One of the essential skills for any musicians is the ability to sight sing. It is invaluable to have the ability to be able to look at a score and hear the music internally, or to be able to sing the music aloud. A quick poll of several of my music teaching colleagues showed that while every teacher agreed that sight singing was a valuable and necessary skill for instrumentalists, only one teacher of the 12 present actively taught this skill in their lessons.
I find that the easiest time to start teaching sight singing is when a student is an absolute beginner to an instrument. Most beginner tutor methods begin with one or two notes at a time, and add more notes (and therefore more intervals between notes) little by little, as the student becomes more confident reading.
The first two pieces in the piano method book that I commonly use consist entirely of one note, middle C, played with a variety of rhythmic patterns. I always get the student to sing each piece with me prior to starting playing, so that the student knows what the piece should sound like when they play it. Tunes can be sung as letter names or solfege, depending on the level of the student. I use sight singing to reinforce letter names for beginner students, and I use sight singing with solfege to reinforce the relationship between notes (tonic, dominant, etc) for students who have a greater theoretical knowledge.
With more advanced students who have never been asked to sight sing, the task can be quite daunting. Again, the trick is to begin simply. There are plenty of resources for this (listed at the end of the article), however you can also ask students to drag out their tutor books that they started on and use these for sight singing practice. This is also a wonderful way for students to see how far they have come in their musical studies.
For a pianist, who can be simultaneously be playing two, three or four parts, it is imperative that students develop skills where they can play one part while singing another. Singing out part while clapping another is a frequent exercise in my lessons.
For more advanced sight singing I use the following techniques –
- Prior to starting, sing the tonic, dominant then tonic again to establish the key.
- Ask students to circle the tonic and dominant each time it occurs. If they have internalised these pitches before they start it gives them a solid framework if they drift off pitch.
- Ask students to sing the first and last note of every phrase – singing the ‘skeleton’ of the melody prior to starting is very useful.
- Sing confidently.
- Look for patterns and repetition.
- Learn to sing major, harmonic minor and melodic minor scales, as well as major and minor intervals.
- Join a choir.
Some helpful resources I use for sight singing include:
Sight Singing: Pitch, Interval, Rhythm by Samuel Adler.
Music for Sight Singing by Robert W Ottman
If you would like to share some sight singing resources that you use, please leave a comment below.