Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
Fretful
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Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Sat Aug 18, 2018 4:25 pm

Preface

I am posting a course on Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique in the Classical Guitar Technique subforum of Classical Guitar Classes.

The guitar’s fingerboard is a fraught area which can give even highly experienced guitarists a good deal of trouble.
Of course, there is a difference between sight-reading and “reading at first sight”, and the latter will always remain reasonably difficult at intermediate and advanced levels; many “masters” who claim to be good at it can soon be found out if and when they allow themselves to be challenged, which is seldom.

Whilst it is quite legitimate to take one’s time over a completely fresh reading of a new piece, it is inexcusable - at intermediate level - to get stuck over standard territory ; however, it is probably true that we have all been there, and with good reason : if viewed up to, say, the fifteenth fret (G natural), the guitar’s fingerboard offers some 96 notes ; if playing an A (at the seventh fret on ➃) with whichever finger, you have, depending on the score, a potential 95 different places to play the next note ; if the next note is a top G (15th fret on ➀), you only have one choice in terms of the note’s location - although you have (and this is deliberately stretching the point) four choices in terms of which finger to use ; if the next note is a middle B, you have five choices in terms of the note’s location, and fourteen choices in terms of which finger to use (assuming that you would only use finger 4 to play the B on ➄ [14th fret] , and finger 4 to play it on ➅) ; that prospect is quite daunting (of course, most guitarists in their right mind would probably finger that B either on the ninth fret on ➃, or on the fourth fret on ➂, or as the open string ➁, depending on which finger was used to play the A on ➃, and/or depending on which position is more convenient for what ensues, or for a desired effect. Added to the complication is the fact that, having familiarised with the terrain immediately surrounding an A played on ➃ with finger 2, if one shifts the hand by just one fret to play the same A with finger 3, the different perspective completely alters the perception of the surrounding notes and leads the beginner and even the intermediate player into confusion.
The above paragraph - intentionally laboured - concerning itself with only two or three notes, goes to show what minefields our fingers dare to tread, never mind having to find up to six notes in one go to play full chords.

However, the truth is that, if guitarists experience such difficulties in this domain, it is because the majority tends not to work at it in the early learning stages. There is no pretending that there isn’t a lot of work to be done in many areas over a long period of time; finding time is tricky, but once you sink your teeth into the work and the advocated principles start to sink in, it is hoped that the rewards will be exponential.

In the beginning, especially for intermediate players, the course will seem to proceed slowly, but stick with it, and you might not regret it.

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lagartija
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by lagartija » Sat Aug 18, 2018 5:22 pm

Thank you for taking the time to do this.
:merci:
When the sun shines, bask.
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Classical Guitar forever!

Fretful
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:29 pm

A note on Testing and some Testing Notes have been posted in the Classical Guitar Technique section.

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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Fri Aug 24, 2018 5:13 pm

chrisphattingh wrote:
Thu Aug 23, 2018 6:30 am
Thank you...... so much to learn, so little time left.....
Your post is very touching. I hope your reference to time is more generalised than specific and that your background in aviation will give you the lift required to circumnavigate this sight-reading course and its meanders. Unfortunately, fast it must not be, as the time taken is the essence of its growth and where patience is rewarded most by the ripening of the fruit. There will, be plenty, though, for you to enjoy; you will be taken along many unexpected flights across the fingerboard in the higher regions of rarefied air which used to make me feel so dizzy but where the views are so spectacular.
All the very best,
Fretful

Kevin Cowen

Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Kevin Cowen » Fri Aug 24, 2018 7:10 pm

I learned to sight read from a Frederick Noad book I bought from a charity shop
for one pound.
Stop over complicating things.

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bacsidoan
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by bacsidoan » Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:03 pm

Kevin Cowen wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 7:10 pm
I learned to sight read from a Frederick Noad book I bought from a charity shop
for one pound.
Stop over complicating things.
You must be pretty gifted or have worked on the guitar a long time. I can only decode the score to practice, not to actually sight read unless it is very simple.

Kevin Cowen

Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Kevin Cowen » Fri Aug 24, 2018 9:10 pm

I'm not gifted but I have worked a long time.
About 40 years. Thanks.

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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by JohnB » Sat Aug 25, 2018 10:21 am

bacsidoan wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:03 pm
Kevin Cowen wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 7:10 pm
I learned to sight read from a Frederick Noad book I bought from a charity shop
for one pound.
Stop over complicating things.
You must be pretty gifted or have worked on the guitar a long time. I can only decode the score to practice, not to actually sight read unless it is very simple.
My teacher (back in the late 60s/early 70s) used to place great store on his students developing their sight reading and would always devote, say, 15 minutes at the end of each lesson to sight reading (previously unseen) duets. I think it was absolutely invaluable.
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso", Christopher Dean 2018, Ana Maria Espinosa 2014

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bacsidoan
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by bacsidoan » Sat Aug 25, 2018 11:28 am

JohnB wrote:
Sat Aug 25, 2018 10:21 am
bacsidoan wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:03 pm
Kevin Cowen wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 7:10 pm
I learned to sight read from a Frederick Noad book I bought from a charity shop
for one pound.
Stop over complicating things.
You must be pretty gifted or have worked on the guitar a long time. I can only decode the score to practice, not to actually sight read unless it is very simple.
My teacher (back in the late 60s/early 70s) used to place great store on his students developing their sight reading and would always devote, say, 15 minutes at the end of each lesson to sight reading (previously unseen) duets. I think it was absolutely invaluable.
My brain can sight read but my fingers don't follow its command.

Fretful
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:12 pm

More material has been added to the Classical Guitar Technique section.
Some music theory has been included, which may irritate the more advanced guitarists whom I would urge to patience towards those who may benefit from it. Music Theory is an unimaginably vast subject which it will have taken most of us over a dedicated decade to absorb.
Deciding on what is and is not relevant to sight-reading has been a constant concern during the compiling of this course; I am consoled by the fact that those who have no time for it can easily skip, or even simply not tune in.

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Lawler
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Lawler » Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:20 am

Good stuff, Fretful.
Fretful wrote:
Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:12 pm
...Deciding on what is and is not relevant to sight-reading has been a constant concern during the compiling of this course...
I'd like to mention that the definition of "sight reading" is a potential problem. Many beginners think that "sight reading" means reading staff notation in general rather than reading it at first sight.

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bacsidoan
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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by bacsidoan » Sun Aug 26, 2018 2:58 am

Lawler wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:20 am
Good stuff, Fretful.
Fretful wrote:
Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:12 pm
...Deciding on what is and is not relevant to sight-reading has been a constant concern during the compiling of this course...
I'd like to mention that the definition of "sight reading" is a potential problem. Many beginners think that "sight reading" means reading staff notation in general rather than reading it at first sight.
The general consensus definition is reading and playing the music score at first sight.

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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Mon Aug 27, 2018 2:45 pm

Lawler wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:20 am
Good stuff, Fretful.
Fretful wrote:
Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:12 pm
...Deciding on what is and is not relevant to sight-reading has been a constant concern during the compiling of this course...
I'd like to mention that the definition of "sight reading" is a potential problem. Many beginners think that "sight reading" means reading staff notation in general rather than reading it at first sight.
Thank you.

I agree with your assessment; in fact, I touch on that very point in the Preface (above).
We need to get something in perspective, though; while actually exercising their profession, musicians hardly sight-read in the sense of reading what they have never clapped eyes on [from heretofore a.k.a.(*)]. Those most famous of sight-readers – orchestral musicians – have either “done” Shostakovich 10 many times before or, in the case of some hardly-ever-played-and-virtually-unknown piece of, say, Boulez, they will spend a considerable time at home preparing and fingering it; they will also benefit from the librarian’s various bowings and markings handed down to them in good time. For us, guitarists, who tend not to play in orchestras, the only time we sight-read in the (*) sense is when we open a score which is brand new to us, and this can only be once; thereafter, we can no longer refer to (*). But, and this is the big BUT, those of us honest enough to admit it will agree that it tends to take us quite a few readings of a new score (of grade 6 and beyond) before we can play through it fairly comfortably while keeping time. As I also mention in the Preface, this is fair enough: the vast majority of instruments tend have a given note in only one place and, where string players are concerned, as mentioned, they will be given various positions in advance (you will never see in any orchestral section a player who is, in bowing terms, “out of synch”, with the rest of their desk.

Those of us (and that’s most!) who remain hesitant even after a few readings are really suffering mostly from problems related to visual, mental, theoretical, musical, AND muscle memory aspects; those are the features this course is, in time, aiming to address.

This brings to mind anecdotes associated with two events, one at which I was present, and the other at which I was not; the latter was related to me by a pianist who plays at a hotel near Birmingham where Daniel Barenboim was staying while on tour with the Berlin Staatskapelle. On a Sunday afternoon, with no performance, he was enjoying the type of pampering a five-star hotel can give guests of notoriety. There was to be given in the hotel a – of all things – piano recital by a local pianist who that morning, having rehearsed his programme in the “morning-room”, saw Barenboim in the lobby and went into complete melt-down at the prospect of having to play in front of the Maestro, even though Barenboim had not suggested he might attend. Be that as it may, the local player went home and gathered his courage, preparing for his mid-afternoon recital, hoping against hope that the great musician would have better things to do than listen to him playing Liszt for the local Liszt Society. The hotel sent a taxi to pick him up and the chauffeur, presumably under no instruction from the hotel who smelled a higher prospect, crashed into a hedge and rendered the pianist unconscious. The news went through the hotel like a bolt from heaven. The manager - to whom the thought had occurred - would not have dreamt of asking their guest star to substitute, but, lo and behold, the famous guest, on seeing and hearing the desolate and now inexpectant crowd wail their disappointment actually volunteered, saying: “If you give me the score, I’ll play his programme for you.” This was to the hotel like a Thirty Thousand Pound gift out of the blue. An assistant cook was sent on his motorbike to raid the taxi and scavenge the scores which the now somewhat revived but still incapacitated pianist more than gladly surrendered. Barenboim’s only request was to have a “page turner”. The other pianist, having been brought to the hotel for revival, his left arm now in a sling, somewhat brandied-up, declared it an honour to turn the pages for his eminent confrère who instructed him thus: “When I nod, turn the page.” The opening of the Sonata lay across two pages and, as Barenboim reached the top of the second page, he nodded. But seeing that there was still a whole page to go, the timid colleague did nothing of the sort and the pianist ploughed on, turning the pages himself. At the end of the first movement, Barenboim reiterated his instruction: “I’d like you to turn the page when I nod.” To which the other retorted: "But you kept nodding before you were anywhere near the bottom of the page." "I know," said Barenboim, “but I use the page I am playing to work out the fingerings on the next page.”

Exactly how much of this is apocryphal, I don’t know, but we are, of course, dealing here with a pianist who has also been a top conductor for the last forty or more years, used to read for several hours a day between sixteen and twenty-five staves simultaneously in different clefs …
To return to guitarists, I have never yet seen one who could, at FIRST glance, play a piece, in time, as cleanly as they would in concert and who would not, occasionally stop, frown, lean forward, hand in mid-air, while wondering how to solve a bar or two made mysterious by the odd conundrum; even Jonathan Leathwood cannot do this (and he is reputed to be able to play any piece, even one he has not seen before, while transposing it in any key he chooses on the spot – again, I have not seen this myself, but then nor have I seen the Indian rope trick, despite having been in several parts of India and spoken to many Indians about it).

Unfortunately, I have run out of time (and probably so have you – and patience) and will have to leave the other anecdote (where I was present) for another time.

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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Fretful » Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:49 am

Lawler wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:20 am
I'd like to mention that the definition of "sight reading" is a potential problem. Many beginners think that "sight reading" means reading staff notation in general rather than reading it at first sight.
Prior to loading up more material for the course tomorrow, here is the second anecdote (where this time I was present) relating to the closest I have ever been to real sight-reading, and even then …

Geoffrey Burgon was a dear friend whose scores for television would provide me with the odd gig playing bits and pieces in incidental music which we liked to call “B&B Music” (Bread & Butter Music). He rented a lovely old ramshackle house in Woronzow Road, NW8, where I occasionally stayed, as I then lived in Oxfordshire. He sadly suffered a cruelly premature death.

One evening, he was adding final touches to the Title Sequence of the 1981 television production of Brideshead Revisited. He asked me if I might stay the night and help him organise the recording session which was to take place at Abbey Road the following morning. This was fun and quite exciting. We turned up early, had the (hand-written) score photocopied and, as we were placing them on the music stands, someone suggested that the schedule for the session was rather short (something like two hours), to which Geoff said It’ll be fine, I have a fantastic fixer. As musicians began to arrive, greeting each other with the usual Hello-long-time-no-sees, I continued putting on stands scores upon which – to use the old cliché with, for once, virtual accuracy – the ink had not yet dried!, and which no one could have possibly seen in advance. The players started warming up, some looking at the score, some not, but you could here and there hear, emerging through the familiar cacophony an orchestra produces when tuning up, strands of what was to become the “household” music of Brideshead’s opening theme. As time was pressing, Geoffrey barely gave them more than two minutes. He raised his baton and – seasoned pros that they all were – silence instantly fell. All Geoff said was O.K., this is a sort of Handel pastiche … PAUSE … We’ll rehearse-record … And off they went … Two and a half minutes, uninterrupted. End. Silence. PAUSE. Geoff: That was pretty good … PAUSE … We might as well do another one for luck … They did do another one, but neither for luck nor purpose because, believe it or not, that first take is what was used (and, for months to come, heard variously hummed in supermarkets across the world).

Phenomenal, really, just how good these session musicians are at sight-reading. But then, was it sight-reading? No: they had clapped eyes on the score, even if only for two minutes, AND … there was in the band no guitarist having to play difficult contrapuntal stuff not knowing in advance whether the melody or bass or middle might suddenly demand an unexpected shift of position (or string) because perfectly common notes had abruptly become unavailable! … So, in that sense (strict and rigid), when are you going to have to perform pure sight-reading? Never. Only once, when a new score comes out of the envelope … we can live with that! ... However, as Voltaire famously wrote: "Il faut cultiver notre sight-reading!"

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Re: Improve your Fingerboard Knowledge and Sight-Reading Technique

Post by Artdenali » Tue Aug 28, 2018 12:11 pm

Nice anecdote, still have to practice a lot to get on a decent level of sight reading.

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