If you were to walk into my classroom on any given day, there is a 99% chance that my students would be doing something that is, sadly, very uncommon in the average high school choir, and that is sight reading. We don’t leave it until All State auditions or festival performances, we do it every day, whether there is time or not. To me, sight reading and music literacy is more important than achieving the perfect choral sound. Some may disagree, which is fine, but I stand by my saying that, “I’d rather have a group of smart musicians than great singers.”
I think it is almost a disservice to not make sight reading a part of every rehearsal. It would be the equivalent to English teachers not reading or writing every day, or Math teachers drilling equations or word problems every day. Practicing every day will enhance their reading, which will in turn enhance the productivity of your rehearsals, which could possibly help students achieve placements in honor choirs.
We spend about 10 minutes warming up and sight reading each day. I write an example on the board that is about 5-8 measures, starts and ends on Do, or the tonic note if you don’t prefer solfege. I change the key daily, add in different rhythms and intervals, and sometimes add a full chord at the end. My advanced choir gets 1 minute to practice alone or with neighbors, and then we sing together. (My younger choirs get about 2 minutes).
This doesn’t have to be a dull routine, though! There are some ways you can make things interesting, and even borderline FUN. Here are some ideas:
Write “cool” sounding SATB/SAB exercises. Change it up and instead of writing a unison line, take some time to write a 3-4 part example, or use a sight-reading book/resource. (I recommend MasterWorks Press!) I typically write my own just for my own practice/enjoyment. Adding in some minor chords or everyone’s favorite crunch chord with an added 2nd usually sparks their interest and you’ll hear, “Hey, that sounded cool.” Sometimes we need to entertain, right?
As a class, write words to the sight reading example. I had written a 4-part example on the board one day, and after they sang it I joked that we should write words to it, to which they completely agreed. So we did. Here’s the video:
Use familiar tunes/songs. One day in December I decided to write out the melody to “O Christmas Tree” to see if they would recognize it. During their practice time they kept saying, “What is this? This is a song, isn’t it?” Eventually they realized what it was, which brought them joy that they figured it out. What brought me joy is when I asked them to sing the words for fun..“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree….ummm…something…….branches?” Try writing out a Christmas carol or a familiar pop song from the radio. They’ll be proud of themselves for sight reading to find the answer!
Take away notes and just read rhythms but add a new element – beat boxing! Sometimes I take notes away completely, because often times the rhythm is what trips them up. I draw a “large plus sign” on the board, and number each section 1-4. Each box is a measure with different, fairly simple, 4/4 rhythms. We’ll go through and practice them in order, backwards, making our own order, splitting the choir into 4 groups and each starting on a different measure…there’s a lot you can do to change it up! My favorite is adding beat boxing consonants and silly words. For example, if I had 4 quarter notes in a measure, I would label them “P”, “K,” “P” “HEY!” When you combine them all together it sounds “cool” to them. (Unless they do it wrong…in which case it’s a mess!) 😉
Hopefully these few ideas have inspired you to keep sight reading as a regular part of your day, or if it isn’t currently, that this helps jump start you!
How are you teaching sight reading? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.