Sight Singing Lessons

A Year of Sight Singing and Ear Training
In 2011 I wrote a blog with short lessons teaching how to read music through sight singing. Each lesson takes about five minutes. The lessons start at the very beginning and progress at a rate that allows you to internalize the knowledge through repetition. I am compiling these lessons into a form that will be easier to use. This page contains lessons 1-49.  You can go to my YouTube channel for the remainder of the lessons.

Lesson 1
Being able to read music is a wonderful, liberating skill that enhances your ability to learn by ear. It allows you to sing or play a new song just as you would read a new book. Sight singing is especially useful because you only need your voice to make music. Singers often rely on a piano to play the music before singing it. This is not necessary. Once you learn to recognize the relationships of the notes to one another, sight singing is not so difficult. These lessons will use a system called solfege which uses do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do to understand these relationships. If you have heard the song Do, Re, Mi from The Sound of Music then you have heard solfege in use.

As the song goes, "When you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with do, re, mi."
Just for fun watch this YouTube of a flash mob dancing to Do, Re, Mi from The Sound of Music.
Antwerp train station flash mob

Lesson 2
Listen to Hot Cross Buns. Memorize it. Sing it with the recording and without.  March in place or tap a steady beat as you sing.

Lesson 3
Listen to "Frere Jacques" and "Little Drops of Water." Keep a steady beat as you sing or hum along. It is helpful to alternate something when keeping a beat (marching, tap right knee then left knee, use two different fingers or toes) Sing an echo on this exercise using do, re, and mi in different combinations.

optional: Prepare the flashcards below to use with tomorrow's lesson. Print them on 8 1/2" X 11" paper and cut along the dotted lines.
Flashcards for "Hot Cross Buns"

Lesson 4
Watch today's lesson on YouTube. You will learn how to write the rhythm for "Hot Cross Buns."

Lesson 5
Before you learned to read and write you had years of aural training as you listened and imitated those around you. You learned verbal communication before you learned visual communication. It is the same way with music. You have years (some more than others) of music in your mind. The goal is to be able to take what you know aurally and translate that into musical notation. Once you can read and write songs you know, then you can take that knowledge and read unfamiliar music. This all takes practice. Remember that you didn't learn to read overnight, but you probably did learn to read over the course of a year.

Today's lesson will give you a visual representation of some songs in your mind from the last few lessons. Open the pdf for lesson 5 and have it ready to reference as you listen to lesson 5. It would be better if you printed it out so that you could touch the beats as you sing, but you could just look at it on the screen.

Lesson 6 - Stepwise Motion
Before learning about the musical staff it is important to understand and be able to recognize stepwise motion in a song. Look at this tonal ladder and use it for reference as you listen to today's lesson

Lesson 7 – Musical Staff
The musical staff is made up of five lines and four spaces. Notes can be placed on any of these lines or spaces including the space below line 1 and above line 5.
When notating stepwise motion on the staff you will alternate between lines and spaces.
When the motion is not stepwise it is skipping.
Here is what the notes for Hot Cross Buns look like. Sing the song as you touch the notes. Notice that the notes move up and down with your voice. See if you can find the only place in the song that does not move stepwise. 
Now try Little Drops of Water.  Can you identify the stepwise motion and the skips?

Practice singing "Frere Jacques". Tap the steady beat on one leg and the rhythm (what you are singing) on the other leg. It takes a little practice.

Lesson 8 – more rhythms

optional:  Print out the flashcards for extra practice.

Lesson 9 - note equivalencies
Pitch and rhythm are two essential elements of music. Pitch refers to how high or low the notes are. Rhythm moves the music forward in time. In music notation the rhythm moves horizontally (left to right) across the page and the pitch moves vertically (up and down).
Most songs also have a steady beat or a pulse. The rhythms are notated in relationship to this beat. It is important to understand how the duration or length of each note is related to other notes. This relationship remains constant regardless of which note receives one beat or pulse. Study the note equivalencies below:

Optional: Print and cut out the self checking note equivalencies cards to practice. For example: Two eighth notes end to end are the same length as one quarter note. Four quarter notes end to end are equal to one whole note.
Echo the rhythms in this exercise.

Lesson 10 - Active Listening
Listen to these songs and consider the speed of the steady beat or pulse. This speed is called the tempo. Do the songs have the same tempo or different? Is it fast, slow or in between?
"Out of Eternity"
"Shalom Chaverim"
Now listen again. Do you hear any instruments being played? How many voices do you hear? Are the voices singing the same thing?

This time listen for the melodies. Listen for the stepwise motion and for the skips? Which song has more stepwise motion? Which one has the largest skips or leaps?
This time sing along. Here are the words:
Out of eternity the new day was born. Back to eternity it will return.
Shalom Chaverim, Shalom Chaverim, Shalom, Shalom, Le hit raot, Le hit raot, Shalom, Shalom.

Lesson 11 – the musical alphabet
The musical alphabet consists of the letters ABCDEFG. On a piano these notes are the white keys. The black keys use the same musical alphabet with sharps (#) or flats (b). Notice that each black note has two names. 

This may seem confusing, but it is very important when we start talking about scales and keys. You can watch this lesson if you want more information on the musical alphabet.

Lesson 12 – whole and half steps and chromatic scale
Look at this chart. This is what a piano would look like if you extended the black keys out to the edges of the white keys. A half step is when you move from one note to the note directly adjacent. A whole step is two half steps. A chromatic scale is when you move up or down by half steps.

 Watch this lesson if you want more information on whole and half steps and the chromatic scale.

Lesson 13 – major and minor
Songs are either in a major key or a minor key. You can usually tell which it is just by listening. A scale is the notes that are in the key. Watch these YouTube videos that demonstrate each type of scale.

Listen to these songs and see if you can tell which are major and which are minor.
Shalom Chaverim
Sing, Sing Together
Make New Friends
Out of Eternity

Lesson 14 – meter and time signatures
First, the answer to yesterday's question: "Out of the Depths" and "Shalom Chaverim" are in a minor key and "Sing, Sing Together" and "Make New Friends" are in a major key.

Time signatures come at the beginning of the songs and tell you how the beats will be grouped or measured, how the beat will be divided and which note will get the beat or pulse. You can choose any number of time signatures when notating a song. This will come in a later lesson.

Meter is the feel of how the beats are grouped There are really only two choices in meter: two or three. Waltzes have a feel of “one, two, three, one two, three" and marches have a feel of “one, two, one, two", Sometimes a song has a feel of two and three like "Pop Goes the Weasel". You could march to it, so it has the feel of two. But within each beat there is a feeling of three. This is what musicians call compound time. Irish jigs have this same feel of the beats being broken into three parts.

Listen to the instructions and follow along on the worksheet to practice rhythms in simple two and three meter.

Lesson 15 – compound meter
Compound meter or time is when the beat is divided into three even parts. "Pop Goes the Weasel", "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" are examples. These songs have a feel of two beats. You could easily march to them, but they also have a feeling of three within each beat.
Listen to the instructions as you follow along on the worksheet for some practice with compound meter.

Review of lesson 1-15
If you are unclear on any of the information, click on the links or go back to the previous lessons.
Music is notated on a musical staff that consists of 5 lines and four spaces. Each of these lines and spaces has a distinct name depending on the clef that is assigned to it. (There will be a lesson later about clefs and note names on the staff.) If you think of the lines on the staff as a ladder, the pitches of the notes get higher as you go up the ladder.

A scale is a stepwise organization of the pitches in a song. There are many different types of scales each of which has its own distinct sound related to the pattern of whole and half steps. Two common scales are the major scale and the natural minor scale.

Solfege is a system of reading music that assigns a syllable to each note in the scale. The syllables are do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti. Most people know these from The Sound of Music. In the moveable "do" system, "Do" becomes the tonic (home tone) for the major scale regardless of which key you are in. Once you learn the system, this enables you to sing in any key as long as you are given the "do". It's a pretty amazing tool.

Rhythm is hard to define but easy to identify when we hear it. Rhythm is what we hear that moves the song forward in time. If the rhythms have an underlying feeling of a pulse, then we call this the beat. The way the beats are grouped is called the meter. If a song has the feel of two, like marching or walking, we call this duple meter. If it has a feel of three, like waltzing, we call it triple meter. Read and listen to lesson 14 for practice with rhythms in simple duple and triple meter.

When notating rhythms, we can group the threes together and count each group as a beat. This is called compound meter and has to do with how we notate music not how we hear it. It is important to understand note equivalencies in order to notate rhythms. You can print and cut out these flashcards to reinforce your understanding of note equivalencies.

Lesson 16 - tonal center
The name of a scale is its starting and ending place. This note is called the tonic or home tone. This note is the reference point to which all other notes in the scale are compared. Sing this exercise using the C major scale. Use the Tone Ladder  as a visual reference as you sing. As you sing, notice where the whole and half steps are in the scale. Now sing the exercise again while you follow the notes on the staff. Notice that you no longer have the reference for the whole and half steps. All of the steps look evenly spaced on the staff. This is why it is important to have the sound of the scale in your mind.

Lesson 17 – music notation for C scale
When music is notated on a staff there is a clef at the beginning to indicate the names of the lines and spaces. It is important to know the names of the notes on the staff; however, it is not necessary to know the note names in order to read a melody if you know solfege. All you need to know is where "do" is. See what I mean as you sing this exercise with the C major scale while following the music notation. The first "do" is indicated with a box around it. You will notice that the exercise is written twice. The first one is in bass clef for lower voices (tenor and bass) and the second one is in treble clef for the higher voices (soprano and alto). You could follow the exercise on either staff. The relationships of the notes are the same regardless of which clef is indicated.

Lesson 18 – clefs and keys
Follow lesson 18 on the worksheet as you listen. Note that I say Lesson 17 on the recording, but the sheet says Lesson 18.
Lesson 19 – practice with rhythms in simple meter
Follow the notation as you listen to today's lesson. You will practice rhythms in 2/4, 4/4, 3/4 and 2/2 time.

Lesson 20 – ¾ meter and drm practice
For today's lesson you will need to print out the worksheet and have a pencil handy because you will be doing some writing. Have the answer sheet ready to check your work as you listen to the lesson. If this lesson is easy for you, then you can try tapping the rhythm with one hand and the beat with the other hand. It's not as easy as you might think.

Lesson 21 – flags and beams
The stems, flags and beams on the notes tell the rhythms. The note heads are only important in rhythms when the note is a whole or half note. Sometimes an x is used instead of a note head when notating rhythms for drums and other non-pitched percussion instruments. Listen to the lesson as you follow the notation on the worksheet.

Lesson 22 – note heads and stems
This lesson demonstrates how note heads and stems work together to indicate pitch and rhythm. Listen to lesson 22 as you follow the notation.

Lesson 23 – natural minor
The sound of a song in a major key and a song in minor key is very different. The notes are the same, but the tonic (the home tone and tone you end on) is different. Look at Lesson 23 sheet and the tonal ladder as you listen to lesson 23. 

Lesson 24 – rhythm practice in simple meter
Print out this worksheet and have a pencil handy as you listen to today's lesson.

Lesson 25 – more rhythm practice in simple meter
Today's lesson is a continuation of rhythm practice in simple meter. The worksheet is the same one that you printed out for yesterday's lesson.

Lesson 26 – writing rhythms in 4/4 time
In this lesson you will write the rhythms for an Old Hungarian Round. Print out the worksheet and have a pencil ready as you listen to the lesson. Here is the answer sheet.

Lesson 27 – the grand staff
This lesson reviews the names of the lines and spaces on the treble and bass clefs and their relationship to each other. It also presents an explanation of a grand staff. Use the worksheet from yesterday as you listen to the lesson. Check your answers on the answer sheet.

Lesson 28 – dotted rhythms introduction
So far we've read and written rhythms using quarter, eighth and half notes.  This lesson will introduce you to dotted rhythms.  Follow the notation as you listen.  There will be lots of practice to follow.  Remember that you didn't learn to read from one lesson. 

Lesson 29 – dotted rhythms practice
Listen to the lesson as you follow the notation.  If you printed out yesterday's lesson, today's lesson is on the same sheet.

Lesson 30 – practice reading
Follow the notation as you listen to today's lesson.

Lesson 31 – listening
It is important to be able to feel the divided beat in a song as well as the beat. If the beat is a quarter note, then the divided beat is two eighth notes.  Listen to "This Land Is Your Land". Tap the beat (quarter note) with one hand and the divided beat (two eighth notes) with the other hand.   Now tap the divided beat with one hand and the rhythm (the words) with the other hand.  If that was easy then you can try tapping the beat with your toe, the divided beat with one hand and the rhythm with the other hand?   Now turn around as you do all of this (just kidding).  I am getting a little punchy as it is 11 at night.  As you go through the day (tomorrow) try this beat and divided beat thing with other songs you hear.

Lesson 32 – dotted rhythm practice
As you follow the notation for today's lesson you will notice that there are only note stems and beams on exercise one.  This is called stick notation.  This is a quicker way to write rhythms if you are trying to write as you listen.  You can go back and add the note heads later.

Lesson 33 - reading:  s  drmf
Follow the notation as you listen.

Lesson 34 – drmfsl dictation
You will need a pencil and today's worksheet to write out the exercises that I will dictate in the lesson.  This may seem hard at first, but it really will help you sight sing well if you can write out patterns that you hear.  The answers are at the bottom of the worksheet.  Good luck and have fun.

Lesson 35 – C major singing exercise
Echo the patterns in this singing exercise as you follow on the Tone Ladder for major scales.

Lesson 36 - rhythmic and melodic patterns
"Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" is good practice with the dotted quarter/eighth rhythm pattern.  Listen as you follow the tone map.  You will also practice recognizing and singing familiar melodic patterns (e.g. drmrd) within the song.

Lesson 37 – solo sight singing
Today is a big day.  You are ready to solo sight sing.  I have written out four songs that we have been singing in the previous lessons.  The songs are in either 2/4 or 4/4.  I have indicated the tonic ("do") with a box and the beat with dots under the notes.  The tonic is also the name of the key of the song.  You may use an instrument to get the tonic pitch or just pick a note that is comfortable for you to sing. Sing the major scale (d r m f s l t d t l s f m r d) to get your mind thinking in the key of the song.  Tap or say the rhythms.  Now add the melody.  Number 1 and 2 use only drm.  Number 3 uses drmfs.  Number 4 is a little harder as it goes up to "la" and down to low "so", but I think you will recognize the song before you get to those parts.  Good luck and I'll put the answers in tomorrow's post.

Lesson 38 – scales and rhythms
Here are the answers to yesterday's solo sight singing.  Today's lesson is a singing exercise and some aural rhythm patterns.  The more you sing these exercises the easier the sight singing will become because the patterns will be in your ears.  Follow the notation as you listen and echo the patterns.

Lesson 39 – key signatures
Today's lesson teaches you about key signatures.  Listen as you follow the notation.  This lesson assumes that you understand whole and half steps.  If you need a refresher, listen to the lesson on chromatic scales.  I hate to have a day without singing, so keep practicing the scale exercises too. 

Lesson 40 – Twinkle, Twinkle is 3 keys
There are 14 different key signatures that can be used to write music. This may seem like a daunting fact as you are learning to read music, but the cool thing is that you only need to know what the tonic note is and then you can sing all the notes in relation to the tonic regardless of how many sharps or flats are in the key signature. You'll see what I mean in today's lesson. Print out today's worksheet and have a pencil handy as you listen to the lesson. Don't forget to keep practicing the scale exercises. Here is the answer sheet for today's lesson.

Lesson 41 – sight singing practice
Here's some practice with sight singing in the key of G.  You can listen as you follow the notation or you can try it solo and then check by listening.

Lesson 42 – rhythms in 3/8 and 4/4
Here are a few songs for Valentine's Day:  "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "You Are My Sunshine".  One is in duple meter and one is in triple meter.  Sing them to yourself and see if you can tell which is which.  Now listen to the lesson as you follow the rhythmic notation.

Lesson 43 – drmfs and dotted quarter eighth
Today you'll sight sing a short section from a Mozart piano sonata.  Listen as you follow the notation.  It has the familiar dotted quarter eighth pattern and also a small range of notes (drmfs).  I think you might recognize this piece.  Listen for the dotted quarter eighth pattern in other songs that you listen to throughout the day.  See if you can tap the beat and rhythm at the same time or you could say the rhythm and tap the beat.   Also try to sing the tonic every time you hear it in a song.

Lesson 44 – compound time
Songs written with compound time signatures use a dotted note to represent the beat. The beat is divided into three parts and the top number in the time signature is always divisible by 3.  They have a triple meter feel because of this beat division.  Listen as you follow the notation for "Down in the Valley" written in 9/8 time.  A dotted quarter note represents the slow beat in this song.

Lesson 45 – simple or compound?
The song for today is written in three time signatures: 3/.4, 3/8 and 6/8.  Listen to the lesson as you read the notation.

Lesson 46 – triple meter: simple or compound

Lesson 47 – simple or compound: part 2

Lesson 48 – duple or triple
Listen to the following songs and try to determine whether each is in triple or duple meter.  Tap the beat, divided beat and/or the rhythm.  Can you find the tonic pitch in each song?
Ash Grove
Shalom Chaverim
Irene, Goodnight
Make New Friends
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Lesson 49 – review of key signatures – major

Click here for the remaining lessons on my YouTube channel.