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Sight Singing and Audiation

Currently, I am working with our Chorus on sight singing melodies that involve skips between the pitches of the tonic triad. Some of our students have a difficult time being able to sing these skips because they are having a hard time finding the second pitch; for example, they might have do but cannot find sol. I am trying to find ways to help them better think / hear in their head the pitch before they sing. I have them echo pitch patterns I sing to get them used to hearing what the intervals sounds like. I also have them sing a major scale in two groups ... one group sings do, mi, sol, ti, and do while the other re, fa, and la so that way each group can get accustomed to hearing but not singing certain pitches. I have also done it where no-one sings re, fa, and la, just singing the skips. Today, I had them sing do, and then think re, mi, fa, sol, and then sing sol as a way to help them think of how to get there. This seemed to work. I am just wondering as I am only a second year teacher, are there any better ways to help students start to hear these intervals? I know there are songs for interval recognition out there such as thinking do to sol as the "Star Wars" melody, but does anyone have other exercises or methods that work? 
Thank you for your help!
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on January 8, 2016 3:26am
How old are your singers?
on January 8, 2016 7:53am
I teach young men in Grades 7 to 12
on January 8, 2016 4:39am
 The use of "first notes of familiar songs" always seems to go in and out of fashion, but I am a strong sight reader and after about 60 years of singing in choirs, I use it myself when I'm looking for an interval while singing complex harmony
Have you tried having them sing "do-re" audibly, then sing "mi" silently inside their heads, then, at your cue, singing "fa"? Doing this as a group, your strugglers can be a little more supported but still gain a sense of what you want them to do, and also can provide a sense that "something happens" between the interval names.
Kids with limited experience in singing may be unclear on what they should be doing when matching pitch.
If you aren't doing so, show your group an old-fashioned tuning fork, (A440 is fine), play the A several times, then go on to something else.
After several minutes, pick up the tuning fork, hold it where they can see it, but DON'T play it, and just ask them to sing the sound it makes as they remember it. On the first try, many will be far off the mark, but encourage them to "come together" and make one sound in unison as they remember the pitch of the tuning fork.
After they have sustained one pitch, silence them and strike the tuning fork loudly enough so that they all can hear it. Ask them to sing that sound all together so that you are hearing ONLY ONE SOUND. 
Repeat this process as part of your warm up routine at every rehearsal. Most groups are "finding A" after a few weeks. This technique is helpful for teaching inexperienced singers the idea of listen-replicate-recall, very helpful as a preliminary sight reading skill.
These 2 ideas are both Kodaly based. MANY other Kodaly techniques may be adapted for use with singers of all ages.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on February 18, 2016 2:10pm
I have also used the first technique described in the above message to teach a melodic pattern that moves in one linear direction but has a few skips in it. We sing the scale, and then one at a time I remove the notes that aren't part of the melody, and ask my choristers to clap in place of the missing note. This is with children who are a bit younger than the ones you are working with (grades 3 - 7) but I think it would work just as well with the older group.
on January 8, 2016 4:52am
James - Congratulations!  Your use of solfege assures me you are an educator rather than an entertainer.  I have no statistics, but from what I hear in retirement, too many choir directors focus more on being a friend rather than challenging students to read music.  "This seemed to work."  Your self-evaluation is positive and I'm not surprised.  For a suggestion, consider using patriotic songs, pop tunes or hymns for further sight-singing challenge.  I created lessons in Finale with that goal in mind.  America, National Anthem and Mine Eyes have appropriate solfege challenges on a familiar tune.  Ode To Joy would be a good hymn tune with good step and skip challenges.  For fun, on days announced as so-and-so's birthday, my choir would sing Happy Birthday first on solfege followed by a repeat with words and the students name.  My introduction lessons on a hymn included solfege (DRMF) under each note.  Next lesson - every other note coupled with the solfege crutch written below.  Next - only the first note of each measure with solfege hint included.  Eventually, the choir sang any part with no solfege markings.  Again, what you are already doing is impressive.  We need more young choral educators like you in the classroom.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 8, 2016 11:35am
Hi James,
I asked my students today how they would respond to your question. Here are some of their responses:
1. "The Orange Sheet" - I give them a sheet with ascending and descending intervals written out. We sing "do, re, ma-jor se-cond; do, mi, ma-jor third; etc"
2. "The Interval Song" - (warning: obnoxious ear worm, but it works!)
3. Hand signs (some kids specifically mentioned reading from hand signs, and singing in two parts from hand signs
4. Establishing tonality (DMSMDS,D)
5. Thinking up the scale
6. Song examples (twinkle, etc)
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on January 8, 2016 1:20pm
Hi James,
Teaching this subject to true beginners is not easy!  I teach middle school beginners, and I failed for years.  I was so bad at teaching the subject that every time I'd say, "Pull out the sight singing book", the kids would moan.  They would try their best, but I couldn't seem to get the ideas across to them effectively.  After lots of failure over the years, I figured out some stuff that works well for middle school.  I call it "S-Cubed:  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Beginners", and I put it all together during 2013-2014 school year, and began sharing it with teachers.  It's aimed at the people most of us teach:  the true beginner.  It's aimed at exciting those children about sight singing and filling their toolboxes with the tools they need to be successful readers.   I include teaching examples of me actually teaching it to my students, and video teaching tips for each lesson.  It's sort of a solfege-based "21st Century" sight singing book.   It's as much a philosophy as it is a method because I wanted to have fun while I taught this challenging subject to my own students.  
Here are some links if you want to learn more about it:
My YouTube Channel with teaching examples and teaching tips:
My blog:
There are more links within those links!  I hope it gives you some ideas.
Dale Duncan
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on January 9, 2016 4:45am
I like to consider the way we learn our native language. We are exposed to tons of vocabulary well before we try to read any of it. When we start to read, all we have to do is marry our knowledge of the language to the way it is  represented in writing. We need to consider that with music reading, as well. Let your students do tons of warm-ups involving tonic skips. When you are confident that they have acquired those intervals as part of their "musical vocabulary," then have them read it. We tend to teach music reading more like we teach second languages, where acquisition of vocabulary and reading are learned concurrently. I believe this is inefficient. 
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