Favorite sight-singing tips
Here is a compilation of SIGHT SINGING TIPS as requested by Tom Sherwood on
December 25, 2000.
Please send me the two important things which YOU do when sight-singing.
Here are two of mine:
1) establish key by singing My Country 'Tis of Thee, Doh"
2) establish the "sense of dance" inherent to the piece
1) scan quickly for trouble spots - key changes, accidentals,
rhythmically dense spots, etc. If this quick perusal indicates it's fairly tonal and
scale related, then I relate all the intervals/step movements to the tonality/degrees
of the scale. May sound silly to say, but I think it's really important to remember
what you've sung already... don't let a B on the third system down be a totally
new pitch to you when you've already been singing B's all along. Remember and
2)I think the best sight singers realize where they make a mistake the first time
through and fix them the second time. Bad sight singers keep making the same
1. establish key by singing the syllables: do re mi do re ti(down) do
2. do a quick form analysis so at least the repeat of the "A" material is
I have my students do solfege sight-singing every day in every choir. To move
upwards in the program, they must learn and sing a major scale, minor scale
(natural, harmonic, and melodic, not just the natural), chromatic, major triad,
minor triad. Before we start an exercise, we sing the scale first on solfege.
I do lots of excersises with solfege syllables that enable the students to
get tonality from any syllable in the scale.
For sight reading a piece, I tell them the first syllables for the beginners,
the rest have to find them. They write in the solfege, then sing it.
Have students scan for upcoming dominant and tonic notes, so they can keep a
sense of key throughout. Sing the scale in solfege, numbers, and letter names, to
include all kinds of readers.
I am a high school teacher of 30 years who has developed my own sight reading
method and manual that I have marketed. I use sol-feg and moveable "do." My
students can sing all the modes, forms of the minor scales, chormatic and whole
tone scale, triads and inversions and have learned to hear and sing intervals. I
teach them how to find "do" this way: The last sharp is "ti" or the last flat is
"fa." My manual contains over 800 exercises in 10 levels of difficulty starting with
melodic quarter notes only and progressing to level 10 of four part homophonic
and polyphonic singing. I use it religiously everyday for 5-10 minutes in my
classroom and I cannot tell you how much better the kids read now since I
started doing this. The manual is a one time acquisition allowing the purchaser to
reproduce all the pages for use in his/her school. I have sold over 500 to
teachers in 35 states.
The most important thing to do in sight singing is do it every day! Once
it becomes part of the routine and your curriculum, you will be surprised
at how much more repertoire you can teach in your rehearsals.
I use sol-feg as it especially helps when dealing with accidentals. I can
teach all the scales and modes and triads and inversions and chords and you
name it with sol-feg and then they can very easily move to writing that on paper.
But, the most exciting part of this as been their ability to read music. I spend
much less time pounding parts than I did say 10 years ago before I started this
1. Establish the time signature as well as the key signature
2. Scan the piece to see if their are any repeats, codas, etc., as well as
dynamic and tempo markings.
1. scan time sig and apparent key
2. look for clues to overall harmonic progression within the line
1) Establish scale degrees 1, 3 and 5 and whenever possible, think of all notes in
relation to these and other "notes I already know."
2) Be confident, concentrate and stay on top of the rhythm more than anything
There are three essential things to be done when beginning to sight-sing a
piece of music:
1) Establish doh (or la) in my inner ear - I have my students
outline the tonic triad aloud, whether in major or minor key (we use la-based
minor, so the minor tonic is la-doh-mi-doh-la).
2) Recognize where doh (or la) is on the printed page; this
requires paying attention to the key signature as well as the actual line or space
3) Establish in my mind both the meter and pulse of the passage to
be sung. In the beginning, pulse is more important than meter, because that is
what will make the rhythmic patterns work.
1. Establish your tonality using the tonic-sub-dominant-dominant
(major, or minor) triad structure.
2. Box your "Doh" and circle "Sol" for the first page or so. Also alert
singers to any modulations or change in doh
- Use Solfeggio
- Do it every day. I mean every day. First day of school. Last day of school. Day
of a concert. Usually only five minutes, but every day.
- Start with Kodaly hand signals. It's a game them.
- Progress to chalk board or written examples. It transfers very easily.
- Start with only DO, RE, MI, SOL, LA. The pentatonic scale. FA and TI are very
hard to hear. They can come later.
- When you start with "real" music, start with easy things. Art songs, folk songs,
think with not too many accidentals. Make them read it on Solfeggio before
singing words. They need to realize that the process is the same as reading the
- I try to get the kids to understand that there are two kinds of sight-singing. One
is very deliberate and we try to get every note right, figure out rhythms, calculate
intervals, etc. The other is to just get through the piece without stopping. This
method is very useful at times and may be more practical in the long run.
For this "plow through" method I have three rules.
1- Sing loud. Just go for it and make some mistakes.
2- If the note goes up, sing higher. If the note goes down, sing lower. If it
stays the same, stay the same.
3- Does the note step or skip? If it steps, step. If it skips, guess.
Again, this is NOT to replace the accurate Solfeggio method but it will be
required of them also. If they can have some confidence about attacking a new
piece, then improve their skills with Solfeggio, their reading will improve.
-Test them individually, regularly. Every month if you can. At least every
quarter. If they are confident enough, do it in front of the class. Keep the samples
accessible to their level so they can experience some success.
Keep the eye moving AHEAD of the notes. This is good practice for singers, and
even moreso for instrumentalists. I sightread a lot of orchestral music, and have
to remind myself of this simple rule every time I crash because of not looking
I use the Oxford series of Folk-tunes. It works extremely well and has all
elements (dynamics, phrase marks, articulation, origin of melody [French,
English, etc.], etc.) in each exercise. Two things that I do are:
1) Establish tonality singing "Do re mi do re ti Do" (a more advanced
version I've used is "Do mi Sol Fa re ti Do")
2) Have students "sing" through the exercise in their mind once before