Spelling the Song: Learning to Sight-Sing with Familiar Hymns

If your students can sight-read shaped or conventional notes, a world of classic and modern hymns is unlocked for them. They can learn new songs and harmonize the old ones accurately. But how can you train them in effective sight-reading? In this video, Allen shares a simple practice he used to learn sight-reading, and now employs in the classroom.

(Singing) “Follow the path of Jesus, walk where his footsteps lead…”

The way I learned to sight-sing was to take a familiar tune and try to sing the notes to it.

After verse three, let’s sing the melody in the notes.

Like, mi mi fa so so fa mi re do do re mi mi re-re (Ode to Joy). When you do that with songs that you know, pretty soon, you don’t have to be looking at the book to know what notes you’re singing. That’s what worked for me to learn to sight-sing.

Sing the melody. Look this time and next time through we’ll see if we can do it without looking.

(Singing) “Do do re mi so mi do, re re re re so mi, do do re mi so mi do…”

Take a familiar tune—and often I would do what we did this morning, where I would let them go ahead and look at the soprano line as they’re singing and then try to do it without looking.

Most of the students here would recognize the shapes and the syllables. Our congregation is really strong on shaped notes. Now, we do have a fair amount of people who play the piano and a few stringed instruments, not a lot but some. Obviously, they work more with round notes. Some of our older people, especially if they’re familiar with the piano, will stick with round notes. But by and large, in our school singing and our congregational singing, we rely heavily on shaped notes.

I remember when I was younger, I would, sometimes, be working with my brother on the carpenter crew and I would be blaring away like this, and he’d get irritated at me and he would sing it. Except he’d just insert random notes in it. I told my students that, and of course, they got a kick out of that.

And so, we don’t do it every morning, but a lot of the time, we’ll sing a song and then we’ll sing the melody and the notes. I’m hoping that it works for them like it did for me.

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