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I am wondering about the disparity in skill between audiation--purely internalized hearing--and sight singing--the vocalization of a melody. I think these two phenomena are often assumed to be interdependent kind of like flip sides of the same coin. I however have found my experience of these two skills to be distinct and unrelated. My sight-singing is more developed than my audiation, and furthermore I do not necessarily hear notes internally before producing them vocally.

Logically, one would expect that in order to sight-sing correctly on pitch, that you would have to pre-hear notes before singing; I however often do not pre-hear tones but can nevertheless sight-sing basic melodies. My sight-singing is also consistently correct so long as the melodies are within my range of skill. This seems to prove that one does not need to hear notes before producing them and that my sight-singing is not correct merely by chance. If this were a case of chance then I would often be sight-singing melodies incorrectly. One could easily imagine the opposite problem, that is, hearing notes internally but not producing them correctly, and that would be due to undeveloped vocal technique.

My gradual improvement in sight-singing have not resulted in much improvement in my internal hearing. The two skills are not entirely independent, so for example I can sometimes pre-hear notes before vocalizing but often only one note ahead. I'd like to be able to hear multiple notes ahead. Can anyone shed light on this phenomenon as well as offer methods for developing internal hearing (possibly without suggesting more sight-singing)?

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    They are two different but related skills. Btw there is a word that means “internal hearing” and that word is audiation. It’s similar to the word “visualization” for internal seeing. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 0:41
  • I'd love a little more context before attempting an answer. As a composer, I have the opposite perspective - excellent internal hearing (@ToddWilcox is right that the name of this is audiation) but less-than-excellent vocal technique and ability to sing what I hear. I'm also a little unclear of exactly what the question is. Are you asking how to improve internal hearing? You also might enjoy a visit to giml.org/mlt/audiation
    – nuggethead
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 1:06
  • I see I have intertwined two questions. One is how is it possible to vocally sight-read correctly without audiation? Just as for me I can sight sing a melody, but when I attempt to audiate I hear little to no sound. My other question is how to develop pure audiation, that is audiation without developing one's sight-singing.
    – Ootagu
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 4:13
  • Suggest editing to clarify: "these two skills to be distinct and unrelated" vs. "The two skills are not entirely independent".
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 4:30
  • Let me make sure I understand your description: if given a passage to sight sing, a passage within your singing skill, you are able to perform it well, but if you had spent a few minutes silently reading through the music, you could not audiate it in your head? Not at all? Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 14:56

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When reading words, we can spell out each word or we can scan a sentence. When playing piano we can read the note, think its letter name then play it. Or we can skip the letter names and just 'play the music'.

Isn't it the same while sight-singing? We can audiate, then sing. Or we can skip the conscious audiation. But we still DO know what the note's going to sound like. We're not surprised by what comes out of our mouths, are we!

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...offer methods for developing internal hearing (possibly without suggesting more sight-singing)?

You might try these two similar exercises:

  • play a chord on some instrument like keyboard or guitar, mental try to head the individual tones of the chord - root, third, fifth, etc. - then choose one and try singing it, then play that individual tone on the instrument to test whether you had correctly identify it.
  • play an incomplete chord - for example play some root and the perfect fifth above it - then choose an interval to complete the chord - for example the minor third above the root - first mentally audiate that pitch for the minor third, then actually sing it, play that pitch for the minor third on the instrument to test whether you got the correct pitch.

There is no reading involved with those two exercises. It's all about mentally identifying pitches. Obviously the second exercise is more purely about audiation, because the pitch to add is absent in both "written" form and actual sound.

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Can anyone ... offer methods for developing internal hearing (possibly without suggesting more sight-singing)?

Yes, definitely. One way to develop audition that has worked for me is to build a mental list of associations between musical elements (e.g., melodic intervals, harmonic intervals, and chords) and bits of music that you can already audiate.

For example, if you know the Star Wars Main Theme very well, after the three bar introduction, the main theme of The Main Theme begins (someone might use the syllables "bum... bum... ba-da-da BAH bum" for the first notes). The first two notes of that main theme are an ascending melodic perfect 5th. So, if someone says "perfect 5th" or you read an ascending perfect 5th, you can imagine those notes of the Star Wars theme in your head and now you've audiated that without reference to singing.

One more example: The first chord sung in the intro to Queen's song "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a minor seventh chord. If you know how that sounds, when you read a minor seventh chord, you can audiate the first chord of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and just remove the lyrics in your mind and now you've audiated something that you couldn't sing on your own anyway.

If you're thinking that building a complete library in your mind of sounds you can audiate and their corresponding musical notation/theory would/will take a lot of time and effort, then I totally agree. Is it worth the effort? Depending on what you want to do in music, it may very well be. Conductors will be hard pressed to do an acceptable job if they can't read how the music they are conducting is supposed to sound. They have to correct the musicians, not the other way around. Other careers and endeavors are well served by excellent audiation off the page.

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