I wanted my kids to be able to read music.
When I first started teaching, I wanted to make sure that my students could read music and sight sing. Frequently I would ask other teachers how they taught sight singing. I was surprised how many times I heard:
"Get more band kids to join chorus!"
But what about the kids who aren't in band? I wanted to make sure they learned to read too. I searched for sight singing method books but I wanted something that would be quick and easy to use in rehearsal.
I needed an easy approach to assessment.
I also struggled with grading techniques. Some methods seemed very cumbersome and time consuming, and some seemed to be based mostly on student behavior. As a music teacher, I was busy teaching students across many grade levels and I traveled between two buildings. Time was not on my side, but I did want the students to be assessed and graded fairly.
Two things were clear to me: I didn't have a lot of time to spend correcting, and I didn't have a budget that would allow me to purchase a sight singing book for every student. By creating something myself, I was able to address both of those issues. So, I created a sight singing workbook that we used daily in rehearsals.
Students were asked to do three things in the workbook each day:
1. Write the note names under each note
2. Write the sol-fege under each note
3. Write the rhythmic counts under each note
This went very quickly after we developed a daily routine. They knew which example was next and often students would begin the assignment as I was taking attendance.
The workbook changed the culture of the my classroom.
It legitimized my class in the eyes of my students. They could see I was asking for academic work from them and that made them treat it more like a real class. It also gave me a concrete assessment tool and I could easily see what they were learning.
It was cheap and disposable. At the end of the year, I gave students the option to keep it, otherwise we recycled them and they started with new books the following fall.
Their sight singing improved ten-fold.
I began to see huge gains in their level of self confidence with regards to reading music. They learned music faster, and asked better questions in class. Instead of questions like, "I'm lost.", I was asked, "The altos are missing the jump from the G to the Bb in measure 27. Can you go over that again?"
More students felt comfortable auditioning for regional and state wide festivals because they were not afraid of the sight singing component of the auditions, and because their reading had improved, more students were accepted into these festivals.
I even had students contact me after they had graduated to tell me they were grateful they had the workbook, because what they learned led to a successful college audition.
Students needed to be able to practice on their own.
However, there was a missing piece - independent practicing. Students were not able to truly practice sight singing on their own. Sure, they could bring the book home and sing through examples. But how would they know if they were right? Without a teacher to give them feedback, the practice was aimless. Nothing can replace a good teacher, but online sight singing- with audio - fills that gap.
Students can use a tune up tool and a steady beat to add their practice and then hear the answer after they're done to assess how things went.
The Practice Room is a culmination of everything I learned as a choral music educator over the past twenty years. The goal of this site is to provide an effective, affordable approach to sight singing to other choral educators.
Erin Lowell graduated from the University of Maine in 1988 with a BS in Music Education. She taught choral music in the state of Maine for 22 years.