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Sight-singing Suggestions/Philosophy

Date: Tue, 16 Sep 1997 06:46:09 -0400
From: "William T. Henry"
To: ""
Subject: The Importance of Sight-Singing in the Choral Rehearsal

I have received numerous inquiries regarding sight singing in the
choral rehearsal this past week. There seems to many different angles
on which the study is approached but all they all seem to relate to or
at least follow one another.

Time on task ranges from five minutes after warm-ups to 20 minutes in
some block scheduling rehearsals

Useful texts mentioned included:
Jensen's Sightsinger
(moveable do, two volumes, begins in defining rudiments of sight singing
and notation [-key signatures], moves to wide leaps, odd meter,

Nancy Telfner's
(elemental? Used mainly for younger choirs and beginning high school

New publications from Masterworks Press
(Graded harmonic sight-reading Six levels progressing from step to
seventh, contemporary exercises exhibit modern idioms

Crocker/Eilers - Patterns of Sound
(SSA, TTB, SATB, graded volumes, practice works)

Bruce Phelps Sight singing Manual
("do it every day")
Oxford Folk Song Sight singing
Required festival sight-reading

Supplementary procedures include:
Unison and Part singing at sight
Rhythmic exercises (counting/clapping)
Intervalic Drill (Flashcards in different keys)
Excerpted Segments in various keys
(technique common to several responses)
Scales & Arpeggio (Solfege)

Valuable Comments:

"When we sight-read all are required to know what key we are in, so that
we all know where do is. Next we sing the tonic chord, then everyone
studies their score for about a minute. Then we chant syllables
together. Next we sing the tonic chord again. Next everyone sings
their starting syllable. I give a count down, and we sing. If there
are any
trouble spots ex. do down to la, or do down to fa, or chromatic
difficulties, I rehearse that area with that section, then we put it all

together gain.

As a high school choral director of 15 years, I can say that it is the
MOST vital musical component of your teaching.

"By the end of the year my first year choir of all beginner high school
students, mostly freshmen, were able to sight read in any key in 4/4,
3/4/, 2/4, treble and bass clef, using quarters, eighths, whole, halfs
and dots.
-Of the Jensen

I've posted John Crandall's entire response. It includes valuable
descriptions of different texts and procedures.

When my research is done this Fall I will post a follow-up response to
cover elements this post may have missed.


Date: Sat, 23 Nov 1996 06:07:38 -0600
To: choralist@lists.Colorado.EDU
Subject: Ear training for High School students Compilation

I asked for suggestions on helping my high school singers sing
independently. Many of them can sing a melody line well on their own, but
have a hard time singing their own parts once they hear another vocal line.
I received MANY responses (Thanks!) and have tried to give a concise
compilation. I know some people have been criticized for giving overly
long compilations, but trust me, I did a LOT of editing! :-) Here

Rounds and Canons! Choristers Guild publishes a good collection. They
are perfect for this - from grade 2 through adults! The older the kid,
the more sophisticated should be the tune or words, thats all. I would
suggest the new publications from earthsongs: 5 Concert Canons it was
published in 1990.
Have you tried having them sing the same melody but at different intervals
with another person or section. Try something like Row, Row, Row... and
start the women at least a fifth away from the men. Sing this
simultaneously, not as a round. Then move the intervals closer together.
Make sure they are not singing a harmony, but the actual melody that
interval apart.

Another idea, try starting everyone on unison octaves and then direct
individual sections to move by half steps away from that note. If you can
keep track of what you are doing, you can form chords, suspensions, etc.
and resolutions.
The best trick I know is to do a variety of things dealing with singing a
simple song they all know, such as "My Country 'Tis of Thee".

I'll have them sing it several times in unison. Then I challenge them to
continue to sing it in their key while I play the accompaniment in a
different key. I'll usually play the accompaniment at the interval of a
fourth or so, then a third, etc. I'll go in and out of playing in the key
they're singing in.

A variation of this is to have the altos start in F while the sopranos sing
it in A-flat or some other arbitrary key. When they really become
independent, they can do this at the interval of a second.
Here are some things I do. They are easier to demonstrate than to explain
but here goes.

SCALES - They sing 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Or on do-re-me if you choose.
- Then they can sing it in a round at the third, fourth, or fifth. This is
very easy to do but if you slow it to half or whole notes, it becomes
harmony singing.
- Then I have them go up, come down, and stop on a number of my choice. Do
this in different parts. They start up together, come down stopping on
1-3-5, you have a chord.
- Once they have a chord, you can move one part at a time up or down to the
next number creating different chords.

All of my work of this sort is done without piano. Make THEM produce the
sound and the harmony. The piano just muddles it.

ONE NOTE HARMONY - Choose a simple song, not one they will perform. My
Country Tis of Thee, Silent Night, Row Your Boat, etc. Make sure they know
the melody well. Have one half sing DO and sustain it, have the other half
sing the song. Make sure the DO side doesn't change. Putting the DO side
above the melody in pitch can help them. Then have them all sing the words
to the song just on DO, Monotone. This simple task can even be a challenge
for less experienced singers. Split the choir, one singing melody, one
singing on DO the whole time. This created easy harmony, sometimes not
pretty harmony, but it forces them to stay on something other than the
melody. You can also do it on SOL or other pitches if you like.

You can extend this excerise to include nicer sounding harmonies. If your
ear is good, you can just make it up or you may want to write it down ahead
of time. Silent Night works very well with just using DO and SOL to create
a bass-type part.
A lot of folks think that homophonic textures are easier for beginning
part-singers, but I firmly believe that the more polyphonic the parts are,
the less of a chance that these singers will get confused.
Physically separate sections so that enough physical space is between the
huddles. They can hear everything but remain independent.
I started using a MIDI setup about five years ago. Using a computer linked
with a sound generator and stereo system, I play all the parts for the
music we're working on into a sequencer.

Students can then hear their part at any speed alone, or their part and one
other, or all the parts BUT theirs, etc. I take care to use a distinct
sound for each part so the students can easily identify their part - and
also take care that the sound is one which has some coorelation to what I
perceive as a section sound (i.e., tenors = oboe, basses = trombone).
Have you tried circle singing? Have all those who sing the same part stand
in a circle. They will develop a group hearing and reinforce their singing
and listening skills. Eventually turn the section circles into one big
group circle.
Try working with two parts, then three parts, etc. I think they need to
get used to hearing other parts while singing their own. Or, have them
sing their own part while playing piano accompaniement to another part of
the same song.
Do you warm up away from the piano? It's the quickest way to eliminate
dependency on a non-vocal, percussive, and generally unhealthy instrument
for teaching singing, and it forces listening in a passive way.
Start rehearsing in a mixed formation. Your singers are currently used to
standing in sections when they rehearse allowing them to be able to depend
on each other. They do not listen like they should. When you play parts
they are leaning on each other in their respective sections. The key is how
you teach listening and retaining. Have your students stand in a mixed
formation and start sight-singing easy music and work up to solid 4 or more
part literature. It is OK to play parts but the students have to listen and
learn their part on their own. Quartets are good. If you have fewer boys,
arrange the students: S A S T A S B etc.
A warmup exercise: have each part sing a different note. To start, I use a
major chord: Sop - high doh, alto - mi, tenor - sol, and bass - low doh.
Then have each part move, by semitone, up or down (Move only one part at a
time). This can result in one part holding one note during several changes
or changing each time, depending on the chord or cluster you are aiming
for. You can achieve quite a tone cluster and then, by moving the parts by
step, one at a time, resolve it neatly. Lots of fun and good ear training
for all. It is different every time you try it.

Have the choir make a single line around the practice room. Each person
must stand next to people who do NOT sing their part (both sides). Then
have the choir sing a piece that all know well. This can be a real
challenge for many, but it is also loads of fun and if you do it at each
practice, all should improve in their ability to hold their own part and to
listen to other parts while singing. It also gives you a way to assess each
individual student without singling them out. All you need do is walk
around listening to the students while they are singing.

This one is similar to the warmup exercise, except that with this one I try
to avoid dissonance and the parts can move by any interval you wish to
achieve the harmony desired. Do you and they know tonic solfa hand signs?
If so, you could split the choir in two and try doing simple two part
singing by moving each voice one note at a time (any interval is
acceptable) while encouraging the students to listen to the other voice. As
all become more proficient at hearing one other voice and holding their
part, advance to three or four voice harmonies.
Have them sing their part against EACH of the other parts separately, so
what they've learned alone becomes something they can reproduce in a simple
context. Then with 3 parts at a time, then all parts, etc.
I do an excercise with my h.s. students which they love.

Sol-fege syllables with each syllable or - equalling an eighth note:

1) do - do re do - do re mi re do - do re mi fa mi re do - do re mi fa so
fa mi re do - etc. (up to do)

2) Once everyone can do this fairly quickly, a cappella, they do it
in canon, with the second group starting on the third do (Actually, I have
them start with the first group but sing do 2 times before starting the
pattern). Eventually we do four groups, all starting together, and the
following groups repeating do 1, 2, and 3 times respectively before
starting the pattern
Have your students rehearse their part while blocking one ear. This makes
it easier for them to hear themselves, and , when you're rehearsing the
parts together, it can be used for them to focus in on their own part.
I have a couple of suggestions you might try. Try having a warmup where one
group sings DO-SO-DO, another group sings SO-DO-SO. There are a lot of
ideas like this in Bartok's Learn to Sing Correctly, but you can make up
your own. Then ask one group to sing DO, and another group MI or SO.
Another good exercise is to sing rounds, or simple canon-like figures you
make up yourself - like do-re-mi-fa-so by one group, so-fa-mi-re-do. I
think that the goal is to teach them to refer to and trust their own mental
image of the sound instead of what they hear played or someone else
singing. Once they begin to make this shift, they will begin to gain
independence. One more idea: Play two notes together on the piano, ask
them to sing first the upper, then the lower. Later, play three notes, and
ask for one at a time. Start by asking the group to sing, then, as they
gain confidence, ask for solo volunteers.
How about quodlibets or partner songs? Some of the Natalie Sleeth songs
and others that combine several melodic ideas? Other polyphonic type
pieces? How about singing text or "ah" on their part, while other parts
"oo" or hum? Can they sing song while you play other "stuff" on the

Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 15:38:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: "Fixed-Do"/"Movable-Do"

I read with much interest your compilation of responses. However none of the
respondents mentioned one very important factor.

I was educated in Europe. In all Romance languages (Italian, French,
Romanian, Spanish, Portuguese) the only set of names for notes is the
SYLLABIC one: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do. These are associated always
with fixed pitches. For sharps and flats we use "diez" and "bemol" (for
example "fa diez" for "f sharp" and "la bemol" for "a flat"). Please do not
forget that in those languages, and possibly in others, there is NO

The ALPHABETIC notational system (c, d, e, f, g, a, b or h in German) belongs
only to the Anglo-German languages. Therefore it is easier for these people
to dissociate the syllabic system from representing exact pitches, and use it
as a matrix for teaching functionality, since they have already an
alphabetical system that takes care of the pitch relation.

As a consequence, when I moved to the U.S. I had no idea what movable do
meant and what is the reason behind it. To me it just seemed designed for
slow thinkers, to be nice. However, after reading the testimonies of so many
people praising it, I'm starting to understand its (limited) value.

So to me, in the case of movable do, using syllables as generic names serves
only the purpose of teaching functionality, in the same time engaging less
brain cells in the process.

But does it represent a real simplification or does it create more confusion
when we need to refer to exact pitches? For example: in "E major" would you
say that "g sharp" is a "mi"? Maybe thas sounds good in English or German.
How about in other languages? Let's put it like this: tell a student that in
"Mi major" the note "sol diez" is in fact a "mi". How does that sound???
Extremely confusing to me. It's like saying that "g sharp" is in fact an "e".
You can say that in "Mi major" "sol diez" has the same function as "mi" in
the key of "Do major". That is acceptable.

What happens when you have to associate notes and functionality with specific
places on the keyboard or finger position on a string or wind instrument?
Does the movable do system become relevant or confusing then?

I thought I would bring my two cents to the table.

Gabriel Dumitrescu
"Musica Romanica" - Your exclusive source for Romanian choral music and
P.O. Box 27830
Seattle WA 98125-2830
(206) 364-4225
Fax: (206) 364-4569
Order line: 1-800-622-6438 (U.S. only) Ask for free catalog and sampler tape!

Date: Sat, 11 Oct 1997 12:42:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Fwd: Reasons

Some people -- I included -- learned to read music without using ANY solfege
system. I am an extremely facile sight-reader -- on piano, as a singer, as a
conductor, etc. The issue is not a question of the top 20% or so of persons
with high music aptitude who learn to read music well and without solfege or
other visual aids. The issue is the other 80% of the population who have
average musical aptitude (some higher, some lower, etc) and who are young
children sitting in classrooms of 20 or so -- hence with little or no
opportunity for individualized instruction. For them, since music is a
language and is learned the same way (in terms of brain function), they need
an oral/spoken language that is exclusively music-speak. Hence, solfege.

Fixed DO operates on the premise of developing concrete aural associations
for each of the pitches in the Western 12-tone scale system. It does not
address any other issue -- such as tonal hierarchy and harmonic function. It
is strictly designed or intended to aid the learner in developing memory for
individual pitches.

Movable DO is not intended to develop concrete aural associations with the 12
tones of the Western scale. Movable DO teaches tonal FUNCTION and hierarchy
in the major-minor tonal system. As such, it is useful for teaching young
children melodic and harmonic skills fairly quickly and requiring they learn
ONE set of syllables rather than 12 sets.

So, as a music teacher, one must decide one's personal philosophy. Since
most music educators in this country see children for a total of 32 hours PER
YEAR -- which is VERY LITTLE time -- it makes more sense to use movable DO if
you are interested in raising musicians that have harmonic and tonal syntax

Glenda Cosenza
Univ. of Vermont
on October 21, 2002 10:00pm
I have always done sight reading on numbers rather than solfege because I want them to understand the relationship between raised and lowered intervals. Plus, solfege is only used by vocalists and not by other musicians. When we sing a major scale we sing 12345678, and when we sing harmonic minor we sing 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7-8. HOWEVER, I run into the problem of explaining it. For example, Am has no flats and a #7. ("But isn't a #7 really a 1?) If you have a suggestion, please email me.
on October 30, 2002 10:00pm
In Asia, do is used to describe tonality as it is in Romance language countries. I often find myself explaining movable do to my students and do it by having them sing "happy birthday" in different keys, then singing 'do'. Or playing an f#major scale then a c# major scale. They find it hard to switch languages but understand the concept.
Also, the number system is used for notating a lot of Chinese songs with a series of dots and dashes above and below the number to indicate time. When do you use a #7?
on May 18, 2005 10:00pm
I understand this thread is nearly 3 years old but I'll reply anyway. In the movable do concept, we would use 'la minor'. e.g. A minor scale, A is the 'la' or '6' so we end up with a natural minor (no pun intended) - 67123456. Hence should you wish to include the G# in your A minor scale using numbers, you can try starting 6712345#6.

Albert Tay
Conductor, Singapore