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  1. #1
    There's a lot of discussion on this topic, and a lot of confusion with people talking about reading music and sight reading at various levels. Here's my take on the beginner part of it. When sight reading comes up people give advice to...

    1. Read everything you can get your hands on (clarinet, saxophone, classical, Real Book tunes etc.
    2. Only read things you've never seen before, (or it's not sight-reading).
    3. Practice playing through everything at tempo, (or it's not sight-reading).
    4. Play all the way through without stopping to fix mistakes or work things out.
    5. Get a college-level book such as William Leavitt's Modern Method or Reading Studies and plug away.
    6. Time, time, time! Spend a good amount of time just plugging away. It's hard, but eventually it will pay off.

    These are a lot of the main comments I see when someone asks about reading music or sight reading, and they're all good advice when used at the appropriate stages of the learning process. They're mostly recommendations for players who are already somewhat competent readers.

    "Reading" versus "sight reading". Some people are irritated by the distinction. I'll admit to using these as distinguishing terms myself, because I feel that there is so much confusion and inappropriate advice given in this area.

    I don't know that it's a "thing" to make this distinction among academics, I just started saying it here a few years ago because people talked about the process of learning to read music (as a beginning reader) as if that was "sight reading", and it absolutely is not. I feel that the above-listed pieces of advice are absolutely wrong for beginning readers who don't have any basic level of reading competency.

    Repetition, Rote and "Working Things Out": It's appropriate. It's common practice among music teachers of all instruments. It makes sense. I think it's worth looking at how kids learn this stuff in school.

    When children learn to read, whether it's music or just text, they learn by rote, repetition, working things out (phonetically, pitch, fingerings, rhythms), without respect to tempo (and occasionally time), and certainly not by sight. Repetition of previously "worked out" or previously read material is not only allowed, it is explicitly required and expected.

    Constant review of previously worked out material gives children (and adults) the confidence to tackle the harder stuff at the edge of their ability/experience. Again, the above recommendations to read only new material, at tempo etc. are mainly geared toward [I] sight reading [I] practice for somewhat competent readers.

    Gradual, Graded and Progressive: While children's minds are understandably more suited to learning new things than us older folks, it's a gross misunderstanding to think that it's "just going to be really hard" because we're adults learning it. Well, when kids start out, it's with very basic material which very gradually and systematically adds new elements of difficulty. Band methods add one note or rhythmic element at-a-time, every few lessons, over days and weeks. Tons of repetition over gradually more complex content.

    Always begin reading practice by playing stuff "way back" in the book, which is now "easy" for you. Work your way forward until you get to a point where you know you need to stop and work some things out. Practice in small sections, 2-4 measures in length. Don't play the entire piece every time. Practice the hard part until it's no longer the hardest part for you. Reviewing previous material gives you the reps that you know you'd need to have with anything other than music. Each day you more quickly move through the previous stuff and you're "locking things into place".

    Assess where you're "at". If you open a Real Book and can't play simpler tunes without a lot of work, take a step back. Go to something incremental and systematically designed to teach reading. Open up Mel Bay's Modern Guitar method (sheesh. I think it's about $8), and play through as much of the beginning of that book as you can. If that's a struggle, work on some of that stuff. Or if that's too difficult and you're still constantly pissed at yourself, doing that, take another step back.

    Go to your browser menu and select "private session" or whatever, so that no one will see you, and order a copy of Alfred's Kids Guitar Method. I'm absolutely serious. If you're irritated enough about reading music every time you practice, do something easier. What's worse? Practicing a kid's method that 1) only you will know about, 2) gives you immediate success 3) very quickly gets you back to a "real" method with confidence, or 4) the on-and-off-again giving up on reading music because it's too stinking hard (and then coming back to it every once in a while out of a feeling of obligation or whatever).

    I've seen way too many smart, capable adults on this forum talk about "quitting" out of frustration when it comes to reading music. ???

    Anyway, this kids' book is more graded (doesn't move along as fast to new material) than the Mel Bay type books. You can work through the entire two volumes of that kid's book in a fraction of the time that it would take to learn the same note sets on all six strings from the Mel Bay book. It's got cartoon pictures in it. Tell people it's for your child/grandchild/student.

    You'll then fly through an adult book in just a few weeks. This is actually a top-secret piano teacher's trick for teaching adults. At my first music store job, 20 years ago, I was trained on discretely giving this "pitch" to adult students who we felt might need it. You don't have more time than a kid to "waste" practicing reading. You have much less. Why make it harder than it is for children whose minds are primed for learning new things?

    Once you have some basic level of reading competency, you'll be able to work on reading from more progressive texts like the Mel Bay type and eventually, Leavitt and others. You'll also want to work on sight reading...

    Sight Reading. Sight reading is it's own thing. It has nothing to do with the process described above. With sight reading, you read a piece of music you've never seen before, at tempo, without stopping/fixing mistakes/working things out. Growing up in band, I never heard the term "sight reading" used to describe the process of going home and working on something (because that's not what it is). It was mostly practice reading something cold. This is the reason I felt it necessary to make the original distinction in terms. Because you can't work on sight reading if you can't otherwise read music.

    Generally, sight reading at a band competitions for schools involves a time limit to look at the piece with the director (a minute or two?) and very strict instructions as to what you're allowed to say to the students. No clapping, speaking rhythms, singing usually. The music is face down until the official time starts. All that to say....it's a very different skill from learning to read in the first place. (Teachers don't teach general reading that way -- just sight reading).

    In school, sight reading is introduced after some kind of basic level of skill at reading-period has been achieved. Of course, as Reg often states, it makes no sense to practice "sight reading" music which you would otherwise have trouble reading or playing period.

    That being said, in some sense, sight reading should be a natural artifact or result of just reading at higher levels. If you're working on music at grade 3, you should be able to sight read at grade level 1 just as a result of the whole learning process. Of course to really get better at sight reading you have to dedicate specific time to actually reading new music, cold, "at sight", and at tempo as well.

    I'm not a jazzer, but I've spent a couple of decades teaching players of all ages, in schools/music stores etc. to read music at a basic level. It honestly shouldn't be something that makes you want to punch yourself in the face. If it is, I think you need to take a step back and assess what level you need to be working at. Regardless of your goals, you might get farther in a year or six months, working something much simpler and slower paced, than you would spending the same year, struggling through out of obligation, and being frustrated with yourself all of the time.

    Sorry to be long-winded. But this one always gets tossed around, and I didn't want to derail the other thread.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 06-11-2015 at 09:42 PM.

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Great post - thanks!

  4. #3

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    Thanks for your post.

  5. #4

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    Matt, this is one of the best adult-aimed discussions on sight reading in a long time. Thanks!
    Check out my tracks at www.soundcloud.com/billmcmannis

  6. #5

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    Hey Matt, as always, great post.

    At what age do you think kids should make the transition from Mel Bay traditional general musical approach to more of a jazz guitar approach, more in the line of Berklee etc... which is really very different. I don't have a clue...

  7. #6

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    I agree with every thing said in the above post. I gave up classical guitar because the 'sight reading' was impossible for me. However after many years (of punching myself in the face) I decided to go back to basics and only read single line stuff. Even simple Christmas carols or childrens nursery rhymes. I still avoid any stuff with stacked chord arrangements but I can now read a jazz head pretty well. I'm never going to be a full on pro 'sight reader' but I am now a lot more confident and can interpret just about anything given some time to work on it.
    Also I made a huge step forward when I decided to split the problem into two. 1/ note on stave recognition skills 2/ rhythm recognition skills. For 1 I worked through loads of Bach pieces for clarinet or flute or any single line stuff that was rhythmically dead simple using the upper neck positions. 2/ Working on any rhythm patterns that I couldn't count and sing with ease. Both processes need to be a bit like changing gear on your car. ie almost subconscious.
    Last edited by md54; 02-15-2015 at 03:22 PM.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Reg View Post
    Hey Matt, as always, great post.

    At what age do you think kids should make the transition from Mel Bay traditional general musical approach to more of a jazz guitar approach, more in the line of Berklee etc... which is really very different. I don't have a clue...
    Thanks, reg.

    Re. Berklee, I don't really have a clue either. :-)

    I'm the only person I know who's really interested in Jazz. I'd guess it's probably more about interest than age. I've honestly thought of the Leavitt books as more collegiate. Beyond the difficulty level itself, there just has to be a certain interest level for the student to sustain doing it. It's difficult enough to get people to read music at all, much less do it at that level. I probably don't have a good perspective, because I could already somewhat read, kind of classically, when I got to Leavitt, but I thought it would be pretty difficult in terms of the rate at which a beginner would be adding new skills/note sets. Most people don't even have the attention span for traditional classical or Mel Bay type things.

    I would think that the classical or Mel Bay stuff really works fine for traditional, primarily diatonic music. In classical, you have fingerings written in, and it's understood that you're not going to be reading that stuff cold for the most part anyway. Sight reading is "cool" in that context, but mostly you're "preparing" pieces. When you get to the chromaticism of jazz, that kind of fingering system kind of all falls apart. It may have evolved from the same place, but it's getting so far removed from simple, diatonic, single-key-center type stuff, that even the notational conventions start to kind of break down and be awkward. But the fingerings! Once you get into changing key centers and the chromaticisim of Jazz, it basically demands a rework of fingering protocols.

    I think most people are probably OK to do a basic classical type approach until they know that they want to be that serious. There's probably enough overlap in Berklee's vol.1 five fingerings and classical that it's not that much of an adjustment after-the-fact. I know it wasn't a big deal for me to transition. I'm sure it would be better in the long run to start with the end in mind, but you've got to get them playing and interested first. They say that 1-in-100 high school football players make it to college play, and then 1-in-100 from there to pro etc. I think it's probably the same with guitar players who eventually play jazz, but with worse odds. :-)

    If I had a kid who was really serious, I'd put them onto the Berklee stuff after they could already read pretty well. For myself, I mainly taught middle schoolers classical-style in a group setting in the classroom. We didn't really get to that level before they left me. I'm not a pro. I'm not really a very good student either. The blog link in my sig is more of a disambiguation of my pretentious-arse-sounding user name which I supplied out of laziness many years ago. I pulled it from another setting not thinking about how I'd feel about it later, with the monster players on these boards. So, I don't really have an expert opinion on this stuff. It's just my perspective as a teacher and student myself.

    I've just seen a lot of sentiment about reading out of a Real Book or Leavitt etc. as being so difficult that people completely quit out of frustration. In my experience, success often yields "faster" progress even if it means "going slower" to have some success. I want people to understand there are a lot of things to work on reading between "nothing" and Berklee. It would be better to have success with "easy" that eventually gets you there than to trudge through and then quit. Adult students are much harder to teach anything, but especially reading. The better they already play, the worse it is. It's hard to learn to crawl with reading after already being able to "run" as a player.

    Kids generally need a kick in the butt, whereas adults need constant pats-on-the-back.

    Reg, thanks for your input always. I don't have any time, but I'm getting my Melodic Minor house in order with spare moments and eagerly look forward to your "blue notes from MM". :-)

    Sorry to be long. Sunday afternoon and all...
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 02-15-2015 at 04:47 PM.

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    He Matt... Thanks for the long response. Interesting, Now I see why I don't teach kid, there spoiled lazy little brats. I'll skip the adult description. I just have too much respect for music, and I guess just in general.

    Again thanks... I'm headin off to a couple gigs. I''l try and post some info and a vid example of my Blue notes with Melodic Min. organization tomorrow... It's always good to remind myself of how I originally organized etc... It's not vinilla...

  10. #9

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    Great post, Matt. I hope this one is referred back to for a long time to come.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  11. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Reg View Post
    He Matt... Thanks for the long response. Interesting, Now I see why I don't teach kid, there spoiled lazy little brats. I'll skip the adult description. I just have too much respect for music, and I guess just in general.
    Yeah. It's definitely it's own thing. You may rarely or never see the end results or know what they even are, but I've seen a few kids, grown up, play out and that's cool. I had one kid who I hadn't seen since 5th grade, stop to recognize me at a concert. He was a pro-level classical player who had gotten a Masters in performance and credited me as his inspiration for studying. Great player and great kid.

    Of course now he's practicing law... Sheesh! ;-)

  12. #11

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    Hi friends

    I learn and read this forum 6 months algo...

    I am only a student and in the present I have no teacher...

    I know the book that Matt write in this post...

    Serie Williant Leavitt por serie Mel Bay is so dificult to start read music....And more....

    There are books for classical guitar...I like to play and study this music...I,m from Spain and is very popular classical and flamenco music here....

    Flamenco musicians not read music...I think it,s imposible ir very dificultad learn to play flamenco reading scores...

    Eléctric guitarrist,s learn to play rock,blues and jazz...

    There are more people that they not read music...I think that it is not a "wrong" cause the ear is very very important


    Now...The book Matts wrote in this post is more "children"... and more easy to learn...I think that,s the way...

    Adult people want to learn with" adult books"and in my opinión it,s a wrong...

    I know books to learn play classical music and there are the same difficult than willian leavitt or mel Bay series....

    They are not books to start...I would like to Know what are the books that matt use for their students in classical guitar....

    The book of this post it was me teaching by one classical guitarrist 6 years algo and it is more enjoy to play and more enjoy to start to learn that"adulta books"

    Excuse my bad english...I understand your language to my way...and I don,t Know write it very well...but I learn reading your forum and your comments...

    I hope that members forums can be able to understand my bar english...excuse me!

    My post is repeated...I have a lot of wrongs writing...

    I understand your words but I haven,t a translate dictionarity and I wrote very bad...I,m sorry
    Last edited by Jvilpaz; 02-16-2015 at 11:01 AM.

  13. #12
    I wish I knew of some to recommend. The one I linked above is really a good one for kids, and I would imagine, adult beginners as well. Anything easy enough to get you started really. Once you can read a little, you can actually work through beginner band methods , using clarinet books probably. They're graded very well to gradually increase in difficulty etc. then, later, something like William Leavitt's modern guitar method and reading studies.

    The one I actually use in school classroom is licensed for schools and more expensive. It's also not self instruction. Before that , I was using a band method with the alto sax book. The pace is just much better in the band methods.

    As a whole, I feel that guitar books are generations behind the pedagogy and methods of piano or band methods.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 02-16-2015 at 12:48 PM.

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    Hey Matt. Sorry for comments, they're all good and you have all my respect, kids are what we make them, at least to a point.
    I always push for kids,(adults), to take responsibility for what they are as compared to the result of. I definitly have very little expertise.
    Again great post and music reading set of references for understandings.

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Reg View Post
    Hey Matt. Sorry for comments, they're all good and you have all my respect, kids are what we make them, at least to a point.
    I always push for kids,(adults), to take responsibility for what they are as compared to the result of. I definitly have very little expertise.
    Again great post and music reading set of references for understandings.
    No offense taken on my end. I know you're working in a whole different tier, and that's cool. It's all perspective.

    I've run into little old men over the years who could flat pick one tune or whatever. Less than a lot of my beginner students. They can't imagine playing much more than that and that's enough for them. They think of me as being some kind of real "serious player" and talk about it like it's some kind of magic.

    I have to smile at that when I think of players like you our there. They have no idea...

  16. #15

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    sincerely hope that these discussions should serve to make us think .... I studied in my youth with methods actually made for people with learning some way, especially in the music theory ... I taught things fast and bad ... I learned to play a little blues and a rhythm section to accompany the style ... It was really stressful ... I spent almost one hour trying to learn a whole lick yet understand much harmony .... I stopped playing guitar for years and ... years later retook the guitar ... I got Leavitt methods and Mel Bay ... For classical guitar there Tarrega treated as such ... they are really difficult and frustrating methods...

    One day, a guitar teacher gave me some guitar lessons ... My dream was to play big pieces of classical guitar ... but she was a music teacher ... and seeing as I touched showed me the book that says the mate .. .In Spain has another name ... really was the first time I enjoyed playing guitar ... I'm still suffering the desire to play like Django Reinhardt or my favorite musicians .... I love music and Lester young music of Beethoven and other great musicians ... There are stories that I think many people do not know ... We buy books parts, guitar techniques, musical styles and musical harmony ... I have a book that is beautiful, encompasses many resources who serve for life ... I'm sure if I work hard I can never touch all that ... It is very dense, but not intense ... It speaks of all, the importance of stretching, muscle tension. .. of the disease that took Schumann nineteen and had to stop playing .... Seriously, it is a psychological and full of information of all kinds book not only musical ... speaks of the importance of silence in the music ... I hate the virtuous music ... He talks a lot and says nothing ... or a quote from my book .... Who says a lot, well they speak, will end by saying something stupid ... says I'm sure some nonsense I wrote in this post ... I thank the author and also other colleagues ... I understand the author's words and also his intention ... Today I spoke with a guitar teacher and told me only taught to middle_high level and I do not know what that is ... small as Nuages ​​Django tunes are playing for me,but not with that elegance that ... I had this teacher said I was a beginner ... I do not think that level ever leave ... You never stop learning and I know that this teacher does not touch Django because I knew years ago and told me he had no idea...!

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    I wish I knew of some to recommend. The one I linked above is really a good one for kids, and I would imagine, adult beginners as well. Anything easy enough to get you started really. Once you can read a little, you can actually work through beginner band methods , using clarinet books probably. They're graded very well to gradually increase in difficulty etc. then, later, something like William Leavitt's modern guitar method and reading studies.

    The one I actually use in school classroom is licensed for schools and more expensive. It's also not self instruction. Before that , I was using a band method with the alto sax book. The pace is just much better in the band methods.

    As a whole, I feel that guitar books are generations behind the pedagogy and methods of piano or band methods.

    Hi Matt,

    Are you able to give me the title of the book you're using to teach? Am I able to purchase it for home use? I fully understand it's not for self-learning, but would like to have a copy nonetheless.

    Thanks!

  18. #17
    I used Bill Swick's stuff from Las Vegas Academy Paperless Publisher Table of Contents Page

    I used in with my middle school kids. Really gradually progressive. Bill's a good guy and has probably gotten thousands of kids started playing guitar.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    I used Bill Swick's stuff from Las Vegas Academy Paperless Publisher Table of Contents Page

    I used in with my middle school kids. Really gradually progressive. Bill's a good guy and has probably gotten thousands of kids started playing guitar.

    Thanks a lot!

    Looks like a great, systematic way to learn.

  20. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by kkfan View Post
    Thanks a lot!

    Looks like a great, systematic way to learn.
    Just to be clear, it's priced for copy permission at a school site for many students. (It'd be kind of expensive per-page for a single person but that's not what it's about). It's basic stuff at the beginning. I don't know if he has a 1-person method book which is priced that way. Just want it to be clear about what you're getting vs. what you'd be paying for.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    Just to be clear, it's priced for copy permission at a school site for many students. (It'd be kind of expensive per-page for a single person but that's not what it's about). It's basic stuff at the beginning. I don't know if he has a 1-person method book which is priced that way. Just want it to be clear about what you're getting vs. what you'd be paying for.
    Thanks, Matt. Yeah, I understood that from your earlier post as well. It certainly is expensive, but the slow, steady approach shown in the samples seem most appropriate for a beginner, especially when there's a definite plan involved in terms of the time span and material to cover during that time.

    Do you know of any other book(s) that may achieve same or similar goal as systematically as these ?

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by kkfan View Post
    Thanks, Matt. Yeah, I understood that from your earlier post as well. It certainly is expensive, but the slow, steady approach shown in the samples seem most appropriate for a beginner, especially when there's a definite plan involved in terms of the time span and material to cover during that time.

    Do you know of any other book(s) that may achieve same or similar goal as systematically as these ?
    Not really. Maybe supplement with a band method , maybe clarinet. The band methods are decades ahead of guitar in pedagogy really. Learning embouchure and the age of the students kind of demands a slower pace . There's too much money involved in school band programs for them to be able to afford failure. They know what they're doing.

    I used saxophone edition of a band method at school before I found Bill's stuff. The guitar methods just moved way too quickly for the classroom. (A room full of middle schoolers is quite a different beast from private lessons).

    I really liked that the music was tonal from the start. They don't sequence the introduction of new notes based on the set up of the instrument, like the three notes on the first string of guitar with crazy modal sounding, nontraditional melody . It's more based on common melody and , Western harmony and cadence. With guitar methods you basically have to learn three strings before anything really starts sounding like familiar songs in ONE key. Maybe two strings. Basically six notes. With the band methods, you're playing tonal music in TWO keys by the time you know four or five notes.

    There is just a lot of material on things like slurs , tonguing , long-note tone exercises etc. that don't really apply to guitar. Beginner band clarinet books are probably a good bet for supplemental reading .
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 03-08-2015 at 03:56 PM.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    Not really. Maybe supplement with a band method , maybe clarinet. The band methods are decades ahead of guitar in pedagogy really. Learning embouchure and the age of the students kind of demands a slower pace . There's too much money involved in school band programs for them to be able to afford failure. They know what they're doing.

    I used saxophone edition of a band method at school before I found Bill's stuff. The guitar methods just moved way too quickly for the classroom. (A room full of middle schoolers is quite a different beast from private lessons).

    I really liked that the music was tonal from the start. They don't sequence the introduction of new notes based on the set up of the instrument, like the three notes on the first string of guitar with crazy modal sounding, nontraditional melody . It's more based on common melody and , Western harmony and cadence. With guitar methods you basically have to learn three strings before anything really starts sounding like familiar songs in ONE key. Maybe two strings. Basically six notes. With the band methods, you're playing tonal music in TWO keys by the time you know four or five notes.

    There is just a lot of material on things like slurs , tonguing , long-note tone exercises etc. that don't really apply to guitar. Beginner band clarinet books are probably a good bet for supplemental reading .

    Again, thanks so much for your time, Matt. Truly appreciate it.

  24. #23

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    There are books called musical language ....

    are focused to the beginnings in music .... are books rhythm and music reading ......

    Children are focused and are really fun and effective ....

    when I started playing guitar I did from guitar teachers who taught me with tabs and methods of styles ..... even today I use tabs ..... but I also use methods that elementary grade on the musical language. ....

    I do not know if I understand all this post ..... in my opinion take a book like leavitt or mel bay .... it is downright heavy and difficult .... very stressful ..... There are more simple things and beautiful of which is also learned and where wonderful music ....

    I had the misfortune also learn to musical harmony without first knowing anything about music theory ..... in my opinion is another mistake ..... harmony books ..... some will explain the value and duration Musical notes and what a musical interval ..... but have virtually no learning, educational or musical exercises on these issues .... harmony rather talk about chords and their construction and the relationship between them and other ..... and all the musical scales and stuff we know and which many a times we have more of a doubt about them ..... would be nice to give a good step back in time. ... and start from the beginning .... without sacrificing either enjoy what we already know and with which we enjoyed .....

    a greeting
    Last edited by Jvilpaz; 03-13-2015 at 08:28 PM.