Sight-Singing is not a simple, specific skill
Great sight-singers can do these 6 things well:
- Match pitch
- Sing a scale in tune
- Sing alternating solfege patterns (skipping and step-wise)
- Master the aural training sheet
- Label notes on a staff at a fast pace
- Label and perform rhythms on a staff at a steady pace
In reality, many singers can skip steps 1,2,3 and head straight to step 4. But when a singer is struggling with step 4, Aural training, it is likely because they have not mastered the first 3 skills. In fact, when a singer is struggling with sight-singing, it’s always one of three things (or a combination): aural training, note reading, rhythm reading/performance.
Matching pitch – is not an all or nothing skill. I have a pitch-matching rubric that shows the baby steps needed to show progress in this skill. This is also coupled with my course, How To Teach Anyone To Match Pitch, a course the shows choral directors and voice teachers how to get every singer to consistently match pitch using a 7-step pitch-matching process. It also includes the pitch-matching rubric and detailed explanation on how to use it in conjunction with the 7 steps.
This aural training skill reaches it’s peak when the singer masters the aural training sheet. This means, they can sing any combination of diatonic pitches that get thrown their way.
Assuming a singer can do all of that, they STILL may be struggling mightily with sight singing. When this is the case, it’s usually step 5 or step 6. Fortunately, these are easy skills to work on.
Note labeling, by my definition is to be able to label the solfege of any diatonic pitch on the staff once ‘do’ has been given. This skill does not require a singer to understand key signatures; all they must be able to do is find the rest of the pitches based on the ‘do’, which begins the exercise.
In terms of actual labeling, I expect singers to abbreviate the solfege by labeling “d, r, m, f, s, l, t” directly below each pitch.
There are two main skills in note labeling: accuracy & speed. Accuracy comes first.
Note labeling accuracy
Believe it or not, there are several specific issues that many struggling sight-readers have when they struggle to read pitches on the staff:
- they do not understand the difference between lines and spaces
- the direction and lengths of the stems confuse them
- they do not understand ledger lines or notes above/below the staff
- they believe note length affects pitch
Note labeling speed
Once singers can consistently and accurately label the pitches on a staff, they must be able to label with speed. Using an 8 measure example in 4/4 time, they must be able to label all of the pitches in 32 seconds or less. In 3/4 time, they must be able to label in 24 seconds or less. This gives them a metronome marking of 60 beats per minute. If they can’t label pitches at that speed, they can’t possibly sing a sight singing example at that speed. Keep in mind that sight singing begins with decoding the pitches, but then requires instant access the ear to find the pitches while observing the rhythm.
How to develop the Note labeling skill
I created a note labeling rubric, that evaluates all of the skills needed to master this skill. I worked the Sight Reading Factory to provide printable pdf resources for singers to practice their labeling. This note labeling rubric comes with several dozen 8 measure exercises in 4/4, 3/4 and 6/8 in varied key signatures that progress in difficulty. This means, you will have all the tools you need to get all of your singers to improve this skill.
The beauty of this skill is that you can teach note labeling to an entire choir at once. In class, you can easily give all of your singers a note labeling assessment for accuracy. After seeing the students who are struggling, I would recommend using the note labeling rubric; these students would likely begin on Level 1, 2 or 3 of this rubric.
Since speed can only come after precision, Levels 4 and 5 are about speed. Most singers will not be on Level 5, unless they have some solid sight-reading experience under their belt. In my high school choral program, 9 out of 10 students do not begin the year able to label at Level 5 speed.
Sight Reading Factory is the ultimate tool for Sight Reading!
Sight Reading Factory generously provided the exercises for the note labeling and rhythm labeling rubrics. They are the best sight singing tool on the market. Once your singers have developed the 6 skills I mentioned at the top of this blog post, your singers will be prepared to master sight singing. Until then, Sight Reading Factory is a means for your singers to put all three skills together (aural training, note reading, rhythm performing) as they continue to practice those skills independently.