Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

Cartoon of a singer in difficulty

Sight singing

I realise that many instrumentalists find sight-reading difficult. However, they should spare a thought for singers. Except for those who have perfect pitch, singing at sight is a lot harder than playing at sight on an instrument.

Singers don't usually have a sense of absolute pitch: in other words they can't look at an A flat and sing it. They have to work out the pitch from the key, and from the other notes around - they need to listen more, and look more at other parts. They need to understand enough theory to know that the gap (interval) between notes is not the same, even when it looks the same on the page (e.g. the interval between the adjacent notes A and B, is not the same as the interval between B and C).

Those who started young enough to learn Sol-fa have an advantage. (As do those who have taken their love of The Sound Of Music further than just learning the words to "Doh a Deer", to learn what it all means). In other words, they learn the relationship between notes.

All this in addition to the cardinal rules: always count, never stop (i.e. don't go back and repeat things you got wrong!), and with the confidence to

I have published elsewhere a Quick-fix Checklist for Sight Singing, but you must do this with a teacher.

My favourite courses of study are:-

  • Sight Sing Well by Jonathan Rathbone (Edition Peters) - best for pre-teens beginner.
  • Successful Sight-Singing by Nancy Telfer (Kjos Music Company) - best for small groups.

For teenagers and adults, I use a mixture of music theory and lots of practice, such as is found in Sing At Sight by William Appleby (Oxford), or the Sound at Sight books from Trinity Exam Board.

P.S. The images for this blog post come from the WikiHow page "How to be a Singer. I recommend it.

How to be a Singer

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