Sight Singing Practice & Sight Reading Tips

sight singing

What is sight-singing?

Sight-singing is the ability to read and sing a piece of music previously unseen and unrehearsed. Relating the look of the notes on a score into their recognised audible sounds. Many vocalists sing by ear and never find the need to learn to sight-read, but session singers and classical singers will need to read sheet music on first sight.

A competent sight-reader can use their skills to learn songs faster, deputise with any band and gain session work with producers and studios, so it’s definitely worth learning. Regardless of the form of singing you choose, learning to read and sing music can be fun as well as useful!

Those of you with a piano or keyboard available can use it to practice sight-singing by writing the note names onto a piece of sheet music and repetitively striking the proper note (e.g. “C”) in its various locations (the number depending on how many sets of octaves your keyboard has) then naming (or singing) it out loud as it is struck.

In each ‘Octave’, there are a total of seven white keys: ‘C, D, E, F, G, A, B’. C is the note to the left of the groups of two black keys. The other notes are placed successively after C. ┬áThe black notes denote sharps and flats, and the pattern of two black and three black keys is the key to recognizing the position of any given note (e.g. the note D is easily seen as that note which lies between the groups of two black keys).

Easy Ways to remember notes on sheet music

  • Lines in the Treble ‘E G B D F’ – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
  • Lines in the Bass ‘G B D F A’ – Good Boys Deserve Favour Always
  • Spaces in the Treble ‘F A C E’ – As it reads Face!
  • Spaces in the Bass ‘A C E G’ – All Cows Eat Grass

Another method that is commonly used is known as Solfege, which is a system used to sing melodies.

10 Sight Reading Tips

Ten amazing free secrets help to sight-read any sheet music notation for piano, by Howard Richman the author of Super Sight-reading Secrets at Sound Feelings.  This free information provides self-study tools and solutions on reading music like a professional. Sight reading takes time to improve, as with any self-improvement program, but these helpful tips will show you how to get there faster than you ever believed possible!

1. Develop Your ‘Relative’ Sense of Touch.

Acquire the skill of playing so that you don’t need to look down at your hands. Without looking at the keyboard, glide your hands so you feel the two and three black keys (like Braille.) When you need a C, D, or E, feel for the ‘2s’ When you need an F, G, A, or B, feel for the ‘3s’.

2. Develop Your ‘Absolute’ Sense of Touch.

Always sit in the same place. Middle ‘D’ is recommended because it creates a symmetrical pattern in both directions.

3. Practice Finger Technique Without Looking at Your Hands.

A creative way to do this is to play your scales and arpeggios in the dark. This will add confidence to your sense of touch.

4. Learn the Four Groups of the Lines and Spaces

  • Lines in the Treble ‘E G B D F’
  • Lines in the Bass ‘G B D F A’
  • Spaces in the Treble ‘F A C E’
  • Spaces in the Bass ‘A C E G’

5. Practice Only the Rhythmic Information

In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct pitches.

6. Practice Only the Pitch and Fingering Information.

In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct rhythm.

7. Play Easy Pieces up to Tempo

Force yourself to keep going no matter what. Don’t worry about mistakes. This helps you to look ahead.

8. Play Difficult Pieces Super Slowly

Don’t dare make even one mistake. This helps to develop accuracy.

9. Look For Patterns in Music

Don’t be afraid to look way ahead for a second just so you can anticipate what will be easy or difficult. Patterns are easy. If you detect a pattern then you can devote your concentration to other things.

10. Study Music Theory

Professional sight-readers never read every note! They get a sense of the overall chord and ‘fill-in’ the blanks. With a solid knowledge of music theory, this becomes natural and immediate.

Sight Reading Books

The following are a small selection from the many available in the Sight Reading & Ear Training Books page of our Books for Singers section, which contains educational, instructional, repertoire, diction, language and marketing books for singers and musicians.

Sight Singing Made Simple by David Bauguess

Vocal Sheet Music And CD

This easy-to-use audio course for self-study is a step-by-step introduction to music reading skills. This resource will be an effective tool for building confidence and skill. Ideal for individuals or groups. This course assumes no prior knowledge of written music.

Contents / Song list

  • Rhythm Practice, Reading Note & Rest Values
  • Meter and more practice reading rhythms
  • Reading Pitch from Syllable Letters
  • Reading Pitch from Notes on the Staff
  • Introduction of Counting Method for Reading Rhythms
  • Reading Skips from Syllable Letters
  • Reading Skips from Notation
  • Key Signatures
  • Echo Drills
  • Clef Signs
  • Eight Notes

Click here for reviews at Amazon USA

Super Sight-reading Secrets by Howard Richman

This Book Will Help You To:- Increase your rate of visual perception. Play any note on the keyboard without looking at your hands, even jumping large distances. Look ahead. Keep from losing your place. Fake. Play contemporary classical music. Transpose notes (or chords) at sight.

Click here for reviews at Amazon UK
Click here for reviews at Amazon USA

Learn to Read Music by Howard Shanet

A study of the fundamentals of reading musical notation that will teach the reader to read music in 4 hours.   Organised in small chapters with step by step instruction and exercises, this guide is useful to learn the rudiments of music, rhythm, pitch, notation and crammed with essential information.
Click here for reviews at Amazon UK
Click here for reviews at Amazon USA

Specimen Sight Singing Tests – Grades 1 to 5 (ABRSM Sight-Reading)
This volume contains valuable practice material for candidates preparing for the Grades 1-5 ABRSM Singing exams. Contains specimen tests for the new sight-singing requirements from 2009, representative of the technical level expected in the exam.

Read more at Amazon UK
Read more at Amazon USA

Specimen Sight Singing Tests – Grades 6 to 8 (ABRSM Sight-Reading)
This volume contains valuable practice material for candidates preparing for the Grades 6-8 ABRSM Singing exams. Contains specimen tests for the new sight-singing requirements from 2009, representative of the technical level expected in the exam.

Read more at Amazon UK
Read more at Amazon USA

Specimen Sight Singing Tests – LCM Diplomas
Specimen sight-singing tests for the London College of Music and Media Singing diploma examinations. This book has been compiled to show the degree of difficulty to be expected at the examination. Includes specimen tests for ALCM, ALCM(TD), LLCM and LLCM(TD) High and Low Voice examinations.

Read more at Amazon UK

Teach Yourself to Read Music
Guide for Pop, Rock, Blues and Jazz Singers by Jeffrey Deutsch

Covers everything a singer needs to know to read music. Includes examples, exercises, songs, answers and an assignment for each chapter. The book starts slowly with the basics and adds more complicated elements one by one. It uses visual images to help you hear in your head what you see on the page. Unlike more other sight singing books, it is specially geared to the singer of pop music. Once you learn the system you can sight sing in any given key. The accompanying CD will help the singer monitor their efforts. This book presents a system for learning the grammar of music, the rules by which it is understood. It starts slowly with the basics of sightsinging and adds more complicated elements one by one. Each chapter includes and original song that is similar to music that the professional singer will be asked to sight sing. The accompanying CD will help you to monitor your efforts.

Click here for reviews at Amazon UK
Click here for reviews at Amazon USA