View Full Version : Melodic Memory and Sight Singing

widdly widdly
04-06-2006, 04:34 AM

I'm taking an ABRSM Guitar exam in september. My scales and my pieces are coming along nicely and pretty happy with them. My problem is that there is a section in the exam where I must be able too...

1.) Sing back a four bar melody, after hearing twice. Melody and rhythm must be accurate.

2.) Sight Sing four bars of music. Range of +/- one octave no steps larger than a third. starting note is given.

I am appallingly bad on both counts. I can't sing anything in tune, ever. And I certainly can't sight sing to save myself. Any tips for simple exercises to get started?
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Joe Pass Jr
04-06-2006, 05:05 AM
Well you should have some kind of vocal trainer or someone guiding your Aural skills if they expect you to sing the notes. Is this part of a course your doing or is it an audition for something?

If you have no outside help... Getting hold of a piano or any stringed instrument can help.. Get some basic sheet music out, or even write your own. For example...

Write down on the manuscript C through to F on the next octave... play the C on piano or guitar ect... then try to voice the next few notes... then play it back on the instrument and see how close you were. do this with different combinations of notes and continue to play the instrument when your not sure if your hitting the right pitch..

You will most likely be expected to understand most of the intervals,, specifically maj & min 3rd, perfect 4th and 5th, 7th and diminished 7th. Depending on the level your being tested. So familiarise yourself with these intervals on the keyboard by playing them and singing them back,, and vice versa. It can be tedious, but its worth it. I cant sing for **** and refuse to.. but as a guitarrist, i do them anyway. As long as no one is around.

04-06-2006, 07:15 AM
it is difficult to teach yourself to sight sing if you have never sung in your life. I know I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have instruction.

that being said there are a lot of books on the subject and the basics are pretty much the same no matter what you get.

#1: major scale. Sing it in whatever way you want. I use numbers. If you aren't able to sing this at the drop of a hat you can't expect to sing anything on paper. Try singing the 1st two notes then check yourself, then the next one and check yourself etc etc. Then go for two notes or three at a time before you check yourself, until you can do the whole thing and know whether it's right. Tone and quality isn't important, only tuning. Hit the notes and it doesn't matter what you sound like. There's a guy in my class that sounds like kermit the frog, but he can sing anything, which means the sounds are in his head, which is really what's important. Take this around the circle of 5ths, then try moving the scale around by major or minor 3rds or whole/half steps, anything to confuse yourself. Switch it up and try descending then ascending.

honestly I was going to list a few more things, but until you can sing the major scale without thinking about it, there isn't much of a point to moving on. Spend some time on it every day and in a few weeks you should be ready to move on.

04-06-2006, 07:41 AM
The first thing is do to get over having a bad singing voice. You are not being assessed as a singer - so long at you can produce a sound on pitch no matter how you croak it out :)

What I've done to learn how to sight sing is to play a cadence to get "in key". Then you need to work out how to produce each note in that key. So , if you choose the key C major. First, play your cadence then try to sing a C. Once you have that down move on it trying to sing the fifth degree G - that is probably the next easier note to do. And so on. I use movable-do to sing like this, so for C in C major, I sing "Do", for G I sing "Sol". These syllables help alot - or you can just use numbers if you want.

You are trying to hear the sound of the note "in key". The important thing is you need to hear in your head where the note is - you don't have a hope in hell of getting the note until you can pre-hear it in your head first.

Once you have learn't how to produce each of the notes in isolation then you are ready to string them together whichever way, in whatever melody you want.

Some people can pick this up pretty quickly but it doesn't come easy for many, myself included! Took me at least 12 months to get anywhere.

04-06-2006, 07:48 AM
...which means the sounds are in his head, which is really what's important.

I think it might be important to point out that if you (widdly widdly) are unable to reproduce the right notes at first then that does not necessarily mean that the sounds are not in your head, so don't be disheartened! It's simply a matter of training the muscle memory in your vocal chords to be in sync with the intervals you hear. I found that when I first attempted ear training and vocal skills that I was much more proficient at recognising intervals and playing them on my guitar than I was at reproducing them vocally.

widdly widdly
04-07-2006, 02:00 AM
Hey thanks for the tips guys.

I practised last night singing C major scales using Do-Re-Mi etc. checking my pitch against my guitar. I making some progress with this so that's encouraging. I always seem to end up a little flat on the La (6th) so I'll have to work on that.

I found a great (free) book of melodies at www.lightandmatter.com/sight/sight.html (www.lightandmatter.com/sight/sight.html%20)to practice sight singing. The book starts with singing in steps only then moving on to intervals which seems to be a good approach.
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04-07-2006, 07:51 AM
The book starts with singing in steps only then moving on to intervals which seems to be a good approach.

One of the advantages of the method I suggested is that larger jumps become easier sooner. How far the melody goes out from the strong tones in the key is more a factor in how difficult something is to sing than large jumps.

04-14-2006, 02:34 AM

widdly widdly
04-16-2006, 07:22 AM
thanks alpardal, good link
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04-17-2006, 08:12 AM

What exactly is this ABRSM Guitar exam? Is ABRSM a school, or is this exam thing just something proving your skills like ECDL in computer science? (Maybe this is a way too stupid question, but I really don't know anything about this)

Oh, and widdly, your link doesn't work for me (lightandmatter.com)

Good luck with reading! I was about to train myself in sightsinging a few years ago, but I couldn't make any progress... too bad back then I wasn't playing the guitar yet... maybe I could try it again.

Hard thing to do, indeed...

04-17-2006, 01:02 PM
I've been studying sightsinging for a year now. It IS hard. But I am making progress. I can tackle any diatonic melody in major or minor (without any instrument at hand as a reference) given the 1st note. (Don't you throw fast quintuplets and polirhythms at me yet, though. lol) I can also recognize chords and exact inversions up to the 7ths. Intervals up to Major 9ths. I am currently working on chromatisms and those sure kick my butt. Practical Skills (sight singing) and Aural Skills go hand by hand.

I definitely recomend learning solfege (Guni has an article on it I believe... somewhere he explains about movable do and what not... too bad I can't remember which one it is). Once you have a silable that goes with each scale degree, things become a lot easier. Other than that is just like playing the guitar, you have to practice it. If you can sit down and do chromatic exercises for a couple of hours trying to get your chops up, do the same with ear training and see how your ears will grow! (you'll soon look like Dumbo!)

It's definitely attainable by anyone. You just need to work at it and be patient. Start with very simple melodies (like twinkle twinkle little star, or pop goes the weasel, sing those in solfege and find melodies with a similar level of difficulty) then eventually raise the level of difficulty a little. It will be a while before you'll be doing free scat over giant steps but if you keep at it I'm sure you will be able to. (I hope I will someday :) )

Anyways good luck with it.


widdly widdly
04-17-2006, 04:16 PM
I'm actually surprised at the progress I'm making on this. Once I get the starting note, major scales I can do over an octave or so. I'm starting to work on the minor scales too. Solfege is definetly the go. Getting your hands on some simple tunes without too many jumps really helps.

@ Bande

ABRSM is an exam board for classical exams. They have performance and theory exams for most instruments. I think they have some jazz as well but not for guitar. They are like AMEB, Trinity College and all the other classical music exam boards.

And that like should be ... http://www.lightandmatter.com/sight/sight.html
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