Sight singing practice is an excellent way to round out your skills as a vocalist. Here, Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares the 10 best songs to get started with…
Attending my alma mater, Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, was a lot like going to sight singing boot camp. Every student who attends, despite his or her major or instrument, must sing for four years in the college’s professional choirs. Though many organists and pianists are annoyed at first, they soon realize how invaluable learning how to sight sing can be to their own careers. In a quite militaristic fashion, conductors drilled sight singing four days every week, teaching and directing grand works such as Mahler’s Second and Verdi’s Requiem to choirs only half full of singers.
This illustrates the fact that even non-singers can learn how to sight sing on a professional level given the right tools and guidance. Imagine, then, what people who have chosen voice as their primary instrument can achieve. Now, you don’t need to attend a conservatory to get the best sight singing training. Different songs hone different aspects of sight singing, because they all contain different intervals and rhythmic patterns. Here’s a list of the best 10 songs to get your sight singing chops ready for anything:
1) “The Seeds of Love”, Old English Song
This piece in the Aeolian mode is a real ear trainer. Singing something not in a diatonic scale can be really different for most singers in the postmodern world. Both large and small intervals keep you thinking constantly.
2) “America the Beautiful”, Bates
Patriotic songs are great to learn for their versality in auditions, but they’re also great to improve your sight singing in general. “America the Beautiful” is perfect for learning wider leaps within the dominant.
3) “Old Folks at Home”, Foster Stephen
Foster is considered the first American composer. His original works are a major part of the American musical tapestry. “Old Folks at Home” hones your ability to sing leaps within the subdominant.
4) “Long, Long Ago”, Bayly
Leaps of a seventh can be one of the toughest intervals. “Long, Long Ago” has enough of them to help you memorize them.
5) “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, Luther
This German chorale is a staple in the repertoire of church choirs all over the world. Sight singing it will help you with secondary dominants and chromatic passing tones.
6) “Amarilli, Mia Bella”, Carcini
In solfege language, a leap between the tonic and the dominant means “do” to “sol”. You’ll find plenty in “Amarilli, Mia Bella”.
7) “Hush, My Babe”, Rousseau
French composer Rousseau wrote “Hush, My Babe”, which hones your ability to sing a leap of a fifth within the tonic triad.
8) “Rain, Rain, Go Away”, traditional
If whole, half, and quarter notes are what you need help with, then try the children’s tune, “Rain, Rain, Go Away”.
9) “We Three Kings”, carol
This carol helps you with both three-quarter time and dotted half notes.
10) “Tis Me, O Lord”, traditional
“‘Tis Me, O Lord” in Ab is a traditional American song that’ll help with reading singing blue notes, which are especially important for those interested in singing jazz and blues.
At its core, sight singing is ear training. It is learning relationships between notes and memorizing the intervals we find in music. Variety is so important. The more different kinds of music that we can find to read, the better. With the world becoming smaller in this global age, it’s easier than ever to find music from around the world, sometimes with sounds and intervals that perhaps we’ve never heard. I tell each one of my students, when you find a piece of music, read it. If you find yourself sorting through a friend’s piano bench, then pull an old piece of sheet music out and read together.
And remember, perfectionism is found in many musicians and students of music, but it is mostly detrimental and dangerous. It can push us to achieve more than we ever thought that we could. But it can also keep us from moving forward, both on a smaller level, as in a piece of music that we’re sight singing, and on a larger level, as in our music career as a whole. Do not be discouraged with stumbles in sight singing. That is like a body builder being discouraged with himself for not lifting 400 pounds after two weeks of training. Learning this skill is a long journey, but with the right songs and with sight singing practice, it’s an essential element of your singing career.
What other songs can help you with your technique? Find out in our round-up of 400+ songs to sing here!