Why I'm Learning to Sight-Read (Again): Reading Music as a Guitarist

I'm Learning to Sight-Read (Again): Reading Music as a GuitaristIn my post about how to write 365 songs in a year, I talked about the fact that I’m not a strong sight-reader. I’m fairly well-versed in music theory, and I’m pretty good at figuring out songs and riffs by ear, but reading sheet music simply hasn’t been one of my fortes.

However, recent events have inspired me to start learning again. In this post, I’m going to take a look at what it means to sight-read as a guitarist, and why I’m developing my sight-reading ability.

Sight-Reading as a Guitarist

I don’t think most guitarists put a high priority on reading sheet music. Guitar tablature is far easier to understand, and while the medium does have a few limitations (it typically does not notate rhythm), finger positions are enough to get most guitar players oriented in the right direction.

However, being able to read does have its advantages.

One of the first places I employed my guitar playing ability was in church settings. From traditional to modern, every church is a little different, but the church I first played in was fairly conservative. And that meant that they played by the book. Literally. Though I wasn’t particularly good at sight-reading at the time, I had always felt that it would have benefitted me.

Additionally, you can’t find tab for everything. A site like Ultimate Guitar does have a growing database, and you can find interpretations for most popular songs, but even if you do find what you’re looking for, there is no assurance that the interpretations are actually correct. Moreover, sometimes sheet music does a far better job of conveying the feel of any given song.

The Upside of Tablature

Guitar TablatureI don’t think anyone would argue that a standout guitarist has a good ear, knows how to read music and tab, and is also creative enough to be able to come up with his or her own parts. Very few can. That’s why those who can stand out.

While I do think there is merit to music education and classical training, it doesn’t always produce well-rounded musicians.

Maybe you’ve seen The Eagle’s Hell Freezes Over DVD in which Don Henley laments the orchestra’s inability to play with “feeling”.

I’ve also performed with trained pianists that didn’t know how to play dominant seventh chords. Imagine! It’s just a major chord with a flatted seventh in it. I later found out that they refer to them as “diminished chords”. Hmm…. how do I tell them to play a diminished chord then?

My point is not that trained musicians are inferior. Not at all. It takes intense dedication to learn classical pieces and music theory.

However, there is an upside to tab. It tends to facilitate individual creativity. It gives guitarists a chance to explore their inventiveness. Isn’t art supposed to be creative, after all?

Why I’m Learning to Sight-Read (Again)

Regardless of what excuses I may have used in the past to justify my inability to read well, I am setting that aside to stretch myself.

The primary reason I felt the need to brush up on my reading ability is because I’ve started teaching again. While most teachers do work with beginners (I often find myself substituting for other teachers lately), there are always a few standout students who have taken it upon themselves to supplement their lessons and learn on their own.

Personally, I think that’s the only way you will become a great guitarist. You have to be willing to go beyond what your teacher showed you within the confines of a 30 minute lesson.

But I digress. Even though there are very few students who are as technically capable as I am (and I say that humbly), they may read better than I do. That’s not a good thing when you’re trying to teach them, so I’ve decided that I want to stop faking it.

I have also been inspired by numerous videos (like the one below) that elucidate the importance of learning to read.

Conclusion

Interestingly enough, since moving, I’ve become a better sight-reader, without even working at it. I’ve been delving into my book in my spare time, and I am progressing at a faster rate than ever before.

It has often been said that you tend to lose whatever you don’t work on, but I usually find the opposite to be true.

The less mind clutter I have, the more focus I can give to something, the more consciousness and awareness I bring into my life, the more ready I am to absorb information and learn from it.

It has also been said that people become less teachable with time. Not so. You can control how teachable you are.

So, if you’d like to join me on this quest to becoming a better sight-reader, here is the book I am currently working through:

The Ultimate Guide to Blogging as a Musician

The Ultimate Guide to Blogging as a MusicianIf you hadn’t noticed already, blogging is one of my favorite subjects (and activities). There are many wonderful benefits to writing engaging and informative articles online, and it’s a great way to connect with your audience besides.

Of course, I’m passionate about writing, and you may not be. That’s okay; you don’t have to love it to do it or to enjoy its benefits. If it isn’t your cup of tea, I’m not here to judge. However, your mind might be changed by the time you go through the resources I’ve curated below.

In the online world, textual content is paramount; especially if you want to be discovered by search (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.). Audio and video are powerful mediums, and I would never discourage anyone from creating more media-based content, but we have to keep in mind that search engines crawl for text; they don’t know how to read images, podcasts or videos, as great as these forms of content are!

So, whether you’re trying to increase your search traffic, keep the content on your site fresh, or deepen your connection with your fans, blogging is a great way to accomplish that goal.

In this post, I’m going to provide you with a variety of resources you can access to learn more about blogging. From tips and resources to strategy and mindset, you will find a variety of content that you can study and learn from.

Also note; I will be updating this post as I create and find more resources that add value to the conversation. I’m also playing with the format of this post; it may not be perfect, but I’m working on it.

In any case, let’s delve in…

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The Basics

  • Where Can I Set Up a Free Blog?: if you’re not sure whether or not you want to commit to building your own website, or if you just want to give blogging a try, this post will point you in the right direction.
  • The Basics of Blogging Success: this Salesforce post covers the basics of blogging success. From finding a topic that addresses a pain point to the importance consistency, there are many fantastic tips within this post.
  • SEO for Idiots: The 10 Basics of Blogging Search Engine Optimization: if you aren’t familiar with SEO, what it is or how it works, it would be a good idea to learn more about it, as SEO is a very relevant component of blogging. This guide should prove enlightening.

You can also take a listen to this podcast episode entitled Back to Basics: Blogging, which will give you a general overview of blogging as a musician.

In this podcast episode you will learn:

  • How common blogging practices have changed over time.
  • How to create content that can be discovered in search.
  • Why frequent engagement is so important.
  • How blogging can open doors to new opportunities.
  • What topics to blog about as a musician.

Another podcast episode that talks about the basics of blogging is Back to Basics: Guest Blogging. This audio discusses how guest blogging can help you to grow your audience.

In this podcast episode you will learn:

  • What guest blogging is.
  • Why old guest blogging tactics are no longer working.
  • How guest blogging can still be effective if done the right way.
  • How to create content that will add value to blog owners.
  • How guest blogging can benefit you.

I also have a podcast episode that discusses the basics of Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

In this podcast episode you will learn:

  • Why SEO has a bit of a bad reputation.
  • What SEO is.
  • What musicians should know about SEO.
  • What musicians should know about keywords.
  • How blogging can help your SEO.

The Importance of Blogging

Corey Koehler and I discussed the importance of blogging on the MusicGoat Fan Finder Podcast. Our topic of discourse was: Why Bands and Musicians Should Have a Blog. I would recommend listening to this audio if you’re still not sure why an artist might want to blog.

In this podcast episode you will learn:

  • Why musicians and bands should have a blog.
  • How musicians and bands benefit from their blogging efforts.
  • How to generate search traffic from your blog.
  • How to engage your audience and build relationships with them.
  • How to connect with different types of readers.
  • Why search engines like blogs.
  • How to entice readers to click on your content by using strategic keywords.
  • How to turn your passions into topics for your blog.
  • Why developing consistency with your blogging efforts is so important.
  • How to craft titles that grab people’s attention.
  • How a local focus could drive traffic to your website.
  • How you can appeal to different visitors with different types of blog content.

The Particulars

  • Post Length has nothing to do with it: bloggers used to engage their audiences with frequent, shorter posts. However, many of them are finding that their audience prefers detailed, in-depth articles again. Ultimately, the lengths of your posts all depends on your blogging goals and your audience.
  • Is it Possible to Write Off-Topic Blog Posts as a Musician?: at the end of the day, you can write about whatever you want, even as a musician. However, it may be worthwhile to create a plan, set some goals, and get your blogging strategy in-line with your objectives.
  • How to Develop a Workflow for Your Blogging Efforts: in this post, I explore Darren Rowse’s blog post workflow, and how having a concrete routine can help you produce more quality content in less time.
  • 4 Places to Find Free Images for Your Blog: there are definitely more than four sites where you can find free images for your blog, but this post provides a few jumping-off points for you.

Traffic

  • 55 Ways to Increase Traffic to Your Music Blog: The Definitive Guide – we wanted to put a cap on the subject of traffic, and decided to put together our own in-depth guide. It’s completely free, and can be read here online.
  • 8 Steps You Can Take Now to Increase Traffic to Your Music Blog – this is a nicely formatted guide that expands on the points discussed in the How do I Increase Traffic to a Music Blog? post. It’s worth every penny, and it only costs 99 of them.
  • How do I Increase Traffic to a Music Blog?: traffic generation is a huge topic among bloggers. Though quality of traffic is always more important than quantity, you still need to know how to market your blog successfully.

Strategy

In this video, Smart Passive Income‘s Pat Flynn explains the strategies he uses to engage his audience. If you want to develop a real connection with your readers, this is definitely worth watching.

In-Depth Guides

  • Blogging Tips for Musicians: this is the most in-depth post I’ve written on the subject of blogging as a musician. In fact, it may be the most detailed post on this topic online. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re serious about blogging, this guide should provide you with many ideas to explore.

Guest Blogging

If you’d like to take your blogging efforts to the next level, we think you’re going to like our 99 cent guide too. Click on the image below to learn more about this special offer:

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How to Write 365 Songs in a Year… and what to do with them

In many ways, I feel as though I am getting back to the core of what DAWCast is all about.

It has occurred to me that there are many topics – from past podcast episodes and blog posts – that I have yet to expand on. I have been thinking about doing this for a while, and now that I am working on the Back to Basics series of podcast episodes (which will eventually develop into a Music Marketing 101 section on the website), it seems like the right time to delve deeper into relevant subjects.

Interestingly, the idea for this post came to me as I was reflecting on episode one of the show. I had no idea there were still gems to be mined from early episodes. Anyhow, let’s jump right in…

Project 365

In September 2006, I released my first solo album entitled Shipwrecked… My Sentiments. I was interested in touring to support it, but ultimately I just ended up playing a handful of local shows. In addition to a lack of organization and planning, I wasn’t really aware of many venues or performance opportunities outside of my own hometown.

David Andrew Wiebe: Shipwrecked... My Sentiments

Shipwrecked… My Sentiments

Towards the end of the year, I heard about an artist that wrote a song every single day, no matter what. It may have been Burt Bacharach; I’m a little fuzzy on the details.

Anyway, that got me thinking. What if I set the goal to write one song for every day in the year? That’s how the idea of Project 365 came about.

One Song A Day

I will be the first to admit that I did not put strict criteria in place for the completion of this goal. Quite simply, the idea was to write one song for each day in 2007. I didn’t force myself to write every single day (though I still did on most days), but I did make it a point to have 365 songs written before the year was out.

Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret is of a similar nature. He made it his goal to write a joke every day, however good or bad. He also stressed the importance of keeping the chain going (he took a year-at-a-glance calendar and put a red X on every day that he followed through on his goal). He insisted that it had to be done consistently.

If you’re interested in writing 365 songs in a year, I would recommend taking this process-based approach. I still finished the year with 367 songs, but I was not consistent, and the quality of some of the songwriting probably suffered as result.

My Motivation

At first, I was simply excited to be taking on a project like this. I imagined the possibilities. I could augment and flesh out my live set, and I might even produce some great material that I would later record.

I also thought it might make for some great content for my website. What if I posted demos of the songs I had written? What if I released multiple versions of each song? What if I got people to comment on them? What if I built a huge song database that demonstrated my abilities as a songwriter, composer and musician? What if I recorded several albums based on the body of work I produced?

Getting Started

For us creative types, and even entrepreneurial types, starting a new project is often exciting. Following through and finishing is the hard part. With any large-scale undertaking, there is the possibility that you will lose interest or lose sight of the overarching goal along the way.

Early on, I had quite a bit of motivation for Project 365. I put a lot of effort into the songs, and I even wrote lyrics to many of them. However, I did get a little lazier over time. I took the inspiration as it came, but after recording a full album, I was experiencing a bit of creative drought throughout 2007. I had to push through anyway.

Finishing Up

Regardless of the quality of work I was producing, I was determined to reach my goal. I think I had somewhere between 60 to 70 songs to write as December approached, so I got to work on those.

I emptied myself creatively. In fact ,I think I may have been empty already. Suffice it to say, I didn’t write too many songs that were hit-bound.

Nonetheless, I managed to wrap up Project 365 by mid-December.

The Result

In 2008, I started transcribing some of the songs I had written. Many of them were simply written out in guitar tablature form, and others were little more than lead sheets. Because reading music wasn’t (and still isn’t) my strong suit, this would present a new challenge for me.

I used a program called Power Tab to transcribe my songs. I still have many of those transcriptions on my hard drive.

In the end, I released some of the MIDI files publically. Some of the songs from Project 365 made their way into my set list, and some would later show up in YouTube videos or podcasts. You can check out one example, “Wonderfully Dysfunctional”, below.

However, by and large, Project 365 ended up being a private victory. I proved to myself that I could take on a big project and bring it to completion over the course of a year. I was hoping that it would help me to build my brand and reach more people, and in a roundabout sort of way, I guess it did.

Even so, I never quite got around to building my database, despite the fact that a friend of mine developed a web application for me (sorry, Ken). These days, a blog would probably work just fine for a project of this description.

In short, I don’t think it did everything I hoped it would.

How To Write 365 Songs In A Year

If you want to stretch yourself, grow your songwriting ability and build your repertoire, writing 365 songs in a year is one way to make that happen.

Personally, after writing 365 songs, I identified the patterns in my music (I used eighth-note rhythms everywhere), and I started working myself out of those ruts. I can’t even calculate the amount of growth that came from achieving this goal.

Keeping that in mind, there are several things I learned from going through this process. Here are a few tips for you. You don’t have to heed my suggestions, but you may find them helpful.

  • Stress completion over perfection: you may write 365 amazing songs over a lifetime, but in a single year? It’s somewhat suspect; especially if you are still on a growth curve as a musician. Adopt a “get-it-done” mentality when you’re not particularly inspired.
  • Become process focused: this is something I wish I had done for this project. Your process might be “write a song today”, or, if you want to be more specific, “write a song today between 6 PM and 7 PM”. Then simply follow your procedure every day. Don’t think too far ahead.
  • Blog as you go: write about your experiences while you are on the journey. It’s harder to reflect back on your year and try to encapsulate everything that has happened in a summary later. Moreover, you will have built your “database”, and as result, your following will probably grow too.

What To Do With Your Songs

So, you’ve written 365 songs. Now what?

That’s exactly what I asked myself. If you don’t want to fall into the same trap, some planning would be a good idea.

Like me, you could transcribe your songs and embellish your portfolio. If you ever intend to get involved in composition work, this body of work could help you in your journey.

Here are some other ideas to explore:

  • Set aside the best songs and record an album: this may sound pretty obvious, but if you’ve written 12 or more great songs that you like, you can flesh them out and record an entire album with them. If you have enough quality songs, you may even be able to create multiple albums.
  • Offer a special bundle: by the time I was done with Project 365, I had a binder full of notes. I created a desktop wallpaper for every month in the year, and I also created MIDI versions of some of the songs. Whether physical or digital, I think it would be a neat proposition to offer a special bundle for your fans. Package everything you’ve created, wrap it up in some great artwork, and put it out there for your fans to download or purchase. God, I should do this myself.
  • Share your works… everywhere: you could upload and share your demos on SoundCloud, PureVolume or ReverbNation. You could share your songs on your favorite social networks like Facebook or Twitter. You could blog about your songs or create YouTube videos.

What else would you do with 365 songs? Let me know in the comments section below!