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General sight-reading suggestions

Dear Listers

Many of you have been waiting with baited breath on this compilation! These
are all of the responses I received. Thanks for being patient with this
first-year teacher who's still sitting with a laptop on the floor in a big
empty house waiting for the movers to show up.

What I have done since I posted my inquiries: I intended to use solfege
from day one, and have done just that every day, and have stuck to my guns
despite the pitch-matching issues.

If I may share an anecdote on my pitch-matching problem that many may find

Before I had a chance to review any replies to that particular issue, I made
some observations and concluded that it was a combination of social
intimidation and an overall frigid atmosphere in the room that was
contributing to the problem. More out of desperation and frustration than
brilliance, I introduced the concept of sirens, and WOW! Where I expected a
complete rebellion, I experienced an almost immediate thaw in the room and
some of my shiest students opened up right away. It was fun. It gave them
a chance to blow off a little steam. It was a big silly noise that they
could make without fear of judgment. A couple students even asked if they
could keep doing them! We have been using "Silent Night" as our practice
tune, and where it was almost 12-tone on the first day, many parts of it
became beautifully in tune and other parts were, at the worst, addressable.
The solfege scale became an instant piece of cake, and we can now work on
the sight-reading and ear-training exercises that I create for them without
worry. The fog has lifted; I can now implement more structured techniques
and feel confident that my students will benefit.

So in combination with the other pitch-matching solutions that I am
presently reviewing, allow me to offer one of my own: sirens. In my class,
it liberated the voices and the social awkwardness completely evaporated.
AND the group's pitch-matching skills improved dramatically.

End of digression. You may now proceed to the sight-reading compilation.

Many thanks!
Dan McGarvey

Responses follow:

Contact John Armstrong at SamBud575(a) His Music Literacy is
managable and he offers support and guidance through networking. Do it
with your 6th grade as well. John uses moveable do, Handsigns and solfege
which are very effective and reasonable for you and the students.
Enthusiasm and committment are the only requirments.

Solfege! Solfege!! Solfege!!!

Moveable DO. Have them write it into the score. They will be reading
within 3 weeks.

I hope you 'll get a chance to review the various ChoralNet resources
on this topic: > Rehearsal > Sight-reading and sight-singing

I just started using Anna Hamre's 'High School Sight Singer' program,
the Masterworks series that you can reproduce. Have only used it for a
week or so, and they are independently reading two part harmony
already. I teach choirs from beginning 6th grade up to high school
chamber, and it is great for everyonea good quick review for those
who already read.

My students weren't stellar as it relates to sightsinging, either, and I
can't say that they're terrific now. But, they're improving as I begin my
third year in this district. What I've done is use two different approaches
religiously. The first is Ed Gordon's Music Learning Theory and the
accompanying learning sequences, etc. By singing patterns to them each day,
the students are learning to listen far better than ever before. Then, as
they progress, I'm able to introduce sightsinging, using one of the series
from Masterworks Press. My advanced groups advance further, as would be
expected, than my lower ensembles, but everyone actually started at the same
place one year ago (my first year here, I was trying to find my feet-we
did sightsinging, but not religiously).

I do those combinations 5-10 minutes everyday. The result is that we
actually learn music much more quickly, even on the lower levels. On
occasion, we learn an entire song from scratch without the use of any
instrument. Students really get jazzed when they pull that off! The bottom
line is that the 5-10 minutes/day pays off in dividends many times over.

For years I learned by ear and couldn't read music to save my soul, but when
got the sound of a piece in my head, I was able to follow the score.
I picked up the "vocabulary" of the score and sight-reading got easier. It
also helped that I had a conductor whose pace was to say the least
However, in this community chorus no one was ever put on the spot to
so it was "safe" to experiment with sight-reading.

Some other tricks I've learned (I'm a singer, not a teacher or conductor)
scan the piece to see what key it's in, the meter, the tempo. Scan the

But give the kids a break let them hear a piece first. It won't cripple
their learning style (I'm sure some purists would consider this "cheating");
will increase their self-confidence to have that much help. Let them sing
along with a recording. Get them singing, enjoying it, feeling like "YES! I
can do this!" rather than beating the strict fundamentals of music theory
their heads.

Something just occurred to me. In rural West Virginia you might strike a
resonant chord (sorry, couldn't resist) with Sacred Harp music, folk songs,
spirituals. I'm thinking Appalachia. Even if these kids lack formal music
training, I bet they have good ears, and you'll be surprised by how much
they have in their souls.

I was in your situation last year. I used the solfedge method in
conjunction with the "Essential Musicianship" book. It is an OK book, but I
know that there are better ones out there. The biggest thing is to
sightsing a little bit each day or a least once a week. I began my group on
unison and quickly moved to two part. By November they were singing four
part sightsinging examples. We would also use solfedge in out warm ups so
they get use to singing the syllables. It seemed to work well, we earned a
Superior rating at our District Festival last year. And more importantly,
this year the returning students have a solid foundation and are miles ahead
of where they were last year at this time.

Good Luck in building a strong choral program. I have seen some wonderful
musical choral programs in very small very rural places. Have patience, it
takes time. I think many of us have been in your position and in some ways
we start the process each year when a new batch of freshman enter our rooms.
So... I would recommend incorporating some of the following to begin a
reading program:

Use solfege syllables in warmups-it begins to build a tonal vocabulary for
them to utilize.
I tend to teach almost all exercises this way it gives them a hook to learn
them then you can move to the vowel or the real concept that is the focus of
the vocalise.

Use the Kodaly hand-signals with your solfege. Even if they do not use them
at first at first it gives them a visual to reinforce the aural experience.

MAny of the vocalises mI may do are meant to teach a reading concept (any
skip eg Do-Me Re-Fa Me-Sol Fa-La Sol-Ti La-Do Ti- Re Do and reverse Do-La
Ti-Sol etc.)

Be judicious in your selection of music. Make sure there are readable
passages in the music you chose for them to utilize what you have taught
them in warm-ups. Music of all genres are accessible. I look for scale
passages, parts that peal off of other parts. and independent melodies that
can combine almost like a partner song. I keep repertoire lists if they
would be helpful I will send them to you.

I do sightreading passages from the music on the blackboard so I can see all
their eyes to know they are with me. If they are a good class by the last
concert I am allowing them to read some passages from the music. Whatever I
have extracted from the music to read we move immediately to in the music so
they can see reading have an immediate purpose this is crucial to your
program and their confidence in you. Many utilize precribed programs for
reading their are a couple that are very good: 90 Days to sightreading
success by Stan Mcgill and H, Morris Stevens and SIng at First Sight by Andy
Beck Surmani and Lewis. My favorite book about teaching sightreading is the
5 Wheels to Successful Sighreading by John Bertalot or anything else he has


I use The Jenson Sight Singing Course. Hal Leonard. I cover about 10
exercises a week. In 36 weeks I'm through Volume I. The teacher's manual
is exceptional as well. Each year I start over and do it again. My high
school is 9-12. Many of my students will go through the book 3-4 times
in a career. I just had an alumnus tell me that she hated the exercises
but excelled at her recent audition at KU because of the time in class
spent on sight singing.

A friend of mine gave me an idea that is working well. I started with the
basic C scale. They made note cards to learn the note names. After that, I
started writing simple melodies using those notes on the board and then
having the sight read it on the note name. You may also have to do a small
break down on rhythm. Once they get better at the note name reading, you can
add the number system or any other method you want. I found this helpful
because they are also learning to read music in the process.

Teach them solfege (with the hand gestures), and as soon as they have
it, have them apply it to music they are learning. Even if they only learn
one page of the piece using this method, they will have a sense of
accomplishment. Practice the solfege every day for a few minutes. Insist
on the hand
gestures. An added benefit of this practice is improved intonation and
sense of
tonal center. Good luck.

It's a hell of a lot of labor, but with the various amateur (church and
synagogue) and school choirs (urban community college) I direct , I create
solfeggio editions of all the rep they're going to perform in Finale and
hand those out first. (I use DO- or LA- based minor depending on the context
of the piece, but I always use moveable DO with all chromatic syllables.)
Sometimes I also write out rhythm counts as well above each line. Then, once
they can do a piece on syllables well, I hand out the version with text. It
will take a long time, but, eventually, along with continual instruction in
notation, they will learn to read to some degree.

I use moveable DO and have never found a sight singing method/series I
really like. I am using Melodia and the Oxford Folk Songs. I teach rhythms
through self designed worksheets, starting with "ta titi" and transfering to

In Texas many of use a sight-singing series by Patti
DeWitt. She has a web site at Patti She
has daily exercises of a few measures in various
voicings that are progressive. Another popular one is
"Patterns of Sound".
In the beginning, I find letting them write solfege as
they identify it is helpful.
6th grade honor choir....
I have a friend who always says use an "Alleluia"
piece every year. A good one is "Alleluia Canon" by
Mozart/Moore. I also love "Personent Hodie" by Brad
Printz. "Who can sail" by Julseth is beautiful and
"Two Roses" by Bartok is great.

We do 10-13 minutes of sight-singing drill at EVERY rehearsal (the
number of times we omit this in a year can be counted on one hand). The
drill is firmly structure for maximum learning in minimal time. First, we
use numbers rather than Do-RE-Mi, but either way is fine. Movable DO, tonic
sol-fa. We have just 2 rehearsal per week, so numbers give a quicker
reference to the size of the interval.
At an early time, they are taught the basics of using the Key Sig to
figure out the Key Note. I put a scale on the board (it's a treble choir,
so all in Treble clef) from low A to high C. Two of them, selected at
random, go to the board and write the 1's and 5's of the scale where they
belong. We do a "point and sing" drill. I point at the note, they sing it.
Mostly scalewise, but working into interval jumps too, but gradual steps.
Then also on the board is a short drill of a few measures length in 2 or
three parts. They write in all the scale numbers for this piece, and we sing
it in parts. The piece is "canonic" in that line one leads into line two,
and line two into line three, and line three back into line one, so that
every singier sings every part.
Over time, such drills as this have increased the group's reading skills
IMMENSELY. I would have to think out the necessary modifications for an
SATB group, where two clefs are involved, but that can be done.
The point is, whatever drill you devise, SIGHT-SINGING PRACTICE WORKS,
if you do it regularly.
As to 6th grade choir * if there are any boys in it at all, and if they have
had little or no elementrary music trainging in singing, they will be a mess
vocally, and other people will have to advise you on working with untrained
6th graders. There is such a mix of vocal issues, adolescent issues, peer
pressure, and whatnot, that it gets hard to sort it all out. Some of these
guys will still be trebles, others, in that never-neverland of the changing

Dan, I am a retired elem/M.S. choral teacher. My favorite Sight Reading
program was one that was used with overhead projecter. I 'think' the
name is something like Sight Singing for Teens. We projected the days
activities to the front of the classroom & incorporated S.R. everyday.
As they became more familiar with Sol-Feg we moved to Sight Reading
books & with the experienced classes I often used hymns & folks songs.
Projecting a song allowed me to use a pointer at times to be certain
that my kids knew exactly what we were talking about. (Can't always be
certain with Middle Schoolers, God love 'em!)

I just completed a workshop with elem teachers who wanted "choir" type
material for their 5th graders. The list would be most appropriate for
you to draw from for your sixth graders and even older beginning treble
voices. Send me your address & I will mail a copy to you. Good luck. The
young people are lucky to have a chance to sing & to learn to enjoy
vocal music.
on June 19, 2005 10:00pm
I'm interested in the "Sight Singing for Teens" book. You seemed unsure if that was the real title. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could find out the title/author and where to purchase it?

I teach 7th and 8th grade chorus and usually put together my own sight-reading materials from various sources (or myself!).

Any information you could provide on this book would be great.

Andrea Smith
on July 2, 2006 10:00pm
I encourage giving more time to claping or chanting of RYTHMIC exercises, when this is done it becomes much easier to teach the relation of the notes in stepwise and skipwise manner.
on January 7, 2007 10:00pm
I have to help teach a couple of new choir students how to sight read, but I only have 4 weeks. what materials should I use.
on November 5, 2007 10:00pm
I am very intrested in singing Soulfeggio, but unfortuneatly I can not find out where to recieve copies for my chourus. We are only a ten person choir so we need the best of the best. So if you know any way I can get a copy of this lovely masterpiece I will greatly appreaciate. Kissy Kissy Kisses! Ronnie Sny a choir teacher at Johnson High