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  1. #1

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    I can sight read extremely well if I already know the tune

    This is a serious point really. I can sight read as a memory aid. That is if I have gone over the piece a few times, sort of learned it but not quite then I can "read" it at tempo.

    I'm not a good sight reader at all so I need to work out the part/piece quite a bit before I can read it well. But I think this's a more realistic notion of sight reading than the notion of sight reading where one is expected to perform a piece of music on the fly that they've never seen before just by reading. The good sight readers I know are classical musicians but even they all work on their parts before the actual gigs (and also do rehearsals).

    Do you actually know a classical sight reader on any instrument who is so good at sight reading that you can just put Donna Lee in front of them and they can play it at tempo even though they've never even heard of the tune? Most people wouldn't be able to do it from the technical standpoint alone without working on the challenging parts.

    So then what is sight reading really? How unfamiliar one needs to be with the tune they are reading so they are considered "sight reading" it?
    Last edited by Tal_175; 04-16-2021 at 06:49 PM.

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175

    Do you actually know a classical sight reader on any instrument who is so good at sight reading that you can just put Donna Lee in front of them and they can play it at tempo even though they've never even heard of the tune?
    .......
    So then what is sight reading really? How unfamiliar one needs to be with the tune they are reading so they are considered "sight reading" it?
    Yes, I know players that could sight read "the fly++++ on paper", they were well trained and often got gigs because of the ability to sight read demanding orchestral parts, big band books, shows including Broadway road shows, etc.

    Frankly a lot of my gigs from the late 70's to the 90's were sight reading gigs, particularly big band and theater shows.

  4. #3

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    Sight reading, you've never heard the tune before, you look at the tune for a minute and then play it.

    I was in a Big Band competition in College (Pacific Coast Jazz Festival at UC Berkley), I think they gave us 10 minutes to look over the tune for the sight reading competition, we couldn't play our instruments during that review, mostly the Director just pointed out tempo and key changes during our review. Then we played the tune as a Band, one shot at it. Seemed to me the guitar players had the hardest time with this.

    I imagine there are horn players that could sight read Donna Lee. But if they're that good they probably have heard that tune, it would have to be a different tune.

    Can guitar players do that, don't know... ask Reg, maybe he could.

  5. #4

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    My sight reading skills are quite dependent on the style of music. But it is very much a requisite of working as a professional musician in London. The working Guitarists I know are generally pretty decent readers. I sort of forget there are those who can’t read tbh as terrible as it sounds.

    It is extremely common to do gigs with no rehearsals. Read charts on the gig etc esp in big bands. I do this a fair bit.

    But I would certainly not say I have brilliant sight reading. But the more you do....

    At the end of the day, it’s all about experience. You can’t theory your way into reading. You just have to do it.

    If you out DL in front of a classical musician they would read the notes but it wouldn’t sound like jazz. OTOH jazz musicians sound like bebop when they read Bach so....

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS
    Yes, I know players that could sight read "the fly++++ on paper", they were well trained and often got gigs because of the ability to sight read demanding orchestral parts, big band books, shows including Broadway road shows, etc.

    Frankly a lot of my gigs from the late 70's to the 90's were sight reading gigs, particularly big band and theater shows.
    Cool. Were these situations where you were subbing in and literally didn't have a chance to play it before? Otherwise why would you not be given the parts in advance?

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep
    Seemed to me the guitar players had the hardest time with this.

    I imagine there are horn players that could sight read Donna Lee. But if they're that good they probably have heard that tune, it would have to be a different tune.

    Can guitar players do that, don't know... ask Reg, maybe he could.
    Honestly I'm a pretty good sight reader on guitar, banjo, bass, and mandolin - but am not sure if I could sight read "Donna Lee" at Parker's tempo but probably could...but I have heard the tune, as you say.

    Guitar players are often notoriously bad sight readers, hence the common joke:

    "How do you make the guitar player turn down?

    Give him the chart."

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Cool. Were these situations where you were subbing in and literally didn't have a chance to play it before? Otherwise why would you not be given the parts in advance?
    Sometimes it was subbing, like with New Orleans' "Jubilation", a wedding/dance band that had lots of charts, but often it was part of a group of musicians led by my college band director, Miton Bush, and had a lot of students and old-timers playing together for dances, shows, riverboats, hotels, and such.

    I even got to read the bass book for Lee Castle and the "Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra"...a ghost band as Jimmy was long gone.

    Mostly I saw the music at the first rehearsal for shows, and on the gig for dance bands. Once in a while I got parts for theater shows beforehand.

    One of my students asked once what was the value in him learning to sight reading music, and my answer was "the value is that you can play thousands of dollars of gigs that a non-reader would never be considered for."

    Of course in lots of musical groups I worked in, it was all head arrangements, by ear, no sheet music, like every rock band and country gig I ever had.

  9. #8

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    One thing I’d say about reading is that at first it’s very hard, painful. But at some point if you keep doing it, it actually becomes really fun.

    I suppose it’s a bit like exercise.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    One thing I’d say about reading is that at first it’s very hard, painful. But at some point if you keep doing it, it actually becomes really fun.

    I suppose it’s a bit like exercise.
    Yes it can be fun - for example I often practice reading by finding some music I've never seen nor heard and reading it. One of my teachers was big on seriously paying attention to all details when sight-reading; he even claimed that you could truly sight-read a piece once, the first time you play it.

  11. #10
    I guess it also depends on how high stake the gig is and who the other players are or what are the expectations of the musical director/conductor (if there is one).

    I heard Bruce Foreman say in his podcast that he is a better sight reader than most guitarists but he would play the wrong notes and make mistakes occasionally but still gets away with it (paraphrasing obviously).
    Last edited by Tal_175; 04-15-2021 at 10:33 AM.

  12. #11

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    All these jokes about guitars struggling with reading. How many middle Cs are on a piano? On a horn?

    When a note gets played in only ONE place it sure makes things easier.

  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    One thing I’d say about reading is that at first it’s very hard, painful. But at some point if you keep doing it, it actually becomes really fun.

    I suppose it’s a bit like exercise.
    I guess it becomes a meditative thing ones it stops being painful.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS
    Honestly I'm a pretty good sight reader on guitar, banjo, bass, and mandolin - but am not sure if I could sight read "Donna Lee" at Parker's tempo but probably could...but I have heard the tune, as you say.

    Guitar players are often notoriously bad sight readers, hence the common joke:

    "How do you make the guitar player turn down?

    Give him the chart."
    Ah well if you can do instruments in fifths? Doubling fee, kerching!

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    I guess it becomes a meditative thing ones it stops being painful.
    No it’s more like; oh cool a new piece of music. Let’s have some fun!

  16. #15

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    Unless it’s William Leavitt in which case it’s ‘oh god it’s this one again.’

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Ah well if you can do instruments in fifths? Doubling fee, kerching!
    Lots of the shows like "Mack and Mable", "Oklahoma", "Mame", etc. required guitar and banjo, so yes, doubling pay just like the sax players that doubled flute or clarinet.

  18. #17
    How do you get a mediocre lazy guitar player to turn down? PUT A CHART IN FRONT OF HIM>

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS
    Lots of the shows like "Mack and Mable", "Oklahoma", "Mame", etc. required guitar and banjo, so yes, doubling pay just like the sax players that doubled flute or clarinet.
    Quite. I can’t do fifths tho. Maybe if I had another lifetime...

    NB: just being able to read is no guarantee of plum reading gigs these days. But it is a prerequisite.

  20. #19
    If by reading charts, what's meant is only reading the chords (and not in the standard sheet music notation) on the fly, but not the head, I've done that in jam sessions and in a couple of small gigs. If a tune that I don't know is called, I can pull out my IRealPro and comp through the changes. I think that's pretty doable if you know 20 or so standards already. I don't really consider that sight reading.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    If by reading charts, what's meant is only reading the chords (and not in the standard sheet music notation) on the fly, but not the head, I've done that in jam sessions and in a couple of small gigs. If a tune that I don't know is called, I can pull out my IRealPro and comp through the changes. I think that's pretty doable if you know 20 or so standards already. I don't really consider that sight reading.
    The big band charts often have the guitar playing single note lines with a horn section, both some of the old style charts and more so the modern style charts. Sometimes the guitar player will read single note lines to be played by himself, better get those right. And sometimes, at least back in my day, they'll give the guitarist a copy of the piano chart to play, didn't like that, so many notes to pick from, can't play them all. Talking about a headache. I wasn't that good at it, college big band level I suppose. But those were fun days, around the early 1980s for me... We had a dance book that we didn't rehearse, only played those live, they were easier, mostly just chords, Count Basie style.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllanAllen
    All these jokes about guitars struggling with reading. How many middle Cs are on a piano? On a horn?

    When a note gets played in only ONE place it sure makes things easier.
    String players have the same issue and no frets, so not really an excuse

    and there is no real excuse for not reading single lines on a Jazz chart

    I suck at it personally though. I dont practice reading enough jazz so I struggle with the rhythms, whereas I can read renaissance CG pieces fairly easily as the rhythm and harmony is so simple, am a little worse at sight reading Sor and that is about the extent I practice.

    The problem you get with classical is much of it is over-fingered so you wind up reading it as tablature, not notes

    Supposedly John Williams can (could?) sight read anything - concert pieces, whatever

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Quite. I can’t do fifths tho. Maybe if I had another lifetime...

    NB: just being able to read is no guarantee of plum reading gigs these days. But it is a prerequisite.
    So tune it like a guitar. Tommy Tedesco and Jay Berliner did, and they were the top studio players in LA and NY, respectively.

    I did "Me and My Girl" in a big Manhattan production, which is largely banjo, and a guy from the audience kept asking me if I tuned it in 5ths, and I just smiled and said, "Couldn't you tell?"
    He wouldn't stop asking me, so I finally said, "What does it matter if you can't tell the difference?"
    He just let out a big moan.

  24. #23

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    Who tunes a banjo in 5ths?

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim
    So tune it like a guitar. Tommy Tedesco and Jay Berliner did, and they were the top studio players in LA and NY, respectively.

    I did "Me and My Girl" in a big Manhattan production, which is largely banjo, and a guy from the audience kept asking me if I tuned it in 5ths, and I just smiled and said, "Couldn't you tell?"
    He wouldn't stop asking me, so I finally said, "What does it matter if you can't tell the difference?"
    He just let out a big moan.
    Has anyone done this with mandolin?

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Has anyone done this with mandolin?
    Yeah, both of the above mentioned guys. A friend of mine studied with Berliner, and he said that he did it with every string instrument he played- mandolin, banjo, uke, all of them. TT said he did it, too.