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For the purpose of ear training and to practice reading sheet music, I am trying to sight sing from the book "Melodia - A compréhensive course in sight singing"

https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=oer

I am doing alright as long as it is not changing keys. But when the key is changing I don't know how to approach it. Should I be able to think of each sharp and flat and modify them on the go, or should I be able to just think of the tonal center and intuitively find out how to sing each note?

Until page ten each page was in a different key, so at the beginning of each page I played the tonal center on an instrument and sung the major scale starting from there and then could read more or less intuitively after that. But after page 10 each line is in a different key. I can do the same thing again on each line but I dont want to "cheat" and miss something important I should learn.

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    I have some suggestions for you and it will help if you can clarify whether you are using solfège syllables when you sight sing, and if so whether you are using movable do or fixed do and whether you sing do based minor or la based minor. Oct 1, 2023 at 19:31
  • Until you get to book 2 on page 41 all the exercises are in one key with final bars and numbers indicating the beginning of the next exercise in a different key. Oct 1, 2023 at 22:21

2 Answers 2

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From what I've experienced and learned from other sight-singers, we generally employ two primary strategies for singing melodies. One is the awareness of the scale degrees in relation to a tonal center, and the other is knowing how to sing each interval and singing the melody as a string of intervals.

Each strategy has its advantages in different contexts, and ideally we learn to use both strategies and how to switch between the two from moment to moment, as well as synthesize the two strategies into a complete skill of sight singing.

There is a third fundamental skill that is useful for sight singing, and that is to be able to sing the common chromatic alterations of a key along with being able to sing the diatonic scale degrees of the key.

It seems to me that you might be primarily leaning on the strategy of knowing how each scale degree sounds and also not yet skilled in switching between strategies.

As usual when we plateau in learning a musical skill, one great path to breaking through is to return to fundamentals:

  • Learn to read and audiate all melodic intervals of less than an octave and use that skill to approach chromatic notes based on the interval with the previous note.
  • Study and sing chromatic alterations of scales and modes.
  • Study and sing the chromatic scale and the whole tone scale.
  • Learn to audiate the most common chromatic notes in the context of the key/tonal center.

For the first bullet point, if you're not sure how to effectively learn melodic intervals, I suggest asking a separate question on this site and I can go into details in an answer to that question. Even a summary here would be too long for this answer.

For the second bullet point, I suggest making part of your daily exercises a singing of the major scale pattern starting from each degree. In other words, sing do to do an octave higher and then back down, then re to re, then mi to mi, etc. Octave shift if you have to. Next level of study is to follow the same pattern with the minor scale. Then sing the same pattern with the harmonic minor scale (singing ti instead of te or si instead of sol in la based minor). Finally, sing the same pattern using the melodic minor scale. Details on these varieties of minor scale would also be a subject for a separate question if you're not already familiar with them.

The chromatic and whole tone scales can be very challenging, especially in terms of arriving at the next do with proper intonation (it's easy to get quite flat singing up the chromatic scale). The study and practice of these will help unlock your sense of these notes in relation to the key center as well as your ability to approach a chromatic note as a half-step away from a diatonic note.

Finally, in terms of the "most common" chromatic notes, the melodic and harmonic minor scales will get you started on this. In a major key, we would expect to see te instead of ti and fi instead of fa more often than other alterations, since they are part of modulation to adjacent keys. In minor keys we are very likely to see ti instead of te and la instead of le as well as sometimes mi instead of me and even fi. Beyond that we have di occasionally as a leading tone to a ii or II chord. The study of the music theory of secondary dominants, AKA applied chords, will help in understanding when and why we will see these alterations.

In summary, we unfortunately often cannot efficiently acquire certain skills by merely "hacking away" at them as we encounter them. Rather, we often have to return to building primary skills that will help us overcome the difficulties in the main topic we are trying to learn. This is definitely true with sight singing and being able to modulate with confidence.

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  • Thank you very much! I think it is really the information I needed. You are right, I have spent quite some time focusing only on learning to recognize and singing scale degrees. I started using some apps to learn recognizing intervals but I might well ask another question about that soon.
    – Trip
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:05
  • Great answer. I imagine that this scenario is where fixed do scores over moveable do. With fixed do, every note has its own dedicated name, which never changes, regardless of key. So it's much easier to use it when doing these exercises. Wonder whether this is addressed in the book - it should be - it's a relevant point (imo). The conductor of a bigband I play with uses it all the time, and it seems to work better than him trying to mentally change key, but there again, that's what he's used all his life.+1.
    – Tim
    Oct 3, 2023 at 7:57
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A fascinating book! Pages 76-80 contain 'modulatory exercises' where the aim is certainly to continue through the key changes. But looking at page 10, some of the transitions are reasonably easy - in 188 to 189 pitching the F is easy, re-orientating it as the dominant of B♭ is not too tricky - but 189 to 190 is quite hard - pitching from B♭ down to F♯ then treating it as ^3 of D major is advanced sight-singing. Where you CAN sing across the transition, congratulate yourself! But don't beat yourself up over the impossible ones. (But if you DO find a strategy for the 'impossibles', congratulate yourself a LOT!)

Eventually, you can develop a facility to sight-sing fully chromatically, without having to consciously relate each note to a major or minor scale. You just fully 'get your bearings' within the chromatic scale.

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  • Could the down-voter share why?
    – Laurence
    Oct 1, 2023 at 20:26
  • My read of this post is it suggests not feeling negative emotions about having difficulty with sight singing and doesn't suggest how to improve on this difficult area of sight singing. In other words, maybe you can clarify what your actual answer is. Oct 1, 2023 at 20:39
  • Thanks, so I understand that at least one strategy is to sing a note and then consider it as another scale degree of another key. I can slowly but almost reliably sing chromatic scale degrees with respect to the tonal center (edit: uh well no... but sometimes ) so I can try it.
    – Trip
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:11

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