Mark Smith – Sight Reading Music for Bass Guitar
So, I got in a bit of practice today, with a morning session in which I went through exercises 18-35 from the Hal Leonard Bass Method, and then a night session where I ran through 36 & 37 – the two 12-bar blues exercises – a lot. In between I read some stuff on Talkbass and then after the blues exercises, I watched a fantastic video from Mark Smith of Talkingbass.net about reading music.
In Mark’s lesson, he said a few things that really stood out to me:
1. We should play reading exercises from 2nd position, because its a quick shift to move down a fret to put your index finger on the F note on the 1st fret of the E string. By mostly staying in 2nd position and covering the first 5 frets on the neck, we have access to all of the natural notes on the bass, across 4 strings. It looks like this:
As he suggests, this is also a fantastic pattern to practice for fretboard familiarity. Its something I’m going to add to my practice regimen.
2. Mark suggests that, as beginner bassists, we practice jumping from F-G and F-A on the E string without looking at the neck. We want to use our index finger for the F, middle finger for the G and pinkie finger for the A. If we learn these distances without looking at the bass, we’ll be able to get to the position that we need to access all of the notes on those other strings without looking as well. This is vital for sight reading, since we can’t simultaneously look at our fingerboards and notation.
I know there’s the idea of placing sheet music towards the headstock of the bass, so that you’re able to “see” the neck as well as the sheet music at the same time, but then you can’t really read ahead, since your attention is potentially split between the two tasks.
3. We don’t want to follow a 3-step reading process of (a) read the note, (b) find the note, (c) play the note. He says its too many processes. It slows us down. So, for purpose of the exercises we want to practice finding the notes in that pattern from #1, above and basically play each note from one fret. Eliminate choices in the beginning so that instead of that 3-part process above, each note is associated with only one fret, which makes finding and playing it quicker. When we see a note on a piece of sheet music, we automatically go to only one place. The idea, he says, is to build neural pathways, and muscle memory, to associate a note on a score and play it in one motion.
4. He then posits the idea that after a while of doing this, reading notes becomes automatic and we move on to reading rhythms. This is because there are a small, finite number of notes we’ll ever be reading. What gives them distinction is their arrangement, or rhythm. He says that at some point, many rhythms will also become automatically-identified on sight. I look forward to that day!
I really enjoyed this video. It pairs nicely with what I’m practicing in the HLBM. When I was on Talkbass earlier, I asked if anyone has additional reading exercises that could compliment those in the book. Mark’s website, Talkingbass.net, has free lessons which include some of that. This particular video has PDF’s that accompany it which include reading exercises. He also gave the idea to write our own, which is something that I think I’ll do. I’ll try and keep them in-line with what’s already in the HLBM though, so natural notes on the first 3 frets of the E string. then sharps and flats, same with the A string, then both strings, then the D string, etc. If my request for them is any indication, there’s a need for them.