Why Guitarists HATE Sight Reading

Yesterday I ran a free trial lesson for a new student. He was about 12 years old, quite good at playing the guitar and had completed three sight reading books. I found this a little surprising and when I asked him how much sight reading he practiced, he awkwardly looked at his mum and replied “whenever mum makes me”.

It was quite hilarious.

I then asked him if he enjoyed sight reading and both he and his mum shook their heads in unison while resounding a clear and definite “NO”.

The reality is that the vast majority (I’m imagining at least 90%) of guitarists don’t like sight reading music notation and about 99% of guitarists can’t do it.

But why is this? Why is it so common amongst guitarists and not other instrumentalists like pianists or violinitsts?

I think I’ve figured it out. You see, the music that most guitarists love to play is contemporary pop, fingerstlye or rock music. Many of these songs at a beginner level are actually quite easy to learn and physically play on the guitar, however the notes, rhythm and timing are quite difficult when looking at their notation. This means that guitarists will have to go through months of sight reading learning and practice in order to get to a level where they can play a song that they actually enjoy.

This also means that for those months of practicing sight reading, the student will be playing songs that they don’t know, don’t like and hence won’t enjoy.

Guitarists are largely driven by enjoyment. We’re motivated by fun. Songs such as “Skip To My Lou” and “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” aren’t exactly fun compared to Metallica, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry or Bruno Mars.

Guitarists also tend to be very visual learners and rely a lot on watching and copying other people. This approach does have it’s benefits, but is ultimately flawed.

So what’s the solution?

Well at UGA, I recommend every student learns sight reading and I mostly use The Ultimate Guitar Method to teach it, because we have the freedom to choose fun songs and still learn basic sight reading melodies and exercises. We start at a VERY basic level, so that students can develop a thorough understanding of it. We strive to make sight reading as fun as possible and often use songs to do this.

The bottom line is this – students need to be shown how all areas of guitar can be fun with the right approach.

Thoughts, comments or questions? We welcome feedback!

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