When taking an analytical approach to sight reading and breaking standard notation down into its most fundamental elements, you are left with two primary components consisting of notes and rhythms. Since there are only 12 unique pitches in Western music, memorizing their positions on the fingerboard of your instrument as well as on the staff in the bass clef is a relatively easy task. The much more challenging aspect of reading standard notation is experienced in learning to instantly recognize rhythms. Unlike notes where there are a relatively few number of them, the rhythmic possibilities you could be potentially presented with in a piece of standard notation are practically limitless.
In this lesson, we will work through a collection of rhythm studies exercises consisting of quarter, eighth, eighth-note triplet, and sixteenth-note combinations to increase the proficiency of your rhythmic recognition skills when sight reading standard notation for bass. Since the principal goal of this lesson is to improve rhythmic acuity as it pertains to sight reading, these rhythm studies exercises have been notated using rhythmic notation.
Initially, you will not need your bass to practice rhythm studies. Because we are focusing on rhythmic recognition independent of note recognition, we are not concerned with notes. In fact, specific notes will be completely irrelevant when working on rhythm studies. To acquire maximum results from these exercises, simply begin by clapping through these rhythms at a tempo that is as slow as you need it to be in order to play the rhythms perfectly in time without making any errors and then increase the tempo accordingly.
Be sure to practice all of these rhythms against the regular pulse of a metronome or drum machine. Begin with a slow tempo to minimize mistakes. From there, gradually increase to a faster tempo that really challenges you. I would recommend breaking down these examples into smaller sections to make them more manageable. At first, try to play through these rhythms in one, two, four, eight, and twelve bar segments without pausing. Eventually, your goal should be to play through complete pages in their entirety without stopping due to a mistake. If any errors occur, stop and correct them before proceeding, and if you are having a particularly difficult time with a measure, decrease the tempo significantly so that you do not allow yourself to become frustrated and continue to reinforce bad habits through inaccuracy. Most musicians will overlook the significance of elemental exercises like these and rush through them in a sloppy fashion in order to get to more advanced material, but do not sacrifice accuracy for speed because this will be counterproductive to our long-term goals. The best sight readers can be presented with standard notation, sight read that material perfectly on the first attempt, and make their performance sound like a prepared piece of music that they have been playing for years.
After you feel comfortable with these rhythms and can clap through them flawlessly, apply them to your bass by simply choosing any single note or combination of notes on your instrument and then allow those notes of your choice to sound for the durations that are indicated in the rhythmic notation of these rhythm studies exercises. Any note on the fingerboard or even any open string can be utilized to complete these exercises. Again, start at a slow tempo and then gradually build from there. If any of the exercises seem easy, simply increase the tempo. With all the rhythmic variability possible, no matter how fast you can read through these rhythms error-free, you can always improve your rhythmic recognition skills and heighten the degree of difficulty by increasing the tempo. Becoming a proficient sight reader of standard notation on an advanced level is a process that takes dedication and time. This is not a subject area that anyone is going to have completely mastered within just a couple weeks or even a couple months.
Even though memorizing notes and studying rhythms are not the most exciting tasks you will ever devote time to practicing, great strides can be made in your ability to sight read standard notation over a relatively short span of time by concentrating on these basic note and rhythmic recognition exercises. By becoming a proficient sight reader, you will see your options as a working bassist increase exponentially because you will be able to more effectively communicate with other musicians. There are so many gigs available which require the ability to read standard notation. Whether your goal is to become a session bassist, a member of the college jazz ensemble, bass chair of the local symphony orchestra, play in the school musical, or provide support in your community church, improving your sight reading skills will only increase your opportunities and chances of obtaining these gigs. Not only does being able to sight read greatly increase your value as an in-demand bass player, but as an additional benefit, it also makes your practice sessions much more productive since you are able to use that time more efficiently and cover more material.
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