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Transition from sight-reading exercises to real music

Thank you to all the listers who offered your advice and suggestions. I was
overwhelmed by your quick and helpful responses! Here is a compilation of
your responses regarding how to move from sight-singing exercises to the
actual score.

Lori Smits
Choral/General Music
Parker Junior High School
Flossmoor, IL

You did what I have done with great success for many years-result- a fine
reading choir. I do warm-ups with lots of solfege built in.. I also
reinforce with Kodaly hand signs. Everything we read is extracted from
music being studied. In my training/feeding choir I will put 4 bars or more
if appropriate on the board and lead them to a successful reading with pitch
not rhythm (I can them direct the movement of steps or skips at the rate I
think they will find them) We add rhythm me pointing and then read again
without any aid from me then we go to the music I tell them the page and let
them find the part and again read it out of the score on syllables We then
may or may not insert text depending on if I'm in for the long haul with
syllables on that piece. Your tenacity will do it. Read John Bertalot's
book The Five Successful Wheels to Sight reading -very good at taking you
through the process of asking leading questions and reinforcing from the
known to the unknown. My kids are accepting of the process and proud of
their accomplishments; my advanced choir asks to read on syllables for the
tonal anchor it provided them. Keep at it works and saves so much time in
the long run.
I start with a warm-up--write on the board the scale in the key of the piece
we are reading. I point to pitches, orienting them to the key and they sing
them back. I then point to sequences of pitches that represent phrases in
the piece. Then I sing a section's part to them with syllables and have
them sing it back to me. After that we go to the music and they see notated
phrases that they recognize and are able to sing them with syllables.

Be patient--it takes time. Over the next few years the students who have
been in your choir the longest will take the lead and others will catch on.
A few things: First, help them recognize interval patterns that are the same
in their exercises and the scores. Second, how about having them write in
the solfege for their vocal line of the music. If it's a psychological thing
(which is real for J.H./H.S kids, no matter how wierd to us!) try giving
them an satb (or any combo you want) score w/no words, just notes. Practice
sight singing each line (in unison) then two part, three, etc. Hope this
helps. For other info, check out Eric Bluestein's How Children Learn Music
by GIA Publications.
Check out 5 Wheels to Sight Singing by John Bertalot.
Now, my HS Choirs learn all of the music on syllables-rhythm and solfege.
First I teach them, by rote, various solfege patterns, intervals(as
suggested by Edwin Gordon and James Jordan). I then have them write the
solfege in their scores. If the music is not too syncopated, they will
chant the rhythm of the music using some sort of counting system and then
chant the tonal syllables in rhythm. Next I'll play through their parts as
they follow along and sing "in their heads" Then we are on our way-its not
easy, and is time consuming. You do have to know when to back off and do
some things by rote, or the kids will go out of their minds. However, by
years end, they are much better readers and there is pretty good carry over
from year to year. I think Jr High kids will respond quickly if its done the
right way. My Freshman struggle so I dont push it on them too quickly, but
but 10th grade, they know that is the way it is going to be done almost

You can check out some of this method by reading James Jordan's Choral
Intonation text published by GIA. I have described some of it above-some of
it I have adapted to my own system, but its a good place to start. I've
rambled on too much. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.
Good luck!
One advantage of Kodaly and Kodaly materials (among MANY
advantages!) is that his "exercises" come from real music, not just
made-up theory teacher exercises. You're on the right track to make
exercises out of music they will be learning. Now, try to figure out how to
make it into a game--a challenge. Who's the first one who can tell me what
this passage is?

Something else just occurred to me. When you move to the music, do you have
them continue to solfege it or do you immediately go to the words. Before
they can make the connection you're looking for, they have to be able to
solfege their music and their parts.
It may be a visual thing. The score looks different from the exercises
because of accompaniment, other part staves and texts, dynamic markings,etc.
At this point in their development, they must learn to visually isolate
their part. Highlighters? Pencil underlining? Maybe even a 4x6 notecard
with a cutout which allows one line of music to show through. Are you
having them sing on text? If so, maybe solfege or "da" would be better to
start with. Best of luck.
Try having the choir learn their music singing sol-feg. You don't have to
teach the whole song this way, but even if you just start out with teaching
a few sections from each song via sol-feg this might help them make the
Hopefully this will help: In my experience, one of the issues is that some
teachers "seperate" the sight reading and the actual literature. Don't! If
you have them write in solfege syllables for sight reading, have them do it
in the literature (if you don't want to have to erase it all, keep the
originals and make the same number of photocopies (which is legal as long as
you only use as many copies as you purchased.) If you use numbers, have them
use numbers; there shouldn't be any differeance between the way you treat
the sight reading and the literature...

Hope this helps; my appologies if this is a little too simplistic, but I
know this is a mistake many make...
I'm in my second year teaching at high school - The students I had were
decent readers, but I wanted to up their skills a bit - I, too, often pull
out sections of their music and turn it into sight singing exercises, but I
find that the problem is reading the full score and knowing exactly which
lines to read. Often, my students are confused if the stems of notes point
down (as the exercises are usually written in such a way that the stems are
ALWAYS up for soprano, or ALWAYS down for alto). Also, if both soprano and
alto (or tenor and bass) are written on the same staff, it can be confusing
because students are seeing two notes on "their" line and don't know which
one to sing. I often have students "connect the notes" with a line (like
connect the dots) so they can easily see which notes are theirs. Most of
the time, I find that when confronted with a score with 5 staffs (S A T B
plus piano) they just get lost on the page turns, so I make sure they mark
their line with an arrow or a star.

Another thing that has worked is to put a page of music they are singing on
an overhead and highlight/color code specific parts - That way, all students
are looking at the same thing, and you can point to specific spots and be
more confident that students are with you.

These are just basic ideas, but they can pay off in the long run - I'm glad
you're going after the sight-singing - It's such a great skill to have!

I didn't learn to sight read until I was out of college, and was made
to feel like a musical slouch as a result. I learned everything by
ear (thankfully I had a good ear) until I sang with a conductor who
gave us so much music to rehearse that I had to learn. (But guess who
learned the music faster, with better retention?)

I knew the notes on the scale (treble clef only!), the difference
between 3/4 and 4/4 time (but not 3/2 or 9/8), what sharps and flats were
(but not key signatures), the value of each note (but not how to sing a
duple or triplet, or the value of a tied note).

Eventually, I think that my sight reading developed more quickly
because I my ear reinforced what my eyes saw. I knew how something was
supposed to sound, and I could translate that to the little black dots on
the page. Learning in the other direction was torture for me. It's like a
foreign language; you are more likely to quickly pick up conversation than
create conversation from using the formal rules.

So, I guess this is a long way of saying maybe the kids would respond to
listening to music first, with scores in hand, and painstakingly connecting
what they hear with what is on the page. This is probably NOT the approved
way of teaching music, but wouldn't you rather have them learn than not?
Use the same techniques and approach as the sight singing exercise, you may
even want to reproduce that small section (careful here!) and get them to
write those techniques on their scores. For sure, have them write in some
solfeg initials on their score until they are comfortable with that
approach. Go slowly, don't expect miracles and be patient---it will take
months . . . who knows? Don't give up and stick to your guns smiling and
singing! You can even work in all sorts of games and rewards; you know they
love to compete with each other by section or perhaps, at that age, by
Check some of Sally Herman's material along with Steve Demorest and Randy
Pagel+Linda Spevacek---all have excellent texts that work and are written
from the perspective of the classroom teacher.
Be sure to have your singers read through a piece on a neutral syllable.
Text is often a stumbling block to good reading.
Have you tried having them solfege from the score directly? Another problem
you may be having is that the exercises are probably printed on one line
whereas scores can have several plus piano parts, etc. I would ween them
from the exercise format with actual scores, but have them solfege the
score. Get them used to see the music more in context. Good luck!
This isn't much, but I've had some fun with it from time to time. In order
for them to start making the leap from exercise to the "real music" I
started with teaching them the music for the concert. Then, after they
knew it, I presented it as a sight-reading exercise. If I am lucky, about
halfway through the exercise there will be someone who says, "We know this!
This is from ...." At which point I get a look of mock shock on my face a
pretend that I was trying to hide that fact from them and how dare they
realize it
so fast. Several of my students then start looking for "real" music hidden
in my sight-reading exercises. I have also been successful by writing a
well known tune on the board or just the solfeg for the tune and then
offering a Hershey's Kiss for whoever guesses the tune first. Good Luck!
After they sight read the selection from the piece, always have them find
that phrase in the music. After that, sing the phrase in solfege while
looking at the score, then with the words.
I think it's something about adding the words that confuses the mind.
Untrained singers tend to read words, not music when looking at an octavo.

Also, having them read in their minds(internalizing) helps tremendously.
you can do this while practicing choral music , too. Take 4 phrases out of
an octavo they are famliar with, and have them sing the first phrase
outloud, the second in their head, and so on. You will find that the more
they internalize the music, the better their reading will be.
Funny you should ask...I had a discussion about this last night so forgive
the oratorio on sightsinging. But, for me, I am very passionate about kids
learning to read music.

One of the things that is happening is that they are becoming overwhelmed
with too many little black dots and so they aren't realizing the context.
That's the easy answer. The other is based on two factors. One, it's
assumed that you are doing more than unison music. Two, it is assumed that
you are using moveable "do" with a "la" based minor. If this is the case
you should incorporate 2-part melody/harmony into the sight-singing lesson
(this helps them get used to more than one staff, and more than one
part). Or, you can have one voice drone on the tonic or ostinato to the
fifth, while the rest follow you, or sing whatever they're practicing.

With my groups (the little ones included) I will choose an exercise
and everyone will sing it once through to familiarize themselves. Then, I
have groups or individuals sing alone for testing. This is helpful for
curriculum and confidence and your piece of mind that they are learning.
It is only effective if the group is expected to help the student imediately
should he/she falter during the mandatory solo by being prepared to come in
and assist (it also means they have to follow along silently together).
I choose students randomly so they never know who will be chosen and I do
it at every practice of sightsinging. Below is my rubric for improving

When doing warm-up exercises, or a read through of any new piece it is
useful to establish tonality. For major I use
do-mi-sol-mi-fa-la-do-la-sol-ti-re-ti-do-sol-mi-do or for minor
la-do-mi-do-re-fa-la-fa-mi-si-ti-si-la-mi-do-la. For practicing, I find
that having a board with staff and a major or minor scale (in whatever
key you want to work on) is helpful so they can first identify the key and
tonality. Then I have them establish tonality and next you can point to each

note you want them to sing and in whatever rhythm you prefer. For example if
you choose G as the key sig. and you write the scale on E with a D#, then
you are rehearsing E minor and would establish minor tonality accordingly.
This will help students also establish relative M/m relationships.
When looking at any new music, I follow the same rubric and offer the
advice that generally, one can find the tonality in the last chord of the
piece (at least in non 20th century music). I also rehearse the key of the
new music on the board to reinforce the concept.

The other piece of advice is that whenever you present, point or read
through anything you give them a reference point. I typically will tell
kids to put a square around "do" and circle "sol" or as I commonly refer
to your do and circle your sol. This little roadmap is invaluable
and in the above rubric, I make it available so they get into the habit of
always using it.

So, for example: you have a 16 measure unison sightsinging example. I have
students identify the key and tonality, box and circle do and sol. We
establish the tonality by singing the do-mi-sol...or la-do-mi scale. Next,
I have students sing it once through without stopping in an even tempo
or the tempo marked and with any dynamic or phrase markings. Then while in
rhythm from the first read through, without stopping I would have Mr. Jones,
Ms. Smith, Mr. King and Ms. Hawkins sing a phrase (completing the 16 bars
twice). If one of them fails at any point during their phrase, the group
has to come in immediately to help them only until they got back on track
and then drop out and continue following along. I have the choir
read through the piece again, when all four singers have completed their
phrases in succession and still without stopping.

So, I have digressed, but the concept for me builds great teamwork and
forces kids to work together and focus. By letting the group know that
they are expected to help (and have consequences ready if they don't) they
will be quick not to want to be left exposed when its their turn to sing
alone. This also lets you monitor their progress very easily.