Sight reading requires 2 major skills and few sub-points to work:
- You have to know the written language of music – notation, dynamics, rhythm, etc., very well to sight read effectively.
2. You must know where every single note possible on your instrument is located and how to get there efficiently from anywhere else
The sub-parts underlying sight reading consist of being able to read several measures at a time. One of the better exercises I use with my students is to take about 4 bars of music (the difficulty depends on the student’s current proficiency) and break it down to 2 beats, up to the time signature length and then start adding the parts together 2 beats (assume 4/4) 4 beats, measure and half, etc. You don’t read book by reading one word at a time – you take several words at once or maybe even full sentences. With this exercise, after a while you will be able to read an entire line or more.
Secondly, most of the trouble people have with sight reading is rhythms, not notes. The exercises I do with students for this are drums parts that don’t have pitches so that the rhythm is separated from the notes. Learning where the notes are is relatively simple compared to rhythms. Get a hold of several simple drum parts and work through them. Then work up to more complex drum parts. Then set aside some time everyday you practice to just sight read. Open some music and try reading something. Whatever you find that you’re having difficulty with, work out the part and then move on to the next piece and approach it the same way. A good set of exercises for sight reading 120 Melodious Etudes for Trombone. Trombone and bass have a similar written range and a lot of these lie really well for bass guitar and double bass.
Transcription is also a great way to improve sight reading and also is the best ear training you can do. Start with very simple common melodies and work you way up to the harder things like jazz solos and classical music.
The bottom line is that sight reading isn’t any sort of superhuman skill. You have to practice just like any other aspect of music.