On getting better at sight reading

Sight-Reading Music Class Ticket

This is a conversation I usually have to have with all my students whether they want to improve their sight reading or not. There are plenty of great conceptual reasons to get your reading together, however you are much more likely to learn something when there are ramifications if you don’t succeed. If you could put yourself in a situation where if you didn’t sight read well you would be yelled at, fired, embarrassed, docked pay, left in some unfamiliar part of town without a ride, etc… it would add extra importance to the task at hand (some ideas- start a reading group, get a cruise boat gig, teach a class on reading, join Buddy Rich’s ghost’s band…). When a student does ask me for help with reading, I usually assume that they’ve been humiliated to the point of asking me for help. Humiliation is truly one of the great motivating factors.

I’m by no means an expert sight reader but I have made significant progress over the years. In my experience, there aren’t really any shortcuts. You learn through the experience of doing it regularly. I take a three tiered approach to practicing reading:

1. Ètudes – The concept here is to work on the same thing for an extended amount of time. Don’t memorize it (always look at the page and not your instrument) but do get used to the way the piece sounds and definitely take note of your problem areas and feel free to work on them. The etudes I usually find myself coming back to are Bach’s Violin Paratitas, the Cello Suites and the Two Part Inventions (sometimes I’ll record one part and play against it).

2. Sight Reading – Here, the concept is to read something I’ve never seen before. This could be music from fake books, chorales, clarinet method books, snare drum books…anything so long as I haven’t read it before. First, I scope out the key signature, the range (this will allow me to figure out where a good position on the neck would be), and any road map issues like D.S.’s and codas. Then I turn on a metronome and play through it without stopping. I take note of any problem areas and sometimes allow myself to briefly work them out before trying it again. I play it until I feel like I have a handle on it before affixing an explosive device on it and hurling it out my window (it is important to destroy any evidence of you having played that piece – also make sure that anyone who heard you practice it is properly “taken care of” as well).

3. Original ètudes – Having taken note of my problem areas in the first two processes, I write ètudes to address those areas. For instance, I noticed I was really uncomfortable reading from the A on the D string to the A on the B string in 7th position. So I’d fill up some manuscript paper with notes in that range. Or let’s say I was fine with F sharps but G flats would take a second to register. In that case I’d make sure to pepper the étude with a bunch of G flats. You could make an étude with no flats or sharps, make maybe five copies of it and then fill in different accidentals for each one. If you notice particular rhythms are consistently throwing you, take note of those rhythms and write them out and incorporate them into the études. Or practice scales using those rhythms. Self criticism and resourcefulness are key to improving.

Let me know if these ideas are helpful and if you have any interesting ways that you work on your reading chops.

-jamie

John Lennon would have been 70 a few days ago

I can never give an absolute answer to that question regarding who your favorite Beatle is but I can say with certainty that it was because of John Lennon that I started playing guitar in 1981. Before John Lennon was killed, my fifth grade class’s musical taste ranged from “Rapper’s Delight” to… well, that was about it. After Lennon’s death my friends and I got slightly obsessed with the Beatles. We wanted to start a band and since I had a guitar in the back of my Mom’s closet I decided I’d play guitar. There were about ten of us in my pack of friends so we were going to have clarinets and xylophones and timpanis and anything else that looked interesting in our school’s band room. Our band never came together but I did stick to guitar and it eventually wound up knocking out my other hobby of cartoon caricatures.

As tragic as it was to lose such an enormous talent so early, this event no doubt gave birth to a generation of artists who grew up measuring themselves against the high level of artistic integrity displayed by Lennon/ the Beatles. Many of my friends’ entries into music were from big brothers who were into Kiss or Van Halen. I often think how lucky I was to have the Beatles be my first meaningful musical influence.

If you haven’t seen this short film about a 14 year old Beatles fan interviewing Lennon in his hotel room…enjoy.

-jamie

Howdy. Thanks to everyone for coming out to the LAJC Spring Fest at Vitello’s. It turned out to be a lot of fun (despite my last minute pedalboard abandonment due to random effect freak-outage).

I have 3 gigs coming up at Blue Whale and I’m looking forward to each of them. First: the return of JoE-LeSs shOe on Weds, April 28th.  Second: Ryan McGillicuddy’s quartet wit

h Adam Benjamin on keys and Jason Harnell on drums on Sat May 8th and third: singer Sharmila Guha’s trio with Eric Sittner on bass. Hope to see you at some of them!

Hi there folks. A few updates to the site to mention. I added a bunch of clips to the video gallery and put up some new pictures in the picture gallery as well. Knock yourselves out!

Playing trio with bass and drums has always been one of my favorite settings. Friday the 26th of March I’ll be playing at Blue Whale with a really terrific rhythm section consisting of Jeff D’Angelo on bass and David Hocker on drums. These guys are great listeners as well as players so it should be a lot of fun.

I’ve been very fortunate to do a few gigs with the Luckman Jazz Orchestra led by Charlie Owens. Our next concert is Saturday April 10th at the Luckman Auditorium at Cal State LA and is a tribute to Duke Ellington.

Some upcoming stuff

Hi there internet peeps. Thanks for checking in. A few things I want to mention breifly; First of all the passing of the amazing musician Jimmy Wyble. Jimmy was an incredibly unique guitarist and person alike. Everyone who heard him and met him was charmed. Look for an upcoming post about Jimmy. I’ll miss him.

Second, I have some gigs coming up that I’m excited about. Sat. Feb 27 I’ll be at Blue Whale with a variation of Sigmund Fugde. Kneebody’s Adam Benjamin will be filling in for Joe Bagg, along with Ryan McGillicuddy on bass and Jason Harnell on drums. I can’t say enough nice things about Blue Whale. I’ll be there with my trio March 26th as well. More about that later.

Tues, March 2 I’ll be at Vitello’s on John Pisano’s Guitar Night with John, Ryan McGillicuddy and Tim Pleasant. It’s always an honor to play with John.

-jamie

Eric Rasmussen’s Tristano Band

I had a couple of really fun gigs with Eric Rasmussen’s Tristano Band last month.  Here’s a bootleg of one of ‘em. The personnel is Eric Rasmussen – as, Jamie Rosenn – gtr, John Sims – b, and Jason Harnell – d. You can listen to it and download here while it’s still posted: Eric Rasmussen Band @ Metropol 11/13/09 by jamierosenn

Also be sure to check out Eric’s three CD’s on Steeplechase which you can find here.

Thanks for checking in! One of my favorite musicians to play with, Matt Otto is back in town from Kansas City and I’m looking forward to doing a show with JoE-LeSs shOe at Jaunita’s in Eagle Rock. If you haven’t been to Jaunita’s…come on out! Great Mexican food and a relaxed hang. We recorded shOe’s second CD right before Matt left this Summer and we’re hoping to mix it while he’s back. If you don’t own our first CD it’s on sale at CD Baby until the end of December. Get’m right here.

los angeles jazz guitarist