Lindsay Brazell

Music Educator and Creative Professional

A Recipe For Assessing Sight Singing Without Losing Rehearsal Time

Ah, sight-singing. One of my favorite skills to teach, and the best superpower I can bestow upon my students! If anyone is wondering, solfege is definitely my love language.

First, let me say that if you are not teaching sight reading skills to your singers, you need to change that immediately. And I don’t just mean basic solfege scales and group exercises, I mean making students read their parts on solfege individually without your help. I have written several articles on sight-singing, which I have gathered for you at the end of this post for your reference!

With all skill instruction comes skill assessment, and sight reading is no exception! However, individual sight-singing tests can be time consuming, and possibly difficult to organize depending on the size of your ensemble and the length of your class period. I have a way that will help you and your students, and it is a slightly informal and formal assessment at the same time!

Treat the following as a recipe. If the beginning characteristics match your ensemble, keep it the same. If you have a different situation, modify the characteristics to best suit your ensemble.

First, let’s pretend that your class period is 40 minutes, and you have about 30-40 students in your ensembles. There are approximately 45 school days in a quarter, but we’ll say you have 40 rehearsals where active sight reading takes place.

If we assign a point amount for a sight reading grade for each quarter, you can make this a part of a participation grade, or make it its own entity. Since the school year has already begun, see where you can add these points! For this demonstration, we’ll say that each student is capable of earning 15 points per quarter for sight-singing quizzes.

If you spend the first 10 minutes of class on sight reading, you’ll be able to have at least 5 students sight read for a grade. How can you do this? Easy! Have an example on the board that is 4 measures long, preferably that starts and ends on Do. You decide the point values and breakdowns to best suit your ensemble.

I made each example 5 points:

  • 1 point just for attempting the whole example!
  • 1 point per measure (4 points total)
  • .25 point deducted for incorrect pitch
  • .25 point deducted for incorrect rhythm

**If they sang the correct pitch about used the incorrect solfege syllable, I let it count! This was in line with the SC All State rules, so I tried to mimic that in class as much as possible!**

When the bell rings, play Do and perhaps have them sing a scale or triad to establish tonality. Give them no more than 2 minutes to work together figuring out the passage. After two minutes, ask for volunteers! They can either sing it solo (earning 5 points), or phone a friend, and split the points with a peer (2.5 points each). This allows students who may be shy at first to have a buddy to sing with, or a weak sight reader to have someone help them through. Or, you could choose the peer a student sings with if that is more suitable for your ensemble.

With this system, each student will have to sight read a minimum of 3 times per quarter to earn their 15 points. Not only does this provide practice in sight reading, but singing in front of a group of people as well! **(In my 3 years in the classroom, I only had 2 people cry the first time and then never again! It is totally scary for some of them, and as long as you create a supportive environment they will overcome their fear quickly!)** 

However, if they choose to phone a friend each time, they will have to go a minimum of 6 times per quarter. I don’t suggest limiting the number of phone a friend lifelines, as that may cause some anxiety among shy students. Again, in my experience, most students will overcome that fear once they see that they are in a supportive and encouraging environment.

Once your 5 students have sung, have the entire ensemble sing through it together. Talk about what intervals are difficult, or any rhythmic challenges. Most importantly, celebrate when they do well!!

There are several variables you can change:

  • Length of passage: Maybe 4-5 measures is too long for your ensemble. Do 2! You can keep it at 5 points or lessen the point value.
  • Points required each semester: Maybe students only need to sight read informally once a quarter, and then have an individual sight reading assessment later in the year.
  • Sight reading time allotment: Maybe you are on block schedule and have 90 minute rehearsals! You may be able to allow more practice time when they walk in, or have more students evaluated each day.
  • You can supply 2 examples, providing a more challenging passage for advanced students. The more challenging example could have different point values if you desired.
  • You can get creative! If students phone a friend, maybe Student A sings the first 2 measures and then Student B sings the last few. Maybe they alternate measures. Oh, the fun you could have!


Other articles on sight reading:

About Lindsay

I’m Lindsay, a choral music educator by day, a singer-songwriter by evening, and a writer when time allows. You can find my latest album, The Room I Found – Lindsay Morelli on iTunes.

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