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Conference Morsel: Sight Singing as Literacy

(An excerpt from the interest session “Taking the Pain Out of Sight Singing,” presented by Amy Beresik during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
       If sight-singing is a painful part of your rehearsal, consider that singers are attempting to process and read in a new language. Research confirms that we become literate in music according to the same sequence as any other language: by engaging the
ears and forming aural associations before any symbols are introduced and recognition/audiation can be expected. An aural vocabulary, acquired through consistent emersion in the language, must be well developed before the singer can decode the pitches that written notation represents.
       Major and minor scales sung with solfeggio syllables (movable do / la-based minor), as well as tonal patterns based upon the Major and minor tonic and dominant triads, provide a solid foundation and a basis for future understanding of harmonic
progression, analysis, sight-singing and part-singing.
       You can invest in your singers' literacy in just a few minutes per rehearsal! Sing the patterns and have the singers echo them back to you - always in the same sequence at first. When they are able to aurally identify the familiar patterns out of sequence, then they are ready to read those patterns. The written patterns should be in familiar order at first, then in unfamiliar order to reveal how much actual reading (rather than reciting!) is taking place.
       You can tailor the experience to prepare for a specific musical selection as well. Follow the same process of teaching the melody by rote, then assigning syllables, then reading the notation.
       Remember: Sound before sight!
on April 30, 2014 6:25am
This is spot on!  The amount of brain power (visual/aural and kinesthetic) required for a beginner to successfully sight sing a two or three-part exercise with dotted-quarter/eighth rhythms and skips and steps combined is enormous.  We have to carefully and methodically teach our young singers what the tools are that they need in their toolbox and how to use those tools successfully.  It takes time.  It take deliberate work, and there needs to be some fun mixed in there least for my middle school children!   As a middle school teacher who teaches almost exclusively beginners (no little Mozart's in my classroom), it took me a while to figure out "sound before sight", but once I did, the tide began to turn and my beginners began to be successful in sight singing.
Each time they are successful learning a new tool, we have to celebrate and acknowledge the success!
This philosophy has helped me remove the pain of teaching sight singing!  ...And my choral music literature has reaped rewards I couldn't have imagined.
Dale Duncan
S-Cubed-  My Sight Singing method designed especially for middle school teachers and their students is available here:
My YouTube Channel with teaching tips and teaching examples: