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Learning to read standard notation? (Instructors studio folks?)


PhilMan99

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Can anyone suggest a good rock-solid way to learn to read standard notation? I play a 6-string fretted electric, and have a pretty good basis in reading standard notation on clarinet/sax. I'm also familiar with music theory. I'm 43, and only play bass for "fun" (and at Church on Sundays...). I'm well versed in scales & modes (for a non-pro player).

 

The problem I have with reading bass is "so many choices". I currently place my hand in position for a key (such as C major) and read the notes relative to the key (up a 3rd, down a 2nd, etc.), but that's pretty tricky and I stink at it.

 

Any studio musicians or "old pros" that can point to a specific method or book resulting in techniques that "really bring in the bacon"? I'm too cheap and busy to take lessons (sacrilege, I know), but am hoping to get passing results from self-learning.

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Well, if you are looking for a trick to "sight reading" you are pretty much headed the right direction. Mostly, when sight reading pieces, I tend to "read" the intervals. and experience in this gives me the option of viewing these tones as "notes" or intervals within, or without, a specified scale/key.

To keep things challenging, I tend to view these intervals in various positions on the neck. Yes this is confusing, but thinking of how different positons this line you might be playing can be found WILL help with the multi-tasking of reading standard notation. (most good sight reading involves "reading ahead" of the notes being played).

 

A very good, and nearly sure-fire, trick to gaining more confidence and skill at reading is to simply do it a lot. Much like learning to read english. I would suggest you get some sheet music..any kind of sheet music, but it helps if you are not too familair with the tunes (most public libraries have folios and sheet music for check out). Read some of this every night, just as you might read a novel or magazine. Try to hear the notes and intervals as you read it.

 

When I enetered into the world of studio/session playing my reading skills were ok, but a bit rusty. I sat down with sheet music every night for two weeks reading it over and "listening". It greatly improved my sight reading skills.

 

Max

...it's not the arrow, it's the Indian.
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Max, I remember reading someone (I THINK it may have been Jeff Berlin, but not 100% sure) saying that it's a common misperception that you learn to read faster if you keep forcing yourself to read unfamiliar stuff. In fact, up to a point, re-reading familiar stuff can be more helpful in hammering home exactly where specific notes are on the fretboard, rhythmic values etc.

 

I agree this seems counter-intuitive - common sense suggests that with familiar music you start to rely on your memory, not your reading skills. But your reading skills are so interconnected with memory, etc etc

 

When I read it, this chimed with my own experience somehow - I realised I'd often made better progress with my reading by nailing complex parts, which meant reading them over and over again, than I had forcing myself to read pages and pages of new material.

 

I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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well if you can read music for the clarinet/sax which is in the treble clef, you are already ahead of the game.

 

Did you ever learn anything about the bass clef?

 

I taught myself how to read bass clef after 5 years of playing trumpet. It wasnt that hard. Took a little bit though, so be patient.

 

The notes on the Bass Clef, or F clef, are 1 space or line down from the same note on the treble clef.

 

So a 1st space (from the bottom) F on the treble clef is an A in the Bass clef. See how the A "moved" down 1 space? its the same with all the notes and all the ledger line notes. And middle C on the treble clef (1st ledger line down) is the same note as the 1st ledger line C above the Bass Clef staff.

 

I suggest getting an EXTREME beginners bass book. My first book I got was Mel Bay's book 1 for electric bass (i dont know the exact title). That book helped me learn all the basic notes on the bass and how to read Bass clef, assuming you know rhythms.

 

Good Luck. :wave:

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Originally posted by bc:

In fact, up to a point, re-reading familiar stuff can be more helpful in hammering home exactly where specific notes are on the fretboard, rhythmic values etc.

That is definetly true.

 

Just by reading and playing an excercise, be it all half notes or quarter notes or what ever, it will help tremendously. You should play these excercises until you can play them perfectly in 2 or more positions. Say 1st position and 5th or 7th position.

1st position meaning using open strings and frets 1-4 (about)

5th positon meaning starting your index at the 5th fret and using frets 4-10 unless you need to go down low, or there is a complex phrase that would be easier to play open.

7th-just 2 frets higher than 5th.

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Originally posted by phil6006:

Did you ever learn anything about the bass clef?

 

I suggest getting an EXTREME beginners bass book. My first book I got was Mel Bay's book 1 for electric bass (i dont know the exact title). :wave:

I know the bass clef pretty well. I even practice some PC-based "speed drills" free software to score how fast I can recognize note names.

 

At one point (years ago), I kept it simple. I learned to read in "open position", where a note on the bass clef ALWAYS was on the same string/fret. Much like a clarinet, there was only 1 fingering. Simple.

 

It felt un-natural though. Since then, I've tried positioning my hand on the tonic/root (3rd fret E string for G Major for example), and used a major scale pattern to sight-read intervals (up a 5th, down a 4th, all relative to key). I've heard others suggest this method, but I didn't want to practice that way too much if it is a "dead end".

 

Before I invest more time in this though, I wanted to see what the more seasoned veterans here do. As for my own bass-playing expertise, let's just say "I'll be keeping my day job" (computer work)...

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I still think a basic reading approach is good. You can't get much better than the URB Simandl method, which can be adapted to use on electric.

 

Several of us are attempting to write a method based on Simandls, but specifically for electric.

 

As far as alternate fingering goes, develop major scale fingering both with the Simandl way, and across strings (like a guitar). At some point, practice reading exercises across strings while keeping your hands more or less in one position. You will soon develop the ability to predict the best fingering for sight reading.

 

For a long time, in difficult sight reading passages on elecric, I really relied on my Simandl URB discipline to ferret it out. Perhaps I still do.

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.

 

Still spendin' that political capital far faster than I can earn it...stretched way out on a limb here and looking for a better interest rate.

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I like reading new material because it takes a lot of headwork and exposes me to new intervals, patterns, and so forth. But one of the inherent difficulties is that I usually have to read new stuff at a significantly slower pace than I could theoretically play it. So to add a dimension of "speed-reading" to my exercises, I like to read scales while playing them. I look at the scale in one of my old piano method books, or for less common modes, I'll just program them into Cakewalk in a jiffy. Then I play fast enough that I can play the passage flawlessly while also keeping up with every note and not just playing it from rote finger memory, but reading it as I go.

 

PS: C. L. Hanon's Virtuoso Piano exercises are KILLER for this.

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Good advice here. I also think the main key is just to do a lot of it. I'll second bc's recommendation to make a study of written pieces until you can play them just as written.

 

Three resources I'd recommend. One, borrow a hymnal from your church, plop it open, & just start playing the bass vocal part. Two, visit Carol Kaye\'s website for some proven method books, including books on reading. And three, get a copy of "What Duck Done" by Tim Tindall and learn good reading skills & choice bass lines (by Donald "Duck" Dunn) at the same time; actually, I think this is the best way to learn to read--do it while learning something you want to play for its musical value.

 

What you also need to be learning when you read is how to position your fretting hand, how intervals between notes translate into the terrain of your fingerboard, how to anticipate & plan for hand shifts, etc. This comes with time; it's also one of the benefits of working & reworking your reading of a piece, as you can experiment with different positions & shifts & find what works. Pretty soon you notice that it starts getting easier on new songs too. (Also, for this reason I'd stay away from tabs, including those that are sometimes included with standard notation. This is not just tab-o-phobia; tabs can lead you to bypass this whole learning process.)

 

PS I'm a Sunday player too, bro! And for me, too, it's mostly about fun & the love of it.

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Dave already beat me to it, but I'll repeat.

 

Simandl is the basic reading method for bass. But you have to take it further.

 

The Simandl method shows you how to start at the bottom of the neck and use shifts to get up higher. That's great and important. And if you get the English/Japanese edition there are alternative ways to do the shifts.

 

And then you get to go through the book a second time and use the material to practice reading with your hand in various positions on the neck without shifting.

 

And then you get to go through the book a third time and see what you might like to choose for a given passage.

 

Recognizing scales and chords is always great because of course you know how to finger them.

 

And as Max said, the best way to learn how to read is to read constantly. You should buy all the bass books you can afford and read through them, just like you'd read through a stack of magazines.

 

Since you have a six string, I'd recommend getting some cello music as well so you learn how to read down to low C.

 

Get song books and read the left hand of the piano parts.

 

Write down all the lines that you have memorized. Writing is a good way to help your reading.

 

I have a four drawer filing cabinet completely filled with bass books. I've read through all of them and memorized many of them.

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Originally posted by jeremyc:

You should buy all the bass books you can afford and read through them, just like you'd read through a stack of magazines.

I started doing that this year, and it is totally addictive. It's exciting to work through something structured & come out at the end with new skills you can identify & apply in your everyday playing.
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A handful of random thoughts...

 

(1) As others have said, read frequently, and you'll make progress. I'd suggest fifteen or twenty minutes a day, five days a week to start with. Adjust as necessary. Read a mix of familiar an unfamiliar material, and go as slowly as you need to.

 

(2) Don't expect to get better overnight. Or in a week. Or even in a month. Reading WELL requires dedication over the long haul.

 

(3) Here's an exercise for pitch recognition. It's difficult, but if you force yourself to do it until you "get it," it will help you immensely.

 

(3a) Pick a piece of written music with varying pitches, not one that repeats the same note over and over.

 

(3b) Figure out what key the piece is written in.

 

(3c) Look at the first note. Figure out where it fits into the key.

 

(3d) Play the FIRST NOTE ONLY and stop.

 

(3e) Look at the second note. Look at where it is with respect to the first note. Try to determine where it fits in the key.

 

(3f) This is the "money" step. Try to sing the second note's pitch before you play it. Then play the note on the bass (or whatever instrument). Did you sing it correctly? If you were off, do you know by how much?

 

(3g) Repeat with successive notes for a while. At first, this may seem ludicrously difficult, but after a while you'll get it. It's much easier to read music when you can tell what it will sound like before you play it.

 

(4) Practice reading rhythmically challenging music by playing the rhythms only, i.e. play the same pitch (note) over and over, but get the rhythm right. Then play the pitches all in half- or quarter- notes. Finally, put the pitches and rhythms together, very slowly at first.

 

(5) Learning to write music will help your reading. Buy some staff paper. Write a familiar melody (Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, etc.) or bass line on the paper. Then try to play what you wrote on the bass to see how well you did. Make corrections until you have it right.

 

(6) Reading treble clef is also useful for bassists. Break out the fake book and start reading/playing melodies. It's FUN!

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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Sight reading different things helped me a ton! I started on tuba and my teacher would just put a peice in front of me and say, "Read it... here is the tempo... go when you are ready." I would run through it and then move on. It forces things to snap quickly into place. I agree to practice in different positions. Be able to place different notes in their places on the fretboard.

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Still working on it...

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(4) Practice reading rhythmically challenging music by playing the rhythms only, i.e. play the same pitch (note) over and over, but get the rhythm right. Then play the pitches all in half- or quarter- notes. Finally, put the pitches and rhythms together, very slowly at first.
We used "Modern Reading Text in 4/4" by Louis Bellson at Uni to improve our rhythm accuracy.
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What has helped my reading a lot is to WRITE what I hear. My teacher has me transcribing music from ear to paper, then playing from what I've written. That adds another step to the process, to reinforce the learning. It goes from your ears to to your fingers to paper and back through your fingers and ears. A very thorough learning experience.

 

A CD player than you can set A-B points to loop a short segment helps enormously. Or a program like "Slow Gold" where can set loop points and slow it down is really nice; that's what I use.

 

It also helps a lot to work on a song where have the chords or a lead sheet.

 

For sight reading, I would suggest you find books that DON'T have tab, just standard notation. That way you learn for yourself where is the right position to play a line, rather than seeing it spelled out. I'm working on "Reading Contemporary Electric Bass" by Rich Appleman, published by Berklee Press. Besides learning the notes, you need to read the rhythms, and this book works on both. And no tabs.

 

Bruiser

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Somehow I got the impression that only about 10 bass-players in the world could read standard notation, they all lived in NY and were getting rich off the "studio scene"! ;) Unlike me, I assumed everyone else had a photographic (audiographic?) memory, and "didn't need no stinkin' sheet-music". :cool:

 

To what degree do folks rely on sheet-music in live playing? I've never seen a bass-player with sheet music at a live-gig, except once or twice in the 70's at high-school dances.

 

Do most bass-players (and musicians in general) have incredible memories, with no sheet-music needed live, or did I just grow-up with too-much 12-bar blues (Who, Stones, Hendrix, etc.), where there really wasn't much to remember?

 

Do Jazz-cats have their fake-books at live gigs (forgive me, never saw live Jazz outside high-school)? Other genres where sheet-music is more common on-stage, maybe?

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I do lots of reading gigs.

 

Sometimes they are musicals....and every note is written out. There are occasionally rehearsals, but the rehearsals are really for the actors and singers and we really are expected to sight read the music.

 

Sometimes it's a big band gig. Here maybe 80% of the notes are written and the rest are chord names.

 

I often play with bandleaders who have a book of the tunes they do. This will be 90% chord names. The charts (and everybody is looking at the same chart) have the melodies and chord names on them. Being able to read the melody helps you know where you are in the chart and being able to play it gives another option to how you approach the music. These bandleaders will flip pages like crazy, so you have to be on your toes.

 

And then there are the gigs without charts. A good professional player probably knows thousands of songs. I know that I can play for hours playing r&b, motown, standards, bossa novas, jazz tunes, or Israeli folk tunes (all styles that I work in regularly) without ever looking at a piece of music.

 

What I do is by far not unique, there are many players who do this among my friends and I'm just in a relatively small circle of San Francisco area players.

 

Someone came up to one of my friends at a gig and said, "wow, you must know every song ever written" and he replied, "yeah, and nothing else."

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I do quite a bit of reading....probably due to a bad memory. When I got into the "studio scene" it was doing jingles and that meant sight reading, and very quickly. I learned how to quickly make notes in the margins and otherwise mark up a perfectly good lead sheet to navigate parts in two takes or less.

I learned how to adapt written keyboard parts to bass.

 

Now I constantly write parts out...I don't even bother trying to tax my memory by memorizing every song I "Know" ( and really, at any given moment I might really only "know..by heart" a couple of tunes. I don't think memorizing parts is nearly as beneficial as the ability to re-learn parts quickly; sometimes even on stage!)

 

I play with a jazz quintet where we all have out music stands and our own fake books. We never rehearse. We do quite a few "casuals" and socials (weddings and such..which pay quite nice) covering everthing from Duke and Miles and MIngus to KC and the Sunshine Band! We make our own lead sheets; every two weeks or so each member picks ten tunes and writes out changes and melodies, perhaps specific riffs or phrases, and hands out copies to the others. Sometimes we wright out complete arrangements with sehues into other songs ( such as running "Cold Sweat" into "I Feel Good"; "Pretty Woman" into "Signed Sealed, Delivered" etc.)Each player has the responsibility to go over these charts on their own. Right now we have 300 tunes in our "book". We cover all styles and eras, and basically "read" the gig. It works well becasue all the members have very good ears, exceptional playing and reading skills, and enough self-discipline to their homework.

 

Max

...it's not the arrow, it's the Indian.
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Reading electric bass is pretty standardized these days. You go to virtually any school and study jazz and you'll be expected to read a couple of hours per day.

 

I wish there were only 10 guys in NY reading and getting rich. I'd be getting rich too.

 

My reading chores are exactly like Jeremy's. The real difference is that I am not a 100% of the time bassist, so I do it less often. I have MANY fewer charts memorized than most working bassists. I DO carry fake books to jazz gigs and rehearsals.

 

On URB classical music, I read 100% of the time, complicated scalar/arpeggiated passages. Sometimes I have to woodshed them to get them right. URB also has reading symbols for bow technique, which complicates matters.

 

Last night, for example, we rehearsed Vivaldi's "Gloria" and Mozart Piano Concerto #21. In this music (this isn't bragging) I will probably have only 20 measures that I'll have to practice to learn the shifting. The rest of it I played as good last night as I will at the concert (however bad that may be!)

 

Of course, in my day job as fulltime conductor of music and orchestra teacher, I read orchestra charts consisting of several lines at the same time. I'm pretty good at reading 5-line string scores, conducting and hearing notes in my head and finding mistakes in the various sections.

 

Not as good as full orchestra scores, where a conductor is expected to read nearly 30 lines of music at the same time...3 different clefs...5 different key signatures and sort out all kinds of mistakes.

 

Never make the mistake of thinking that that guy waving his arms at the front is not a musician. He is working harder than any musician onstage. Orchestra conducting is incredibly difficult, and only the most talented musicians do it well.

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.

 

Still spendin' that political capital far faster than I can earn it...stretched way out on a limb here and looking for a better interest rate.

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