A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Sight-reading on bass

reading-bass-music-cartoonI re-read something that MalcolmAmos posted on Talkbass and felt the need to repeat it here, because he always has great advice.

Here’s the text though, for those of you who don’t want to read the rest of the thread:


How to read music and how to sight read are two different things. Sight read implies… the ability to read standard notation sheet music fast enough so you can play from that sheet music and keep up with the tempo – i.e. the music does not go off and leave you. And then, from your question the following may pull reading music into perspective.

To sight read:

  • You will have to read music some time every day for the next ____month/years. You fill in the blank.
  • To sight read you first have to be able to read standard notation.
  • My teacher had me start with recognizing the fly speck – in the same amount of time it took me to say my name. Flash cards or Internet aps work fine. Take some sheet music with you and read every chance you have.
  • Once you can recognize, and say the note’s name, pick up your instrument and find the notes on your fretboard.
  • Find them in first position first (first 4 frets). Then move up the neck.
  • Start with simple songs. Happy Birthday, etc.

You need to be able read standard notation, however, will you be playing from standard notation is the question. I play Country and Praise music and the band director always hands me fake chord sheet music and I play from that. I have never had a band director hand me standard notation sheet music. Keep reading…

You gotta know how to read the fly specks, it is something we just need to know how to do, but, you may not be required to sight read on the fly.

You are 4 months into your bass. Sight reading is going to take some time. Don’t let sight reading (the ability to read and play fast enough so the music does not go off and leave you) keep you from moving forward with your other bass lessons.

As I mentioned fake chord sheet music, here is what fake chord sheet music looks like:
Hillsong – ( Amazing Love chords )
And how to play bass to that is another lessons best taken up on another post.

First we learn our scales, then we learn our chord tones and arpeggios, then we learn how to use those in songs. Then up pops that rhythm thing and playing with other people. It’s a journey, while on the journey keep working on reading standard notation. It’s part of the language of music and we all need to be able to speak the language. Music theory and standard notation help us talk and write to each other.

Good luck and welcome to the bottom end.


One of the key takeaways here, to me, is that distinction between sight-reading and simply reading music. Its like the difference between music theory and reading standard notation. I think all 3 of these things get looked at as the same thing to a lot of people who haven’t studied music and intimidate themselves with the prospect. It shouldn’t be like this.

I guess this is kind of a PSA about learning to read, and something of an endorsement to use the Hal Leonard Bass Method from Ed Friedland, because its working for me, and I’m slow. I’m sure that other people who have more time and energy to dedicate to this than I am will go through it faster and come out the other end capable and knowledgeable bassists.

[edit] Here’s a link to the Facebook comments for this post

bass notes


5 responses

  1. I disagree somewhat with the premise on sight reading. Reading music is reading music – there are no qualifiers. Knowing where every note is on the bass fingerboard is what is required for sight reading. There are lots of ways to do this but it boils down to knowing where every note on the fingerboard is located. You get better at sight reading by constantly reading music. A good starting point is some simple drum music. This takes the pitch out of the equation and lets you work with rhythms only.

    May 25, 2015 at 8:37 am

    • vishalicious

      I think what Malcolm was saying is that the difference between reading and sight-reading music is speed. Reading music seems to imply that you can sit down and go through a chart and understand what’s been written. Sight-reading seems to imply that you can do it fast enough to play in real-time. I think reading enough eventually leads to sight-reading, but I’m only starting out, so reading alone is a workout for me. 😉

      I actually have been working on rhythm exercises as well as the reading ones. I’ve been going through exercises in Simplified Sight-Reading for Bass during most of my practice sessions. I just haven’t moved onto a new exercise yet, so I haven’t posted anything new.

      May 25, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      • It isn’t that way. Reading music is the same (but far simpler) as reading a book or newspaper. If you’re reading a newspaper, you don’t much if any preparation in before you start reading, you just read. Written music is a language, a language of mostly symbols. I started reading music at the same time as I was learning to read written words. If some throws sheet music in front of me, I will probably be able to get through at least 90% of it. That’s about the same as what most people comprehend when reading words. Reading music is sight reading – and the way you get through is learn the basics (there aren’t many) and read different music daily. If you make mistakes, correct them and go on to the next piece. I still sight read 3 or 4 hours a week and I’ve been at for decades.

        May 25, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      • vishalicious

        What you’re saying makes sense. Its a different perspective from what I’ve seen, but both make sense in their own way, and I think that with practice, they arrive at the same destination.

        I understand what you mean about it being simpler – there are simply less symbols and rules to keep track of, overall, than a language like English. I think that because its new to me, it’ll take a little time though… and I’m a bit slow to begin with. 😉

        Its great that you sight read regularly. I want to get to that point as well. So far, I’m trying to work on at least 30 mins a day, but in practice, I actually end up with about an hour since I try to sneak in a session in the early AM and then another when the baby goes to bed. Its coming together, but I did wonder about my pace, since I’m not working with a teacher.

        May 25, 2015 at 5:52 pm

  2. Pingback: HLBM 34: A Little Heavy | Ugly Bass Face

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