If you’ve been following Ear Training HQ for a while you’ll know that I use a lot of listening exercises for ear training. There’s good reason for this: they allow you to listen repeatedly to individual sounds so you can learn them, then combine those sounds together so you can practice recognising them. As you progress, the listening exercises start to resemble pieces of music until you reach a point where you can recognise the notes and chords in music itself.
But training your ears is just like training anything else. If you’re trying to train your body you’ll get better results if you do both cardio and resistance training. And when you’re training your ears you’ll get the greatest benefits if you combine listening exercises with something else.
And sight singing is the perfect technique to use alongside those listening exercises. It works in the opposite direction to listening exercises. In a listening exercise you’ll hear a note and try to recognise it. When sight singing you’ll see a note written, try to hear it internally and then sing it accurately and confidently.
Here are 5 tips that will help you to approach sight singing in the best way possible.
1. Sing in scale degrees
This first tip is perhaps the most important for anyone new to ear training. I strongly recommend that you use a tonality based approach to ear training, using either scale degrees or solfege to recognise (or in this case sing) each note.
When I first started with sight singing I tried using intervals to sing each note. As with all interval based ear training, it didn’t help me a whole lot.
So unless you’ve already mastered tonality based ear training and you’re onto advanced material, make sure you know the scale degree (or solfege syllable) of each note first and use that to sing the note. If you’re not sure what the scale degrees of the notes are in the passage you’re trying to sing, the first step is to work them out. I recommend writing the scale degree above/below each note in the passage.
2. Take the rhythm out
The rhythm of a passage makes it more difficult to accurately sing each note, simply because it’s another thing you have to deal with. So start by trying to sing the passage without any rhythm. Sing and hold each note for a couple of seconds. Try to work out whether you’ve sung it correctly. If you’re unsure, you can use an instrument to check. But try to work towards a point where you can sing slowly and without rhythm and confidently know that you’ve sung each note correctly.
3. Use a metronome
When you can sing each note in the passage slowly, and you know you’ve sung each note correctly, start using a metronome – still without the rhythm. Hold each note for a quarter note (or a half note to begin) and start at a slow tempo.
As you develop more confidence, start to slowly bump the tempo up.
You might start to develop a love hate relationship with the metronome (I know I have). It’s so beneficial to be able to see when you’re pausing, even just a little bit, but it can be frustrating at the same time. Try not to blame the metronome though and keep working at it!
4. Reintroduce the rhythm
Now that you can confidently sing the passage without rhythm, bring it back. Start slowly and without a metronome, and try to get the gist of the rhythm. Then as you get better, bring the metronome back and try to get it perfectly.
5. Practice multiple passages in a single session
As you’ll soon find out, the problem that you’ll run into is that you’ll learn how the passage goes pretty quickly. There are only so many times that you can sing/hear the passage before you know exactly how it goes. When this happens you’ll be singing it correctly because you know the passage, not because you’re sight singing it correctly.
To minimise this, work on a single passage for just a few minutes. As you start remembering how it goes, move onto another one. I think having about 5 to work on in a single session is good.
When you’ve memorised how one goes, substitute a new one in for it.
And revise back over old ones occasionally. You may have forgotten how they go which makes them a great sight singing exercise again, and even if you still remember, it acts as good revision!
So that does it! I hope these 5 tips help you to have more success with sight singing!
Would you like to know how to train your ears as quickly and easily as possible? Find out in our free lesson series: Ear Training Made Easy
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