6 Reasons Why Your Singers Can’t Sight-Sing
All students, regardless of talent or prior experience, can learn how to sight-sing. There are many reasons why our singers struggle with this skill, but there is absolutely no reason why they can’t become proficient readers in our program.
When it comes to incorporating sight-singing into choir rehearsals, there are three types of issues that face many directors:
- Some directors are intimidated by the prospect of teaching sight-reading due to the fact they know most students would rather “just sing.”
- Some directors believe they do not have time to teach sight-reading but wish their students were able to magically develop the skills.
- Some directors incorporate sight-reading and sight-singing into their daily rehearsal but find there are some students who never “catch-on” in their ability to sight-read
Regardless of where we may be on the list above, music literacy needs to become a priority. If choir is an academic class, we must teach our students how to read.
This blog post will uncover the reasons WHY many students struggle to develop their sight-singing skills, even when we have chosen to make it part of our daily rehearsal.
The “Prerequisites” for Sight-Singing
The importance of learning to sight-read is stressed throughout the choral world, but rarely is the elephant in the room addressed: some students aren’t naturally equipped to learn how to sight-sing. While I believe this is true, it doesn’t mean they cannot learn how to sight-sing, and even become a great sight-reader.
Sight-singing, even more so than singing, is merely a skill that can be developed; but prior to being able to develop this skill, certain fundamentals, or prerequisites, must already be in place.
These basic aural and technical skills MUST be developed in any student who wishes to be able to sight-sing and sight-read. Regardless of the quality and/or beauty of their individual voices, many students are naturally gifted with some fundamental skills, while deficient in others; some talented singers will lack natural sight-reading talent while some average singers will have a great deal of natural sight-reading talent.
If we want ALL singers to become musically literate, we must ensure they have met the prerequisites for sight-singing.
Here are the 6 Reasons WHY SOME STUDENTS CAN’T LEARN HOW TO SIGHT-SING?
They cannot properly match pitch
Students who cannot match pitch are unlikely to demonstrate any sight-singing skills. Pitch-matching must occur before sight-singing of any kind can be successful.
They cannot sing beyond a minimal range
Students who cannot sing more than a few limited notes will be unlikely to be able to sight-sing, even within that limited range. Their lack of technique will translate into lack of vocal control, even if they intellectually understand the concept of ear-training and sight-singing
They cannot sing a scale in tune
If students cannot sing a full octave in tune, both ascending and descending, they will not be able to consistently sight-sing. Western music is rooted in the diatonic scale; a lack of ability to accurately replicate a scale means they will not be able to break apart the 7 pitches and utilize them in varied patterns.
They aren’t comfortable with the solfeggio
Students frequently get tripped up with the actual words. For most singers, the solfeggio needs to be engrained before they can truly internalize and externalize each pitch. I have created a simple sheet to teach my students how to solfeggio fluently. EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in my program from grades 9-12 develops this skill. A few students are decent right off the bat, but others take months, or even an entire year to become fluent. I will provide a free download of this sheet in my next blog post.
They aren’t comfortable with reading the solfeggio on the staff
Students should be able to label the basic solfeggio of simplistic sheet music. Assuming “Do” is given, students must be able to recognize basic skips versus stepwise motion in both directions. The speed that it takes students to label is the speed at which they will be able to read, assuming they overcome the previous issues that were described.
They lack confidence
That was a polite way of saying, they have a negative attitude toward sight-reading. They believe they can’t. They believe they are somehow wired differently from every other student. They have excuses for why they can’t do it.
How do we prepare them to Sight-Sing?
Any student who wants to learn how to sight-sing can become a great sight-singer, provided their teacher understands how to properly train them. My next blog will provide simple steps to get ALL students prepared for reading. It will address each prerequisite, how to assess each individual, and how to ensure each student develops these necessary skills.
Technology is our best Sight-Singing Friend, but only after our students have first developed the “prerequisites”
Once we have properly addressed the 6 reasons listed above, our students will be ready to tackle the skill of sight-singing. At this point, they will develop these skills at a much faster pace if we choose to incorporate technology into our classroom. Sight-reading Technology can minimize our preparation time, maximize our rehearsal time, pinpoint specific areas of focus, teach students how to self-evaluate, and provide instant and infinite resources.
No teacher can possibly replicate what technology offers, but no technology will ever substitute for great teaching. Great teachers who properly utilize great technology will experience the best improvement in their student’s sight-singing development. With that said, great teachers must first ensure every student has developed their “prerequisites skills” before expecting them to be able to successfully sight-sing; my next blog post will clearly outline: 1) What “prerequisites” are needed prior to students being able to sight-sing, and 2) How teachers can ensure all students have developed these necessary skills.
There are several amazing programs and resources out there for students to practice sight-reading on their own as well as several great programs out there that can help with developing sight-singing skills in the classroom. My favorite program for in-class use at the high school level is Sight Reading Factory; this fine company has been gracious in offering my readers a 10% discount on purchasing both teacher and student subscriptions, using the code: choralclarity.
I believe Sight Reading Factory is indispensable in the choral rehearsal; a teacher subscription ($31.50 with the discount code) is all that is effectively needed for rehearsal purposes. I will discuss in a future blog how I utilize Sight Reading Factory in the daily rehearsal as well as how I incorporate it alongside Smart Music for improved practice at home.