Some people have the knack for reading music sheet, but others need to learn it by heart. To some singers, this skill may seem unimportant, but you surely need to learn this skill if you want to become a professional singer.
The ability to read sheet music is called “sight-singing.” This skill allows you to simply look at the music sheet and sing based on your study of music theory along with your aural memory of the musical intervals. I have known a lot of singers who could not read notes. But as a professional singer, you should know how to read the music sheet even if you don’t have a musical instrument at hand.
The Italian equivalent of sight reading is “prima vista” which means “at first sight.” Sight-reading or prima vista is the process of reading and at the same time performing at first glance a musical piece that is written in musical notation. Being able to sight read musical note leads to the development of the skill of being able to sight sing. The person who is capable of sight singing is called a sight singer or someone who is capable of sight singing a musical notation.
Sight reading is a prerequisite to sight-singing because if you are not used to sight reading, you can never do sight singing. Hence, before you can perform a vocal sight singing, you should be well-versed with the system of sight reading.
On the other hand, sight singing is useful in harnessing and enhancing your sight-reading skill. With constant practice in sight singing, you can polish your pitch accuracy and improve your rhythmical skill. Furthermore, if you want to improve your sight-reading skill, you should practice with different melodies wrought in different rhythmic variations and keys.
Sight Singing in Classical Music
Reading musical notes is a prerequisite for all classical musicians. Classical singers should learn sight reading and make it second nature to them to recite or sing those notes upon seeing those notes for the first time. However, those who were not classically trained sometimes must rely heavily on cues provided by instruments to figure out the exact notes and keys.
Three Factors to Consider
Singers who were trained to sight read usually take into consideration three important factors, namely:
It is fortunate, however, that singers do not have to read all lines at the same time, and they only need to read one line at a time. On the other hand, pianists and other instrumentalists usually must read several lines at the same time to be able to completely read the musical notation that they are going to perform. On the downside, however, singers must read both lyrics and notes at the same time as compared to instrumentalists who must only read notes. This apparent difficulty becomes too obvious whenever the lyrics are written in a foreign language.
Difficulties That Beginners Will Face In Learning Sight Singing
There are difficulties concomitant with sight-singing since more often, musicians must sing and play the rhythmic notations and pitches. This requirement becomes more difficult in the case of musicians who don’t have any frets, keys, or valves on their instruments to guide them in the process of getting the right pitches.
In other instances, the accompanying difficulty is inherent in the piece itself and the instruments being played. If you are sight singing using a polyphonic instrument, for example, like that of the classical guitar, you would find sight singing more challenging, considering that you must play both polyphonic and polyrhythms at the same time in various positions utilizing divergent frets.
Step-by-step Sight Singing Practice
Preparation Prior Singing
1) Orient Yourself
First, you should familiarize yourself with the key signatures. You should know at the onset which key you would be in. Would you be using minor key or major key? You should try to figure out too beforehand the number of beats in every measure and grasp the tempo of the musical notation.
Afterwards, you should take a holistic glance at the musical piece to see if there are surprises along the way. Check if there are mixed meter, tempo changes, and hidden high notes
3) Get Your Note
Third, you should figure out the first note with the help of the piano. The more you are cognizant of the different notes, the faster you can figure out the first note, and the quicker you can sight read musical notations.
At the onset, you must recall each note. Soon after, you will have the facility of reading various notes. Moreover, you will also get used to counting the spaces and the lines with ease. As you get used to reading music, you will become faster in sight reading, and the process will become smoother for you.
If you want to further improve your skill, you should practice regularly, and if possible via the help of a note recognition tool online. Looking at the Treble clef, you must recall the designated letters for each line. Furthermore, you can use mnemonics like “Every Good Boy Does Fine Always,” and for spaces, you can use the FACE. For the bass clef, however, you can use as a guide the “Good Boys Do Find Always,” and for spaces, you can use “All Cows Eat Grass.”
As You’re Singing
1) Learning the Solfège System
Once you become already cognizant of the key where you are in, you should likewise figure out where the movable “Do” is. You should likewise identify the “So.” Once you are able to identify these notes, identifying other notes would become easier. As you become very familiar with solfège, you will soon notice that you are becoming a better sight reader and an accurate one. Perfecting the Solfège or the ascending scales of notes would help you get the hung of sight singing. On the other hand, a small number of singers, however, prefer the usual numbered system of “12345671.
2) Ear Training Exercises
Ear training usually goes hand in hand with sight singing. At the onset, you must develop an inner hearing skill designed to enable you to immediately figure out the notes. It is like picturing the sounds of the notes even if you are not hearing them. As you begin to develop that inner hearing skill, you will soon notice that sight singing would become very natural to you.
3) The Primacy of Rhythm, Pitches, Words
As you continuously practice sight singing, you will find that words are not that important as that of the rhythm. You will likewise see that pitch is less important than rhythm. If, for example, you miss the pitch, but you are able to follow the rhythm, you can still immediately catch up with the rest of the group, knowing that you are in the right place still. However, if you are out of rhythm, you need to stop, and try to figure out the right rhythm.
4) Exercises for Sight Singing
You can never really practice sight singing if you don’t have a musical piece to practice on. There are many available musical notes online, but make sure you start slowly or follow a gradual step-by-step process of learning. Start with easier one-liner stanzas, and then move on to the longer lines, and eventually, to full-length songs. Moreover, it would be good if you have a choir group to practice with, for you will be taught a lot of musical notations if you would become a choir member; and with greater number of practice, you can smoothen and polish your sight-singing skill. You can likewise hire a music or voice teacher if you want to become a professional sight singer. In this way, you will be ably taught on the rudiments of note reading and sight singing.
5) Getting Hung of the Beat
Some people find it difficult to get the hung of the beat. However, through constant practice, you will soon get the right beat immediately. You can also practice tapping the beat. In this way, the beat will sink into your subconscious mind for immediate retrieval. Moreover, if you really want to develop an awesome beat response, you need to practice with a metronome.
6) Getting the Rhythm
Rhythm is the pattern of regular movements. You can master the rhythm as you practice often. Always remember that rhythm is more important than pitch and lyrics. Even if you play the right note but fails to follow the rhythm, you will end up at a loss while sight singing.
7) Learning the Melodies
Melody is the combination of rhythm and pitch. Hence, learning how to determine pitch and rhythm is necessary before you can go to mastering melody.
Tips & Techniques You Can Use To Master Sight Singing Skill Fast
Learning a skill like that of sight-singing is not an easy task. It requires attention and keenness of ear. Yet, there are some tips like the following tips that you can follow to learn this skill quickly:
1) Count The Beat
You can establish the beat for a musical notation by simply tapping it. To get the right beat is important, and you can do this using your collarbone or leg to tap the beat. This will enable you to remain in rhythm, especially when the notes get crazy. I would recommend that you use a metronome when you sing to get you on the right rhythms.
2) It’s All About Solfege
The key to sight singing is to know what key you are in. Because if you know that, you will be cognizant of the movable “do.” If you find the movable “do,” you can identify where the “so” is and other keynotes. So, if you think in solfege, you might get lost, but you would soon find your way back.
3) Rhythms, Pitches, and Words
You should know what to prioritize when you get lost when sight singing. As you practice sight singing, you should bear in mind that words are not that very important. You can sing “la la la” to get the rhythm. So, ignore the words first. Pitches are also lesser in the order of priority than that of rhythm in sight-reading. So, if you mistakenly sing the wrong pitches, but sing the right rhythm, you would still catch up with the rest of the choir. However, if you are mistaken with the rhythm, you will surely get lost and will need to stop.
4) Understand and Know Your Scales
If you know your scales, you would easily memorize the key signatures. It will also help you create muscle memory for easy fingerings and other hand placements for every key signature. This skill will enable you to master sight reading and singing quickly, for you can use your knowledge of the scales to find your way while sight singing.
5) Master the Key Signatures
There is no harm in memorizing your key signatures. If you want to become a good sight singer, you need to memorize the key signatures. Memorizing key signatures is also advantageous to other musicians who need to be aware of flats and sharps. But it will also have a bearing on your sight-singing skilld. Memorizing key signatures are also crucial for vocalists if you want to know the key signatures in which your timbre is comfortable with. You may, at the onset, find it hard to memorize them. But soon, you will get the hang of it, and eventually, your speed in sight singing will improve over time.