I'm trying to learn sight-singing sheet music. I understand the basics such as the length of a note, time signatures and so on. But the only insurmountable difficulty for me is that I don't remember the pitch of the notes on the staff. It takes me more than a few seconds after I see a note to figure out how high its pitch should be. I know that people who have learned a musical instrument such as the piano have instant reflexes when they see a note, because they have played those notes thousands of times. But I don't have this ability.

A lot of people claim it is possible to learn sight-singing sheet music without having learned an instrument, but I've grown ever suspicious, because I had once tried quite hard to remember the notes, with no success. I've learned where the notes are located on a keyboard, but again all I have done is learning theory, and I never managed to develop an ability to instantly recognize a note as shown on the staff.

So do you think it's a valid idea at all for me to try to learn sight-singing, before I have time to learn an instrument? I'm sorry this question is a little dumb for most people on this board.


First of all, are you trying to figure out the pitch of a note simply by seeing? As in seeing seeing a C# on the staff then being able to sing a C# exactly on pitch without an instrument? This ability is called perfect pitch, and most people, including myself, do not possess this ability. What most good musicians (including singers) have is good relative pitch, which is to be able to sing or hum a melody from sheet music after the starting note has been given. In any case, to be a good sight-singer requires some ear training, also known as aural training. You would start by learning to recognize intervals, i.e., the distance between notes, by ear. Combine this with the ability to recognize the intervals on the staff, and you should be able to, with practice, sight-sing fairly easily. Now, is it necessary to learn in instrument? I believe, with consistent practice, it is entirely possible to to learn to sight-sing well without learning an instrument. However, most people I know who are good sight-singers know at least one instrument, usually the piano.

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I liked Daryl's answer, and would add that many of my students who don't play an instrument have found using solfege (do, re, mi) with a teacher helpful in learning to sight-sing.

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  • Thanks all of you for answering! Actually I was taught solfege when I was young. So I recognize the relative pitches of the notes on a major scale (but not others). As a result I am able to read, e.g. sheet music without # and b signs, in C major. However, when there are lots of # and b signs, either to indicate a different major/minor scale, or sporadically occurring in the music itself, I get completely lost. – felix Jul 28 '11 at 3:11
  • (Cont.) I reckon there are two ways of dealing with music that's not in C major. The first is to transpose "do, re, mi" to the proper location on the staff, which is different for every different scale. (The so called "movable Do".) The problem is that it's hard to remember the location for each single scale, and even more impossible to develop quick reflexes for each of them. – felix Jul 28 '11 at 3:20
  • (cont.) The second approach is to read it the way I read C-major, but shift the tone by half when there's a # or b sign. This is even more problematic for me, since when I see C, I think of "Do" to get the correct pitch. When my ear is surrounded by music in D major, when I think of "Do" I would automatically sing the D note. So my system of reading music based on solfege is completely messed up. – felix Jul 28 '11 at 3:20
  • @felix That is why I suggested that you learn to recognize intervals on the staff and by ear. That way, instead of seeing the notes and associating it with a solfege syllable, we see the distance between two notes and sing the correct interval. For example, in the key of D major, if we see the note D going to F# (major 3rd interval) then, using the solfege, we would be able to sing Do Mi simply by looking at the distance. A major third interval means that the notes are three notes away from each other on the scale. Meaning if the first note is Do, then we would count Do(1) Re(2) Mi(3). – Daryl L Jul 28 '11 at 4:08
  • (Cont.) With practice, you should be able to recognize the sound of the interval without having to count each syllable. Once you have learned the sound of each interval, then you can start from any note in any key and sing the melody based on the starting note and the distance between each note, even if you do not know the exact name of each note. – Daryl L Jul 28 '11 at 4:11

I am learning to sight sing too. The best thing is to contact your local Kodaly Academy as they run all sorts of courses that will help you internalise pitch, and give you exercises to help you take any key and accidentals in your stride. If you live in Britain or the States there's regular residentials, weekly lessons, etc. I've managed to go from nothing to intermediate level by doing this. They use solfa in a very good way.

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