I grew up reading shaped notes and have a firm grasp on this. However, it is necessary that I become better at reading standard notation. I understand how it works since both methods are essentially the same, but I still have a shaped note mindset. Whenever I read circle notes I am constantly translating the notes into shapes and solfège.

Is this the proper method or should I be developing some other thought process?

  • 2
    What are 'shaped notes'?
    – Tim
    Oct 5, 2018 at 7:08
  • @Tim how have I never heard of this? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_note
    – b3ko
    Oct 5, 2018 at 11:48
  • Best TIL for me in ages! But I shudder to think what some microtonal composer could expand this system into.... Oct 5, 2018 at 12:19
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft TIL?
    – phoog
    Oct 6, 2018 at 3:49
  • 1
    Today I learned Oct 6, 2018 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


Good. You have a strategy for sight-singing simple music. Solfege can be very useful.

Now, stop over-thinking this. You need to read standard notation. So do it. Let the 'thought process' take care of itself. There isn't TIME for a conscious thought process when sight-singing a line of music. Do it a lot, get fluent. Job done.


It really all depends on what your goals are. This is mostly a matter of opinion, but one line really stuck out to me:

Whenever I read circle notes I am constantly translating the notes into shapes and solfege.

This is the deal breaker. If you've ever learned a foreign language, you know that everyone starts off with word-for-word translations. But to really know a foreign language—to be fluent—one must wean themselves off word-for-word translation and ultimately just speak the language directly.

As it is now, you're translating notation note-for-note. The fact is that this will only get you so far. You'll be able to fake it pretty well, but true fluency with standard notation will only come after you step away from this note-for-note translation.

I recommend trying to remove this shaped-note middle man. But the good news is that you can do this anywhere (and away from the instrument); just sitting down for 5 minutes a day to look at music and think through it will ultimately get you to where you want to be.

  • Agreed -- nothing like repetition and immersion to start thinking natively in a new language. Except for Java. Stick with python :-) Oct 5, 2018 at 12:20
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft As someone learning Python, this only hits too close to home!
    – Richard
    Oct 5, 2018 at 12:57

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