This pic snapped during a recent Skype session reveals the true feelings harbored by most young guitarists when it comes to sight reading, or reading at all for that matter. The player pictured here [who shall remain nameless] is a ripping technician, has great ears, loves music, his parents, does community service, but if he practiced reading more? Look out! Chances are pretty fantastic that when it comes to playing ability versus reading fluency most of us are better technicians, improvisers, and composers than we are note-figure-out-ers.
From mastering rest stroke to perfecting your improvisational constitution over a ii bIImaj7 I progression in Db, reading takes tons of work and you have to be okay with the process rather than the immediacy of a qualitative result. Make sight reading something you do every time you sit down to play and you will get better at it. If you neglect it, you will never get better at it.
Check out one of my many practice routines...
First, stretch fingers, wrists, forearms, shoulders. Fill your abdomen with air and as you exhale stretch whatever it is you are trying to stretch. Please don't over extend or force the stretch.
Scales: I usually go one octave Mixolydian to Major on the 1st three strings around the circle of fifths.
Repertoire Maintenance - play through pieces that you are super comfortable with as to establish a positive vibe before you start your grunt work.
Take a new piece of music into your angry, sweaty hands. Curse it. Wrinkle it while trembling with tight fists. But, when you're done with the tantrum, put it on the music stand and scan it. Look for tricky fingerings, rhythms, new chord inversions or whacked-out melodic runs. Usually after a bit of patient scanning your heart rate will relax and you will be ready to start reading.
Note reading is an art in and of itself. People that can read a chart at first or second glance in a musical, artful way have put years of time into perfecting reading and understanding music as a language. Give yourself time and be forgiving. If you stick with it, you will be capable of more than you could have imagined.
May I suggest a few sight reading books to get you started? Oh good! Thanks for allowing me to help.
Reading Studies for the Guitar by Bill Leavitt
Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar by Bob Benedict
Solo Guitar Playing, Vol. 1 by Fred Noad