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The Two-Minute Rapid-Fire Sight-Singing Drill!

Do you have 2 minutes a day to devote to sight-singing? If so this approach could work well for you!

My rehearsals are 40 minutes long, so 2 minutes is just 5% of the rehearsal.

When I began teaching high school more than two decades ago, “daily” sight-singing consisted of me scurrying to my chalkboard ten minutes before the first chorus class of the day to get out my prized five-pronged chalk holder so I could draw 5 poorly angled staff lines across the dusty chalkboard. Next, I would improvise an 8 measure sight-singing example and pray that I didn’t make any errors because there was no way to erase the notes without erasing the lines.

One sight-singing example a day, at best, was all I could place on the board, leaving a small area for daily announcements. I would keep the same exercise on the board for each choir, regardless of their age and skill level.

Let’s fast forward 22 years to my smartboard/projector system and the use of Sight Reading Factory. Now, with no preparation at all, I have an 8-measures sight-singing example hiding behind a screen that is filled with daily instructions and announcements. Once it’s time to begin sight-singing, I flip the screen to Sight Reading Factory and we can begin our 2-minute rapid-fire sight-singing drill.

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What is rapid-fire sight-singing?

Rapid-fire singing is the idea of performing several sight-reading examples in a row without stopping for any reason.

The goals of the 2-minute rapid-fire sight-singing is for the choir to:

  1. Sight-sing with no preparation (other than a count-off)
  2. Not stop, even if the entire group is lost
  3. Perform 3-4 exercises in a row that demonstrate a balance between repetition and variation
  4. Process and synthesize a lot of information in a short period of time

Rapid-fire sight-singing is intended to devote 2 minutes completely to active sight-singing. There will be complete focus in the room and no time for distractions.

Trick or Treat Round – teaches tricky consonants!

Putting Rapid-Fire Sight-Singing into practice

In my choir rehearsal, I flip the smartboard screen flips from daily announcements onto Sight Reading Factory. The first example is already on the board. I immediately hit the start button and the choir begins sight-singing. As soon as they are done, I click NEXT and they are on to a second one, and a third one. Assuming the metronome marking is set for 90 with a one-measure count-in, it will take well under 30 seconds to complete an 8 measure 4/4 exercise. So 2 minutes of sight-singing will allow for 4 different examples. There is no wasted time, and no stopping. Oh, and there is also no prep time for me because I have my parameters already set and saved.

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Teach them to never quit

One major key to teaching sight-singing is the concept of never quitting; young sight-singers tend to stop at the first point of struggle and then want to start over. This concept forces them to get to the end. By setting all exercises to begin and end with “do”, I expect every student to start AND end together regardless of what happens in the middle.


Prep time:

Using Sight-Reading Factory, I have three approaches for daily exercises.

The program allows customized sight-reading examples with:

  • -time signature(s) – multiple can be used in one setting
  • -key signature(s) – multiple can be used in one setting
  • -length of notes/rests
  • -range of exercise
  • -difficulty level of the rhythm

Once set-up, endless examples that meet our exact parameters are ready with just one click.

These are types of parameters I have set up for the year:

  1. The State standards – SRF has a setting that uses my state’s standards so we can properly prepare any student who is going to sing at our state’s solo festival/competition.
  2. Creating parameters that are super-specific such as 6/8 examples in the keys of C major, D major, and F major, starting and ending on “do”. I have a few settings that allow me to drill specific skills on a semi-regular basis.
  3. Creating one setting that has varied parameters such as time signatures (4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8 ) using several major keys (C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, Eb, Ab, Eb) with a range of a 9th and leaps no greater than an octave, all starting on “do”. I also choose the different length of notes/rest that I wish to use.

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Rapid-Fire Aural Training

This approach also works with Aural Training, one of the main skills needed to become an effective sight-singer. I recommend using this Aural Training Sheet (or one of your own). In fact, a great approach could be performing 1 minute of the Aural Training Sheet (several lines) followed by 2 minutes of rapid-fire sight-singing. The Aural Training exercise is described in detail here.

The Best Ear-Training Exercise You Will Ever Use

What if my students can’t Sight-Sing At All?

This rapid-fire approach is great to use in class regardless of the current skill level of our singers. If we set and save simple parameters such as C major, step-wise, 4/4 time with rhythms no faster than a quarter note, students will catch on.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t additional skills to work on. I created a sight-singing developmental rubric that separates all the skills needed to become a great sight-singer. Students are evaluated on independent skills such as:

  1. note-reading/labeling
  2. rhythm-reading/labeling
  3. singing a scale in tune
  4. singing “do, mi, sol” followed by “do, re, mi”
  5. aural training sheet

Sight-Singing Developmental Rubric – how to assess and develop the skills to successfully sight-sing!

Frequency of Rapid-Fire Sight-Singing?

I believe this 2-minute drill is an effective approach to use several days a week. On opposite days the same 2 minutes could be used to focus intently on fundamental sight-singing concepts. Perhaps Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays could be spent with 1 or 2 examples where students work through their mistakes while Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent performing rapid-fire examples for 2 minutes straight.

Your Star-Spangled Banner Arrangement Is Too Difficult!

Rapid-Concluding Final Thoughts

In general, we stop our students too often. Most students are so used to stopping that they stop themselves prior to any moment of frustration. This exercise is as helpful for us as it is for them. The concept of continuous performance keeps the students engaged and present. For two minutes straight, they have to perform and we have to listen.

Star-Spangled Banner Arrangement available for instant download!

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Here is the latest webinar on Sight Reading Factory’s new features!

By | 2019-09-08T12:54:40-05:00 September 8th, 2019|Sight-Reading, Technology|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

One Comment

  1. Cheryl Blankenship September 9, 2019 at 8:19 am - Reply

    I had a little giggle at the, “5 poorly angled staff lines”, comment. I always went home with little dusty chalk prints on my thighs and back side. Those were the days. Thank you for your insight into rapid fire sight-reading. The stopping when they get to one note they can’t figure out drives me crazy. I do say, “find do and don’t stop”. I’ll be using this rapid fire method this week. Thanks again.

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