I can read music enough to follow a vocal line but have never sung from music before. I've ended up in a festive choir and am finding aside from the problems of singing something that's not the tune, having to read the bass line while looking at the lyrics is a problem. I keep getting lost in the music or missing the lyrics when I look at the music!

Can anyone offer any tips?

  • You need to train your peripheral vision.
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 3, 2014 at 18:07

3 Answers 3


The biggest thing is simply practice and experience: the more you do it, the easier it gets. It doesn't help so much for the present, but it means that if you do this again next year, it will be easier. But here are a few tricks for this year.

  • Highlight your part. That way, it stands out from the others, so it takes less concentration to find it when you are switching between the lyrics and the notes. Yellow is usually best because it is very visible, but also very easy to read what's beneath. And it usually disappears under a photocopier.
  • Rewrite the lyrics. If part of the problem is that the notes and lyrics are too far from each other, you can rewrite the lyrics by hand closer to the notes. This one is a pain, and I only do it when the original music is very badly formatted. But when that's the case, it's a huge help.
  • Stand next to better singers in your part. If you have other, more experienced singers also singing the same part as you, make an effort to stand next to them. It makes it easier to hear and follow your part. My experience is in amateur groups of very mixed abilities, but I've always found the experienced musicians are willing to help out this way. Before the rehearsal starts, go up to the best singer in your part, and ask if you can sit next to them because you are having trouble holding your own part, and you could do better if you could follow them. Then they'll probably even help save you a spot.
  • Become familiar with your part. Even halfway memorizing your part goes a long ways towards solving your problem, because there will be a lot less to read.

Usually with SATB the lyrics are just under the dots.That's because the same words may not always be sung at the same time in each voice. Learning the lyrics as in a poem means there is one fewer thing to look at - then the notes can be followed more easily.

If you can find recordings of the pieces, them listen to them while following the sheet music.Eventually singing your part along with them.If you could find someone to play only your part, or even better, your part while the recording is being played, you could, again, sing along to that. All this is obviously 'homework' - I wouldn't recommend you asked for that to happen in a full rehearsal. Some choirs will have a time when each voice can be taken separately. I don't know whether 'Music Minus One' has recordings of this sort of stuff, but if so, it would be very useful to you and others.

  • 1
    Learning the parts would obviously remove the need for music and would be preferable - I have the parts recorded - but I don't think it's possible (for me) in the time available to learn so many things. Same with lyrics - verse one is fine generally but then it goes wrong. And under the stress of singing unfamiliar tunes, even words I know go out of my head!
    – Mr. Boy
    Dec 3, 2014 at 11:58
  • So I was more hoping for some sort of tips/tricks in the interim :)
    – Mr. Boy
    Dec 3, 2014 at 11:59

The same way people read piano scores that have 2 clefs that are being played at the same time: You practice and practice and you'll get there.

At first, it is hard for everyone to follow two different things simultaneously (in your case, a bass line and lyrics), but if you keep doing it, you'll be able to follow both the lyrics and the music without losing it.

If you find one of those parts easier to memorize than the other, memorize it and follow/read the other one when you sing. That way you won't have to read two things at the same time.

You can also practice them separately. If one of the lines is hard to be read while you sing, practice each one of them separately and then when you feel comfortable with them, put them together, it'll be easier.

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