Strategies for Making Sight Singing Simple and Relevant
Strategies for Making Sight Singing Simple and Relevant
STRATEGIES FOR MAKING SIGHT SINGING
SIMPLE AND RELEVANT
ACDA-MN Summer Dialogue 2011
WHO AM I?
Since 2001, 7-12 Choir Director – Staples Motley Public Schools (app. 13-1400 students
Staples Area Men’s Chorus
4 or 5 choirs per day, depending on the semester.
7 & 8 Choirs are gender separate. Students share every other day with instrumental
Early high school (mostly 9 & 10) gender separate groups and mixed group depending on
semester. Almost no sharing at this level.
A Cappella Choir is top ensemble in district – 50 to 60 singers (27 men / 29 women)
Juniors and Seniors (4 sophomore boys / 1 sophomore girl)
• Musical Independence
• Basic Skill Development
• Students who actually READ MUSIC
2 MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS
• There must be an obvious reason for learning the skills.
Using the skill for philosophical reasons only will result in
lack of interest. You must be able to answer the question,
“Why do I have to learn this?”
• Simple Steps for All Ages
• We use these exact steps from 7 th grade through 12 th grade.
Repetition, over time, are the keys to comfort with the
language and the process.
Source: Crowe, Lawton, and Whittaker; Oxford University Press, copyright 1933
“We can see no justification for restricting early sight-singing to key C, with a gradual
addition of other keys.”
• “The chief cause of hesitation and inaccuracy has nothing to do with key: it is due to
uncertainty as to the pitch of the notes to be sung.”
• “C is not the easiest key in either the treble or the bass stave. (It is the easiest key
for the piano…)
• “Although early results may be quicker if key C is adhered to at first, succeeding
stages are rendered more difficult; ultimately, the most fluent reading is secured by
variety of keys from the beginning.”
• “… All that matters at first is to know the position of doh, and to be ready with the
most commonly used leaps…”
IN PREPARATION - PITCHES
Solfege is a vehicle for students to sing accurate whole steps and half steps with little or no
thought. Students who use neutral syllables often unknowingly assume that everything is in
major and that everything starts on the tonic.
How do I do it?
Create a simple chart and put it on the wall!
Use Solfege everyday during warm-ups.
Create exercises that build familiarity through repetition and that engage the brain while using
the “new” language. Unique and challenging exercises can make it more interesting and less
• D R M F S L T D D T L S F M R D (sing first, then add hand signs)
• Broken Thirds
• D, DRD, DRMRD, DRMFMRD, …ETC. Then down – D, DTD, DTLTD…
• CHROMTICS IF YOU DARE!
• Students should also learn the minor scales – Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic.
Start on LA!
IN PREPARATION - RHYTHM
• Clap the Rhythm and COUNT IT OUT LOUD!
• Clapping the Rhythm connects the intellectual side of music with the
physical, which ultimately enhances understanding.
• Counting out loud forces the student to think about time signatures and
pulses. Tiki tiki tas won’t do that – you must use actual numbers that
correspond to the proper beats. Of course, this is also how you assess
5 SIMPLE TEACHING STEPS
• Step 1 – “Raise your hand if you can tell me the time signature and what it
• Step 2 – “If the last Sharp is “TI” and the last Flat is “Fa,” raise your hand if
you can tell me what the first syllable is and how you found it.”
• Step 3 – “Raise your hand if you can describe any spots that might trip you
up, or any patterns.”
• Step 4 – “Let’s intone.” (D-R-M-D-R-T-D---S-D
• Step 5 – “Take 45 seconds to look at it.”
• Note: The process of asking students to raise their hand is how you check for
understanding. (yes… I know… I’m “Captain Obvious!”)
• No matter how bad it gets, keep going. Find your way back on when you get to more
familiar syllables like Do and So.
• It’s like the lottery – if you at least try you have a chance to win, but if you don’t try
you will fail 100% of the time.
RHYTHM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PITCH
• The wrong pitch at the right time is HALF right. The right pitch at the wrong time is
TOTALLY wrong. There is no such thing as the right pitch at the wrong time.
• This rule reinforces the importance of the first rule, which is EXTREMELY
IMPORTANT because students so often want to quit when things get rough!
• This rule gives students permission to make significant mistakes while supporting a
“never give up” attitude.
Step 1 – Time Signature
Step 2 – Starting Syllable
Step 3 – Identify Leaps / Patterns / Repeats, etc.
Step 4 – Intone (D-R-M-D-R-T-D---S-D)
Step 5 - 45 Seconds
What level might this exercise work well for?
• Remember the 5 steps?
What level might this exercise work best for?
If some students really struggle with this exercise, but
others don’t, what can you ask that might level the field?
ONE MORE EXAMPLE
• Why might this one be more challenging than others?
• What are some adjustments that can be made?
NOW HOW DO I MAKE THIS RELEVANT?!
• In my opinion, the use of solfege and sight singing exercises will only be
relevant to students if the skills developed are transferred to music that
matters… CONCERT REPERTOIRE.
• Write the solfege syllables in the music! Yes, that’s right - WRITE them in!
- On days where you hand out a new piece of music, do the sight singing
exercise in the music.
- Writing solfege in the music should not be thought of as cheating.
Reading, Writing, Doing (Singing), Hearing, Seeing, are all ACTIVE ways
of learning. By writing in the music the singer is actively processing the
music on the page and physically expressing their knowledge, rather
than passively following others and reading the words only.
EXAMPLE – TB
• WHUP! JAMBOREE arr. Gary E. Parks
EXAMPLE – 2-PART (SA)
• Castle On A Cloud arr. Linda Spevacek
EXAMPLE - SATB
• For all the Saints arr. Robert Shaw
Start learning to sight sing as early as possible. Elementary school maybe? At least by 7 th
grade. Start with learning the language (Solfege).
The language of SOLFEGE must become habitual through repetition and visual/physical aid.
Students must memorize – last “#” = Ti, last “b” = Fa, no sharps/flats then “C” = Do.
From the beginning, sight-singing exercises should use an assortment of “sharp” and “flat”
keys as well as the key of “C.”
The use of solfege to assist in learning concert repertoire is the easiest way to make the
importance of sight-singing relevant to singers. If students know they are going to use it on
something that actually matters, they are more likely to work harder on developing the skill .
WHAT REALLY HAPPENS AT WHAT AGE LEVEL
Younger students (7 th and 8th grade) focus more on rhythm and writing the solfege in their
music. Sight singing exercises are very short with limited ranges, and sometimes are only
rhythm exercises. The goal is to build their musicianship skills and their comfort with
solfege. Writing it in the music is the most important thing I do at this age. It forces
students to not only understand how solfege works, but to actually read the music and not
the words. They understand what, and where, they are supposed to be singing.
Younger high school groups (9 th and 10th) begin the process of “actual” sight singing on a
more intentional and regular basis. Because basic rhythm skills are pretty well developed
by now, we simply begin with the “5 Steps” when sight-singing in class. A very important
part of the process at this level is the continued writing of the syllables in the music.
Although most have mastered the skill, the music at this level is considerably more
difficult, and therefore incorporates more accidentals, minor keys, and modulations.
Students at this level still need to be focusing on the written music.
At the top level (11 th and 12th grade) almost every day begins with sight singing. This is
the real world challenge. We strictly adhere to the five steps and the two rules. The
process closely mirrors that of an all-state audition or a scholarship auditions.
Independence is of the utmost importance. Rather than prompting the steps, I will often
simply say, “Raise your hand and tell me what we need to know to sing this.” As the year
moves on, I simply say, “Let’s intone,” followed by “Take 45 seconds to look at it.” When
they are done, we address mistakes, but we don’t practice the exercise. We very seldom
write the solfege in our music at this level.
Staples Motley High School
401 Centennial Lane
Staples, MN 56479
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 218 296 1977