Learn how to sight-sing from scratch

So you want to learn how to sight-sing? Impressive ambition! Let’s explore what that involves, and debunk some of the myths surrounding sight-singing.

What is sight-singing anyway?
It is sight-reading for the voice. Sight-reading involves performing the music on the page on the first go, after having not heard it or practiced it before. One example is reading a story or play, out loud to someone else. You can read the text as you see it for the first time. The more you “act out” the script, the more effective the reading. With practice, you get better at doing this on the first go. Sight-singing music is essentially the same thing.

Why is sight-singing worth learning?
There are plenty of ways to learn to perform music. One way is by listening to a recording and singing along. Another way is to follow a guide—this can come in the form of someone giving hand signs, or following a written guide on a page, such as musical notation. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and people can learn in different ways. Learning to sight-sing allows you to learn new music quicker, be self-reliant, and work your way through difficult music. It is an excellent skill to have for singing in groups or choirs, where there may be multiple parts sung at the same time.

Do I need to be able to sing in the first place?
No, it’s not a pre-requisite. You can be tone-deaf and still learn. As you start to practice, you will get used to your voice and know how it responds. If you know how to speak in a conversation with another person then you will be able to learn to sight-sing.

Do I need to be able to play an instrument?
No. It is not necessary at this point.

I’ll be able to sight-sing the music after hearing it first; that’s the usual way, isn’t it?
You will be able to sing it first go without ever having heard it before.

Do I need to be able to read music? I’ve tried before and I can’t do it.
You will be able to read music sooner than you think. Just complete the little test in Part 1 to find out if you are capable of learning to do so. You won’t need to learn the musical alphabet.

How long will it take?
You successfully will be sight-reading some music within 5 minutes. More difficult music takes longer, of course.

How do I practice sight-singing?
There are a few components to practice. One is being able to control your voice to stay on the note (like any other movement, it takes practice). The other is being able to auralize (which is like visualize, but relating to sound) what you see in the music. This second part basically means that you need to know where you are going before you begin to travel.

Do I need to find a private practice spot?
It helps, but you can complete many of the exercises in a public place such as on a bus or train. Just try to avoid listening to music whilst doing so; otherwise it’s like trying to taste someone’s cooking whilst chewing gum: there will be a conflict!

Can I get started right away?
Yes. Have fun browsing through each part and practicing the activities. Feel free to post up any questions you may have. The blog will be updated periodically with new lessons.

Part 1: But I can’t read music!