The approach is different, since we’re not reading right off the bat. In this one, we focus on rhythms first – playing everything using a single note. Josquin recommends D on the A-string. I noticed, with the fingerings, that he also uses 1-finger-per-fret, which I’m generally fine with, but which Ed Friedland avoids for the 1st five frets in his method, so I’ll have to see how they work together.


5 responses

  1. Awesome resource. Thing about reading ahead is it provides time to plan the fingering but all, the best part, how to interpret the notes. It also gets better as time goes on and with practice the interpretation gets better, too.

    April 23, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    • vishalicious

      At the rate I’m going, I think its going to be about a year before I can read fluidly enough to play without looking at my hand too much. I actually want to repeat the Hal Leonard book again when I’m done though, and do it all from different positions.

      This Sight Reading book looks like its meant to really drill rhythm and then notation. I like the 2 approaches.

      April 23, 2015 at 10:36 pm

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