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A manual for the independent student

Hi, and welcome to SIGHT-SINGING’s guide for the lonely student. In this section, I will do my best, that you, on your own, can steer clear of the major pitfalls out there in the big bad jungle of sight-singing.

The materials that you will need to get started are:

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  • A tonal instrument – a piano/keyboard. However, other chromatic instruments such as guitar, accordion, harp, smartphone with a piano app installed etc. will also do the job.
  • A copy of a SIGHT-SINGING book. (Start with Volume 1, The Pentatonic Scale)
  • A music stand might be helpful
  • A peaceful place to practice. Don’t underestimate the physical conditions under which you practice. If you are in the middle of a demanding exercise, it won’t exactly increase your concentration if your upstairs neighbor comes home and decides to test drive “Rage Against the Machine” on his brand new iPad based stereo system, successfully equipped with amazing satellite speakers and earthquake sub-woofers. Get yourself some peace and quiet during your practice time. [/list]


You also need some, though very basic, prior knowledge of musical theory. You might still feel unsure of certain terms. If you do not yet know the names of the notes and where to find them on your chosen instrument, you will need to learn this before getting started on SIGHT-SINGING. If a Google search can’t do the job, then perhaps the saxophone player next door, or your grandma’ – didn’t she use to sing Schubert? – can quickly show you.
Now you should be ready for SIGHT-SINGING.

Enough of that. Let’s get started!

All the musical examples (charts) in this book are divided into one of the following categories: Melodies, Rhythms, Exercises, and Chords. You will find that the majority of the examples are Melodies, followed by Rhythms and Exercises. There are only a few pages of Chords, but they are tough, offering you lots of challenge. In the headings on each page, you will find the category that is being dealt with in the exercises on that particular page. Example: “Melodies: so-la-do”, meaning that the following melodies will consist of the notes “so”, “la” and “do”.

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The method of practice will vary with the type of musical example.
Let’s take them one by one:


  1. Start by playing and singing “do”. If the chart is in the key of F major (you will find an arrow to the left of every musical example, pointing out “do”), play an F on your instrument and at the same time sing “doooooeh” on the F.
  2. Silence your instrument and stop singing, but remember the note in your head.
  3. Sing the melody using the solfège syllables.
  4. Sing the exercise twice without making any mistakes before moving on.


  1. Sing the rhythms on a syllable that you like – for example “da” or “la”.
  2. Sing the rhythms through twice without any mistakes before moving on.


  1. Play and sing “do”.
  2. Sing the solfège exercise from beginning to end.
  3. Learn it by heart.
  4. Close your eyes or cover the exercise with your hand.
  5. Sing the exercise again once through – without looking and without mistakes – before moving on.


  1. Play and sing “do”.
  2. Sing the solfège part through.
  3. Play through the tonics of the chords on your instrument. If “do” of the chords is F, then “III” is an “A”, and “bVI” a “Db”.
  4. Sing through the exercise again, whilst playing the chords (or at least the tonic of the chords) on your instrument. Another option is getting a friend to sing the tonics.
  5. Sing the exercise through once without mistakes before moving on.


A common objective for all the exercises is that you must NEVER PLAY THE MELODY FIRST and then sing it afterwards. THAT WON’T TEACH YOU ANYTHING! You may occasionally check one note, if you are in doubt as to whether your pitch is right, but don’t play the exercise. Not even parts of it.
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A word on practicing technique.

Let me tell you right away, that you won’t master sight-singing in a week or even two. If you are a beginner and your goal is to be able to sing all the melodies in all 3 books, then it is probably more realistic to figure on 1-2 years. Naturally, this depends on HOW MUCH YOU PRACTICE, and HOW YOU PRACTICE.

Let’s say that your plan was to practice sight-singing 7 hours a week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday you didn’t get around to it. Things kept getting in the way of practicing. Now Saturday is here and you have decided to spend all day in order to catch up. According to plan, you start at 10 a.m. and the first half hour is great. At 10:50 you start feeling a bit hungry and dehydrated (maybe it got a bit late last night). At 11:15 you are heading for the kitchen. The newspaper is on the counter. It looks much more tempting to you than it did 2 hours ago. 12:05, you continue where you left off. 12:20, you catch yourself drifting, you start telling yourself that these new melodies are too hard. Instead, you go back to singing some of the old exercises again. 12:27, you are yawning and stretching. 12:38, drifting again. It doesn’t seem to work for you today. You decide to postpone until tomorrow, when you can really get down…

The person, in this little scenario above, is really just making one mistake. That is in thinking that it is possible to practice sight-singing for 5-6 hours straight. There might be some people who are able to. I just don’t know of any. If you are practicing piano or guitar, you can do finger exercises for hours on end while watching TV or reading a comic book. Sight-singing does not work that way. It requires a lot more concentration. Therefore, 6 hours a week – great! But distribute them over some days. My personal recommendation is 1 hour of practice a day. But try different ways and keep a keen eye on your concentration level.

One more piece of advice. Do the exercises in the right order. The reasons for that are many. You will feel yourself improving. It strengthens your willpower and selfconfidence. Last but not least, the musical parts are composed as a complete and extensive course, with a very gradual increase in difficulty. Remember, you must crawl before you can fly!


1 thought on “A manual for the independent student

  1. I had to learn to sight sing for the AP music theory test (I got the higshet possible score on it by the way). Practice singing different intervals, so that, if given a reference pitch, you can sing that pitch and then sing the specified interval above it. For example, if I played you a C and then told you to sing a major third, you should be able to sing me a C then an E. Also, practice singing major and all kinds of minor scales (harmonic, natural, melodic). Once you have those down, then you should tackle sight singing actual melodies. But if you can get your scales and intervals down, you should ace the audition.

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