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Sight Singing Help

I am mainly a violist but I have never been very good at sight singing, it kind of scares me. This problem does not really help me, seeing as teaching is in my future. Sight singing is something that needs to be covered but how can I help students with sight singing if I cannot necessarily sight sing myself? What are some things that can help me personally or even in a classroom in the future?
on April 20, 2015 10:04pm
Sight singing is all about context - knowing where you are in the scale and where you are in the beat. The two best tools I know of for this are solfege and rhythm syllables.
I find solfege (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la ti, do) to be better than numbers because 1) you don't have to deal with multiple syllables (sev-en) or diphthongs (five = fah-eeve) and 2) solfege handles accidentals much better than numbers. In solfege, when the pitch is raised a half-step the vowel sound changes to "ee" (spelled "-i"). Do becomes di, re becomes ri, etc. The ones which do not change are mi and ti because 1) they already use that vowel sound and (2) more importantly, if they are raised you are actually in a different key, so those pitches should really be using different solfege syllables. When the pitch is lowered a half-step the vowel changes to "eh" (spelled "-e"). The only exception to this is re which becomes ra ("rah"). So ascending, do-di-re-ri-mi-fa-fi-sol-si-la-li-ti-do. Descending, do-ti-te-la-le-sol-se-fa-fe-mi-me-re-RA-do.
I prefer to use a slight variation of what I normally see being used in terms of rhythm syllables. In simple meters the syllables (broken down to quarters of the beat) are 1 - e - & - uh, 2 - e - & - uh, etc. In compound meters I usually see/hear the syllables 1 - & - uh, 2 - & - uh. The problem I see with this is that the same syllables are being used for two different time lengths - the first a quarter of the beat, the second a third of the beat. I prefer to use the syllables 1 - la - le, 2 - la - le, using a very forward Italian flick of the tongue for the L, for the compound meters. I prefer these for two reasons: 1) the differing syllables sets very strongly in the mind the different feels of simple and compound, (the feel of simple being somewhat horizontal and that of compound being somewhat circular) and 2) many times in ensemble pieces, one group of singers or players will have a simple rhythm while another has a compound at the same time. If both groups are using the same syllables it becomes very easy for the rhythms to morph to the same rhythm.
The good news is that sight reading ability is a learned skill. You can become better with practice. To practice all this (and you're not going to get any better than by practicing), I would suggest you grab a hymnal - hymns generally have fairly limited pitch ranges and easy rhythms - and start sight reading. In the beginning of your practice, until your skills are developed, I suggest you separate the intervals from the rhythms. Read it through on intervals only, as close to each note receiving the same beat as possible. Then go back and speak the rhythm while keeping a pulse with your hand. You then may want to combine them. Keep in mind that you really can only sight read a piece once - after that it's rehearsal.
on April 21, 2015 6:06am
I created S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for exactly this purpose.  It's basically a 21st century teaching manual for how to teach this subject that includes video links to teaching tips for each lesson, video teaching examples of each lesson and all of the materials you need to be teach this subject to your students.  Lots of teachers are using it, and it seems to be helping them.  I am glad because I, myself, struggled a lot with the teaching of this subject.
Here are some links to more about the materials:
The Complete Bundle with all of the materials along with reviews:
The YouTube channel with the videos that accompany the materials:
My blog that is intended to help teachers with classroom management and more ideas to help in their classes:
Good luck!
Dale Duncan
Creator of S-Cubed
on April 21, 2015 7:54am
Hello Heather,
My book, You've Got Rhythm: Read Music Better by Feeling the Beat, co-written with pianist / educator Joan Harkness, may be helpful for you. We have had excellent results in rapidly and entertainingly improving rhythm reading skills in both children and adults with this method by feeling the meter with simple gestures while reading. And I've found that ease with -- and mastery of -- rhythm hugely improves sightsinging abilities in general and frees singers to focus on pitch most efficiently and effectively.
There's lots of information about the method at
best wishes and good luck,
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 23, 2015 4:20am
Hi Heather
Besides my studies i do some video production and tech support for a software called EarMaster. I believe that would help you in learning sight singing in an easy and efficient way.There is a lot of sight singing exercises, that starts off pretty easy, and then progresses in difficulty. you can get a free trial at  If you are interested you can see one of the videos i made in collaboration with EarMaster here: 
It is basically professional musicians, students, and professors who discuss the importance of ear training in a modern technological context. 
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