The task seems really daunting – being handed a sheet of notes on a paper and be expected to sing the corresponding notes and rhythms. When playing another instrument, such as a piano, it seems much simpler. Each note on the paper corresponds to a key on the instrument that you can physically strike. You don’t necessarily have to know what the note sounds like before you play it. This is the key difference between sight reading and sight singing. In order to sight sing, the singer must know which note to sing at the right time. A well-trained private voice teacher would definitely be able to help you with this.
What is sight singing?
Sight singing is the practice of being handed a sheet of music, and singing the exact melody in rhythm based on the written notes. Vocalists are expected to have this skill in many advanced choirs. Just as in orchestras where the musicians have the music in front of them, vocalists will have the music in front of them as well.
Solfege is one technique learned during private voice lessons used to teach sight singing and reinforce singers’ understanding of music theory. In solfege, we assign a syllable to each note in the scale. The seven syllables commonly used in the major scale are: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti. There are more advanced syllables used for minor scales and notes outside of the ones seen in the major scale. These syllables are commonly used to reinforce intervals.
An interval is defined as the distance between two notes. For example, the distance between the first two notes in a scale (do and re) are called a major 2nd. The distance between the first note of the scale (do) and the fifth note of the scale (sol) is called a perfect 5th. During private voice lessons, a student may sing different exercises to help reinforce the way these intervals sound.
Interval training is probably one of the most effective ways to practice sight singing. A student may listen to and then sing a series of intervals using solfege in order to reinforce the way an interval sounds. A major 6th will always sound like a major 6th no matter what two notes are being played. It is important to practice singing intervals both up and down, as music moves in both directions. After listening and repeating the important intervals so many times, it then becomes time to take interval training to paper.
At this point, a student may be confident in being able to hear a note and sing a given interval up or down from this note. Now, it’s time to work with these intervals on paper only. Now, instead of hearing the intervals and being told which interval to sing, the student must be able to look at two notes on paper, be able to tell what the interval is, and both notes in the correct interval. Don’t get discouraged! This takes practice, but it may not take as long as you think. Just as you begin to “memorize” the tonic space between two notes, you also begin to “memorize” the physical space on paper between two notes. Music has the tendency to repeat itself, and if you’ve seen a middle C on paper and a G above it enough times, you know you have a perfect 5th. When you realize you have this perfect 5th, you sing the corresponding interval and voila! You are now able to sight sing.
Practice Makes Better!
I always say better instead of perfect because I believe it’s way more accurate. Musical perfection is very difficult to reach, if not impossible, but it is proven that the more you practice, the better you get! Practicing interval training and sight singing for ten minutes a day will get you way ahead of the game and have you singing from paper in no time. A great teacher for your private voice lessons will help you practice exactly what you need to be practicing to be sight singing like a champ in no time.