Sight-Reading for Guitar
Posted: March 5, 2021 | Updated: October 1, 2021
Author: Chelsea Green, The American University in Cairo
This book teaches guitar players from all musical backgrounds to understand, read and play modern staff notation in real time. The Keep Going Method is designed to impart the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for sight-reading with efficiency, fun and encouragement.
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Sight-Reading for Guitar by Chelsea Green, The American University in Cairo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
4.2 / 5
Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary
The text is quite comprehensive, in that virtually every conceivable element of conventional music notation for guitar is covered. I might posit that it is perhaps more comprehensive in its early stages than it needs to be. In the introduction, author Chelsea Green addresses the question of the book's target audience: 1) individuals attempting to learn the material on their own, and 2) “students under the guidance of a teacher” – assumedly meaning someone who has been self-taught for a while, and is now taking lessons: “Your guitar technique should be at an intermediate level...” Prof. Green thus presumes (perhaps sensibly) that the reader has not previously had at least a small to moderate amount of instruction, through which s/he has been exposed to the basics of standard notation (staff, clef, the principles of notated pitch, simple rhythmic concepts). Given the unfortunate stereotype that guitarists have to live up (down?) to in the reading department, the author notes that guitarists tend not to be great music-readers because of three things:
1) The logic of the guitar and its geography pose challenges to learning fluid reading habits;
2) Attitude – we tend experience emotional discomfort and thus get frustrated and discouraged easily;
3) Too many guitar methods (and, might I add, guitar teachers) don't teach it effectively – Prof. Green defines this in part as not training students to play past their mistakes, and describes the approach used in this book as the “Keep-Going” method.
Does Prof. Green succeed in reaching this target audience? Well, the book starts at absolute ground level with the notation basics, which I consider necessary, given the assumed knowledge level of the target student. However, I think it requires more ability of the student and deals with certain more advanced concepts and principles sooner than what might be advised for a work intended for a user with such a basic skill-set:
1) The exercises have play-along recordings which are accessible through the on-line version of the book. I see this as an excellent means to reinforce the “Keep-Going” philosophy when the teacher isn't available to play along with the student. While I acknowledge the importance of the student learning what tempo markings (allegro, andante, largo, presto, etc.) mean, it bears noting that many of the early-level recordings are, in my opinion, far too fast, especially considering how much jumping from string to string the student's right hand has to do, whether playing with fingers or a pick. I now see why the author suggests an intermediate playing level - but an intermediate playing level will do little to calm the panic caused by untrained eyes and brains processing a de facto foreign language at unnecessarily-fast tempi. Isn't the whole idea for the brain to learn panic-free reading habits? In Theory Lesson 4, Prof. Green counsels the student to “cultivate a calm demeanour while sight-reading” - excellent advice to be sure, but it's got to be supported in practice. Also, a small number of the exercises aren't quite in the tempo that they're counted off in. What I would suggest for the next edition is a second set of play-along recordings at 50% tempo or slower, in which the notes are played true to the count-off tempo.
2) I'm not convinced that the Norman Method of Guitar Notation needs discussion here. The purpose of notation itself is to clarify what note the performer is to play, when and how to play it, how long to sustain it, and where to find it on the instrument. Confusing the player with conflicting information defeats this purpose. The Standard Method and Norman Method are mutually-contradictory when it comes to the use of Roman numerals (The former uses them to indicate left-arm positioning, the latter uses them to denote the string number) – I would suggest that the author picks one or the other. Personally, I would opt for the one that is in more wide use (there's a reason why it's called The Standard Method) and leave the other to its fate.
The appendix is a work-in-progress. This is an early-release edition, and as such there is neither a glossary nor an index at this stage.
Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5
Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased
It all seems accurate and unbiased to me.
Content Accuracy Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement
I think the content is as up-to-date as it can be, and I don't foresee obsolescence being an issue (I don't expect the essence of a system of guitar music notation in use for 200+ years to change very much at this point...).
As for easy and straightforward updates: it depends how much the author wishes to change as per the presented order of reading concepts. Should any changes be made in that regard, I would think redoing the videos associated with the text will be a significant undertaking.
Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5
Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used
The writing is very clear and concise; the recordings of the lessons do a quite-adequate job of providing necessary context for guitar tech-speak.
Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5
Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework
As far as I can tell, the text is internally-consistent regarding terminology and framework.
Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.
I think the modularity of this textbook is fine, and should lend itself to some internal reorganization as the educator deems necessary.
Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5
Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion
I'm less convinced of this. I mentioned the speed of many of the accompanying play-along recordings earlier; in addition, practice Lesson 4 introduces the reader to natural first-position notes on the top two strings – that makes sense, but it's followed by a discussion on slurs and articulation markings. Both are difficult to differentiate in the recorded lessons, and could easily be disregarded altogether for sight-reading instruction purposes – it's difficult for this Master's-degree-holding guitarist to hear the difference between a note with a staccato marking and one marked mezzo-staccato (with both a staccato marking and its opposite number, a legato marking). I've rarely seen such a marking, and never in beginner repertoire – how useful is this to a beginner reader, and how likely is it to confuse, rather than enlighten, him/her? I posit that it's a sight-reading development project, not a performance-practice treatise. Likewise for the ornaments and bent notes introduced in Lesson 6. I feel that this is a case of "Too much information, too soon”, and does little to “cultivate a calm demeanour”. Instead, perhaps the reader can be introduced to dynamic markings at this point, instead of leaving them until Lesson 8. I feel dynamics would be far more relevant to early readers than articulation markings.
Additionally: if this is supposed to be a reading project for all guitar styles, does the idea of bass and melody voicing need to be introduced so soon? This voicing concept is quite classical-specific, and likely won't be as relevant to the non-classical student.
Organization Rating: 2 out of 5
Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader
I think the on-line interface works fine.
Interface Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: The text contains no grammatical errors
None that I found.
Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds
It's a book on how to read standard-notation music for guitar, which one would hardly consider to be culturally-contentious subject matter...! The context is very much that of the twelve-tone system of music that is most certainly Euro-centric - but then, this is the very context from which the guitar itself originated, so I fail to see any issue here.
Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?
I'm not completely sold on it in its current early-release format, but I would welcome the input of anyone who's been using it successfully. Ultimately, a teacher will utilize a resource as s/he sees fit; I see this book as being no different. Any teacher can put aside the handful of fear-inducing recordings, head-scratching irregularities and interesting pedagogical choices, and still find something useful in "Sight-Reading for Guitar"; in its current form, it might not be used in quite the way that Prof. Green intends. That said, I think this project has potential, and look forward to seeing it in its next incarnation.