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 Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick) 
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Post Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
I thought it might be a valuable discussion, as notation is literally everywhere, and Piano scores in particular are everywhere (I know Stick is not a piano, but piano sheet music is readily available, making it a very useful resource). As someone who threw himself at the wall of "how you're supposed to learn the Stick" and failed, notation/reading has been a really critical tool for me.

Everyone is different, and we all learn differently, and come equipped with different backgrounds and levels of experience. I lI've the Stick, it's been an extremely humbling and gratifying experience. Humbling, because it forced me to become a beginner again. Gratifying because I had to find a way to claw my way towards a point where I could start making headway.

So yeah, my thoughts on reading based on my own experience..

1) Decoding. Spend the time to learn to recognize the notes for what they actually are on the respective clefs. Mnemonics like "FACE" and "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" are useless crutches that need to be abandoned as soon as humanly possible. The eye sees a D on the ledger lines, and the brain NEEDS to recognize what that is. One simply doesn't have time to count up or down from a reference point. Ways to fastrack this; Flash Cards, Apps, reading studies, scoring/transcribing tunes. The first step is in knowing the clefs, and what the symbols represent. Shortcuts like "tab" really aren't that useful; sure it will tell you where to put your finger, but does tab tell you what the notes name is? The rhythm? Harmonic and melodic information? Same as geometric grids, there is a place for tab, but there's a reason traditional notation is taught in every music school in the world, and used to present every score. Every DAW (Logic, Cubase, Protools) has an option of displaying and editing midi information in a score editor, so there is a lot of ways we can become very fluent with this universal language.

2) Read at your level. This is important. If you can't play/read "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or "Happy Birthday" or "Mary Had A Little Lamb" then perhaps learning one of the tunes in Greg's Songbook may be out of reach at the moment... Go to the music store, and buy a graded piano or guitar method book. Hal Leonard, Mel Bay, RCM, or Suzuki. Pick up a software scoring program, and score your own stuff out, but for heaven's sake keep it attainable. If you are spending months on something, and still making critical errors with very little forward motion then it's too hard. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Maybe you have to focus on one side of the instrument at a time for a while. Just because it's simple doesn't make it less "worthy" nor does it indicate that one is "dumbing the instrument down". The studies you read may only be one measure long, and that's ok.

3) Find a couple of positions that work well for finding all of the notes. For me, it's 10th pos on melody side, and 5th Pod on bass side. Get warm and fuzzy with the idea that any note you need can be found in a roughly 4 frets per string attitude (R 2 3 4thwhichisthenextstring 5th 6th 7thwhichisthenextstring) 5ths tuning means a bit more hand movement, 4ths tuning allows me to simplify my thought process, all good. I went with mirrored 4ths. Anyways, spend some time in a position, and get it down in all 12 keys, and then branch out and get working on extending your range, single string reading, position shifting, etc. Also, some keys might not be as easy to use with some patterns.

4) Reading two clefs; the eye starts at the bottom note on the lowest clef, and then works it's way up.Of course, we read right to left. Recognize that if it's a big chord stack, or a bunch of wide spaced intervals, you WILL be going through a "decoding" process. I mean, you look at the note, finger finds the note, then you play the note, then you go through the process again... well, it's a lot that can go wrong with a big potential for error. Take tempo out of the equation, and slow it down as much as you need to to make it to a point where you can recognize it. That's it.

5) Reading isn't performing. Practice your performing later, as a successful reading practice session might only be 1 measure of music, and might not sound remotely like music. And, it's super easy to start memorizing stuff; true reading is a "surprise event" . Articulations like vibrato, hammers and pulloffs, muting, etc etc can be dealt with when you start working on the performance aspect of your playing.

6) Practice in short bursts. Maybe 5 minute intervals, I usually read for about 20 minutes at a time and then go do something physical. Lol I will schedule a nap and a workout in between my reading practice if I am going to go for several hours.


Notation, it's a great way to communicate on the instrument between band members, teacher/student, etc. Transcribing is an important way to practice, etc etc A very useful tool in my opinion...

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Sat Jun 17, 2017 9:53 am
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
I think of TAB as poor mans notation. Its useful but I agree that reading notes is worth it. Then you can decide where you want the notes to go as opposed to having someone else decide for you. You might make better note placement choices and or learn some differnt notes . Im always discovering note somewhere else and Tab would not allow that for me.

I always just learn the notes first and then try to make it musical by the time Ive learned the notes i have the tune mostly memorized.

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Sat Jun 17, 2017 3:55 pm
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
I played classical piano for many years, so I am very familiar with the Grand Staff. Putting Stick on Staff, I feel like the melody side deserves a treble cleff, but the bass side deserves a treble and a bass clef. If you read music for Stick in StaffTab, you can see many times where there are lots of lines above the bass clef due to the wide range of notes used on the bass side.

As to tab being poor man's notation, there is some truth to that. The downside of it is that is makes music theory more hidden, as the notes and chords are not clearly stated. On the upside, it helps beginners understand quickly how to find the notes described.

It was mentioned that tab is restrictive in that it shows only one way to play a set of notes. In that way, StaffTab is also restrictive because it defines the fingering of every note. Normal piano music does not do this, but can define difficult sections. StaffTab also describes where the notes are on the Stick. That's a neutral activity, the reader decides whether that is good or bad.

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Sun Jun 18, 2017 9:40 am
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
Really good points, guys. I agree.

I feel also, that articulations and note placement should be up to me, especially if it's a tune that hasn't been written for Stick. A third clef to deal with the extreme range of the Stick is not a bad idea either, although for me personally I am not quite at the point where my playing/reading requires that. This instrument can accommodate any approach, player, and tuning, I am realizing that THAT is the true strength of this instrument. It's flexibility.

Some other thoughts about reading as a practice method; it's a gateway to memorization, and a tool to recognize written music and assimilate it. So in the same way one might hone one's ear, develop one's coordination, and one's harmony, reading skills are kind of their own thing complete with a subset of supporting attributes. The cool thing is that one's ability to read and understand notation really interacts with other musical abilities, composition, improvisation, performance, etc.

It's not for everyone, but for me personally it's (reading) shaved years off of my learning curve. Anyways, a couple of other thoughts...

1) Don't worry about articulations and tempo initially. At the beginning, focus on note recognition, because THAT is what is going to be the biggest hurdle. For example, if you have to go "FACE" or "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" to find every note in a piece you are studying, then perhaps it might be a good idea to make it so that you could instantly recognize those notes without any reference points like that. Flashcards, iPad app, whatever. Get rid of the mnemonics asap...

2) It does not require musical talent to be able to read. Anybody can learn to recognise the notes, and play them... the musical ability/talent comes in the interpretation of the music. A lot of people get hung up on trying to make their reading as musical as possible each time they do it; The trouble is that one gets so hung up on the "decoding" aspect while reading, y'know "look at the note, Decide what finger to use to play it, Decide what string and fret to play it on, Find said string and fret, then actually play it..." a lot can go wrong here, so in my opinion it's maybe best to focus a little less on making your read-through the most brilliant presentation of the piece ever, and instead try to just make it through the piece. Pretend you are a little kid, and just make it through. There are only 12 notes, you will start to recognise them pretty quickly if you let yourself...

3) Internalise it. When I was in music school, I took an ear training course that was the core of the program. Fail that, and you were out of the course. Tons of solfege, and a lot of counting out rhythms. My point; I can read any rhythm at first glance in time. I can sight-sing (do re mi etc) any melody on both clefs better than I can sight-read it on my instrument. My relative pitch is very good, and I know what interval is what by hearing it. Visually, do me = maj3, Do may =min3 etc etc. That's not bragging, it's just what it is, and I was probably at the bottom of my class for that stuff. Of course, music school was 20 some years ago for me, but I still practice and utilize what was taught there. My point; take a sight-singing class, join a choir, learn to conduct get some drums, whatever. Get those notes into your body, it will help so much...

4) I was a horrible keyboardist. I think I barely passed my basic keyboards class, and just eked through. I didn't care, because I just wanted to play guitar. Now, because I practice reading on the Stick a lot, my keyboard abilities have gone through the roof. Without practicing keys at all, I can hack my way through all kinds of stuff. The effect on my guitar and bass playing has been very positive also, as well as drums as I think a lot more in a "big picture" sort of way. Less complex in many respects I think. The Stick is like a sort of "live multitrack" or, "live looper". It is an amazing teacher...

5) If you are having troubles with a passage, simplify. Practice it on a "beat by beat" level if you have to, as opposed to measure by measure, or 4 or 8 Measures at a time. Chop it up, and know that complex things are usually a collection of pretty easy maneuvers. Familiarity is the key. So yeah, beat by beat, low note to high note, left to right, and nothing else exists/matters until you are completed making it through. Take as much time as you like to figure it out, I promise that it will take less time next time around... getting used to dealing with the simultaneous, polyphonic nature of the instrument is the main objective, and reading is a great way to address that.

6) Variety. Some things you may read on only the bass clef, some on only the treble clef, some on both clefs, sometimes one clef with some chord symbols, sometimes only with chord symbols.

7) Score your stuff out. If you are taking lessons, the instructor should provide some notes of some sort, (handwritten notes, PDFs, gp6, finale, Logic Pro X, midi, etc) If they can't won't do this, there should be some sort of reason why. I have a good memory, and excellent transcription skills as well as being a high level instrumentalist on other instruments; I would like to think that in my Stick lessons with Steve Adelson, he recognized this and part of the lesson was to track down the music, transcribe it and try to play it. Lol Either that, or he's too lazy to give out scores/notes, and he didn't strike me as too lazy...I recognise now that the music I was given was way beyond my ability to play it; the tracking down and scoring part was easy. So score your stuff out, if it feels unattainable, or it's taking a ridiculous amount of time to execute without error, then it is too fucking hard. Easy as that. Score it, look at it, decide. I have never taken a lesson with Greg Howard or Bob Culbertson, but I have studied with lots of other folks over the years, and also been a teacher myself...

8) Ask for help. Ask again. Don't like the answers? Ask again. Try it out, and if the prescribed approach feels wrong, or ungainly, then ask again. Is it a stupid question? Well it's only stupid if the answer stands in the way of you being able to succeed, and you are still afraid to ask. Also, just because some guy(s) that you respect says "don't do it" doesn't mean that that is the right answer for you - we are all different. Give it a shot, see what happens. The prescribed method may work for some, but not always for everyone. We have a lot of different experiences and inclinations. Look at how many different guitarists there are, and look at how many different ways they learned, and how many different reasons they have for tuning a certain way, or using pedals in a certain order/way, etc etc. Ask for help in as many different ways as possible , the worst thing that can happen is that folks on a message board will hate your guts/find you annoying... Ask for help, I do. (One day when you meet in person, y'all can kiss and make up) I am nobody, but I for one will always try to offer a perspective. Ask for help.

9) Massive improvement, daily measurable gains (from my experience)occur from even just working on your reading for a few minutes a day. Some days, that feeling of succeeding is what's needed to keep on going. The first two years, I had maybe 20 songs I could play and they required a gross amount of maintenance. Now, I have access to any song that is scored, as well as an ever evolving stable of improvised/composed ideas on the verge of arrangement. I like that better. Spending 10-16 hours a day for 10 months on a piece and still having it fall apart on you is not cool...

Good luck, guys!

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Sun Jun 18, 2017 11:43 am
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
Wow too much information. Good stuff scott! There are a couple of apps that teach you sight reading, I was never much a fan of tabs. I played the trumpet when I was younger, I was a Band Geek, did the halftime shows at the football Games Etc. My nephew inherited my trumpet and ended up running it over with his car, I wish I would have kept playing, fortunately about 5 or 6 years ago I became interested in music again and picked up the guitar which led me to the stick. The last song I have been working on I realized I have been playing it wrong after 3 months of practicing it, which is okay I just found it extremely funny. My limited reading skills allows me to read the notes, sometimes I have to think of Every Good Boy Does blah blah blah but if I read every day it gets easier and that's the thing about practice, you can't learn how to read if you don't read everyday you can't learn how to speak a language if you don't speak it everyday. The bass clef is harder until I realize that I just have to shift everything down a half line.
I would consider myself a beginning reader due to the fact that I can stumble my way through the notes if I'm concentrating, but then when we get into crescendos and retardo's pianissimo fortes, and all the other notation it gets more difficult and i save that until i have the basic form down. By the time I do have the basic form down I can usually do it five or six different ways at different tempos and added notes, with slides and accents etc. The buddha asks, what do you practise? Practice never made anyone perfect, but it can make you pretty good. Practise is never ending.

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Sun Jun 18, 2017 5:04 pm
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
A musician friend/mentor/teacher, once said to me, "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes practice easier." I agree with that and everything you said, Scott, especially how the Stick seems to be the Ultimate Teaching Tool...it makes ALL my playing on ANY other instrument better. (and I still suck on Stick, but it gets easier, and I'm having a blast)

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Sun Jun 18, 2017 9:12 pm
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
The Stick has brutally exposed every musical weakness I have, and given me the means to fortify them. Really an amazing instrument, so much to learn...

On the topic of sightreading, though and in particular "note recognition" I downloaded an app for my ipad called "Music Sight reading" or something, and basically it flashes notes, and you get to guess which ones - Sometimes bass clef, sometimes treble. And there's a one minute time limit. Now, the note buttons A-G E etc kind of move around - they are never in the same spot twice! Eek!

Anyways, my best time so far after a couple of weeks is about 44 npm. Recognising the notes isn't so much the issue, it's finding the correct answer button! Anyways, a good friend of mine who is an amazing reader scored well over double my current score the first time he tried the app.

Anyways, a good example of a way one might practice music without an instrument in hand...

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Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:55 pm
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
Couldn't find that app exactly - what was it called? Good idea...


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Thu Jun 22, 2017 5:02 am
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
Scronk wrote:
Couldn't find that app exactly - what was it called? Good idea...


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There are a few of them (apps), "Read Music" is the app I use on my iPad, while "Music Tutor" is the one I use for my iPhone; very handy way to work on a useful musical skill (note recognition) without the instrument. Flashcards are super handy also, but really at the end of the day it's about complete immersion in the language. I use the same language for guitar, as I use for bass, as I would use for scoring, as I use for keyboard as I use for charts as I use for Stick. I paid a lot of money to learn about music, and have invested a lot of time into the study, so it only makes sense that even though I am learning an instrument that has an unbelievable and pretty much unlimited potential, I can use what I already know as a starting point.

Being able to read on any level is not a handicap, but at the same time it's not for everyone. It's working out great for me so far.

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Thu Jun 22, 2017 4:44 pm
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Post Re: Sightreading pointers and guidelines (for Stick)
So, I thought I'd post maybe a bit of a "demo" of what I'm talking about, along with a piece of music to illustrate my point. Basically, it's tonight's "practice". I do this sort of thing EVERY night...

Aura Lee, is a pretty typical little melody found in lots of beginner methods. A simple melody, but it is a bit fun to play, and can be an easy "win" for a beginner Stickist in my opinion, IF we are reasonable with ourselves...

Now, in the video, these are my "first takes" after arranging this. I thought it would be fun to show y'all what "disaster reading" might look like. I also thought it might be fun to arrange it in a few popular "Stick Styles" to possibly illustrate just how complex even "easy" stuff looks once scored.

Melody Only - Easy-peasy. Find a spot and get this sucker under your fingers. A good approach to learning any song. Yeah, there's no bass part yet. So fucking what? A great way to assimilate melodies, and maybe get a "position" under control, or perhaps deal with only one side of the instrument. I feel like if I couldn't play this melody, I would not move on to practicing any of the other more complex bits until I was able to execute this kind of cleanly. I usually play stuff a LOT slower on a first read, but I am really familiar with this particular melody... I kept going way too fast and regretting it as I was playing it! Funny! With each level of complexity added, more mistakes; basically a requirement of more time to "digest" what's expected of the 'ole processor...

Melody and Roots Do NOT, and I mean do NOT underestimate the value and power of playing simply a bass side root-note underneath your melodies/chord progressions. Is it simple? Yes. Very. But it's a really great starting point, and you are STILL doing the job of two different musicians... bass player and a guitarist. Spend some time with this, it's really useful, and quick while sounding pretty not too bad! lol You can fill in the blanks later. I noticed when I was reading this that I was playing it too fast, and kind of not really reading it; I had sort of begun memorizing the chord progression along with the melody.

Melody and 5ths Power chords make the world go round, Root and 5th in bass is a big deal, just go listen to the radio, it's everywhere. Here, I tried to play it "in position" as much as possible, but kind of lost my bearings in a place or two. Again, even though I slowed it down, the holes are starting to emerge, and I should have played it even slower. Conceptually, it's still pretty simple. But... It's a lot to be grasping via "simultaneous play". Might take a bit of work to really get comfortable with playing this way, recognizing the intervals on the score, and knowing where to put one's fingers...

Melody with Triad Sequence Okay, this one is a bit ugly; It's representative of the way a LOT of stick players play. (Aww, c'mon, we all do it - Pop Baroque, right?) Again, conceptually it's easy. The chord shapes are easy, I'm just doing root inversion triads to imply the chords, played in up-down fashion. Nothing whacky as far as rhythm goes, but eek! The position shifting is tricky, and I'm really having to rely on my memory of the melody/chord progression so far to "buy me time" to get to the next change. Lots of fellas find this way of self accompaniment very easy, but I personally find it really tricky. Still, it's very worthwhile to practice and one day master I think...

Melody with 3rds 3rds, 10ths, whatever. Same sort of idea... this sort of repeating interval implying the changes is a common "starting point" it would seem for Stickists new to the instrument; David Tipton does a lot of 10ths type arrangements, and they do sound cool; 3rds are a little friendlier visually on a score than 10ths are, of course depending on your tuning 3rds may be really fucking hard to execute physically. Anyways, I am starting to autopilot here, and am playing way too fast. The piece suffers as a result.

Melody with 7ths Recognizing 3rds and 7ths is critical, so it's what I practice. I have a bit of a minor2nd rub on the melody vs the bass notes in the first measure, so maybe another arrangement might be in order, or maybe it's an exercise in reading what's on the paper and taking note of how it sounds as one goes. 3rds tells you what it is, 7ths tells you where it's going.

Scalar Motif This one, although again being conceptually pretty easy, is tough to find a position that works on the fly, and the simultaneous nature of the melody and the bass sequence has me really cheating. I'm playing it too fast for the sake of the video, not really reading at all. I notice that the bass sequence is a R235 of some kind diatonic to each chord change, and bam... I'm on autopilot.

So yeah, lots of fun to put together, I hope this video and the info I've detailed helps someone else with their studies. Lots of mistakes, real. It's just what I do, not trying to prescribe anything...



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Thu Jun 22, 2017 9:39 pm
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