If there's a passage you can sight sing then you'll generally be able to recognise that same passage if you heard it played. So the most music you practice sight singing, the more music you'll be able to recognise and play by ear.
Here are 5 tips that will help you to get the most out of sight singing.
1. Sing in scale degreesThis first tip is perhaps the most important for anyone new to ear training. I strongly recommend that you use a tonality based approach to ear training, using either scale degrees or solfege to recognise (or in this case sing) each note. You can read more about this in another lesson of mine here.
When I first started with sight singing I tried using intervals to sing each note. As with all interval based ear training, it didn't help me a whole lot.
So unless you've already mastered tonality based ear training and you're onto advanced material, make sure you know the scale degree (or solfege syllable) of each note first and use that to sing the note. If you're not sure what the scale degrees of the notes are in the passage you're trying to sing, the first step is to work them out. I recommend writing the scale degree above/below each note in the passage.
2. Take the rhythm outThe rhythm of a passage makes it more difficult to accurately sing each note, simply because it's another thing you have to deal with. So start by trying to sing the passage without any rhythm. Sing and hold each note for a couple of seconds. Try to work out whether you've sung it correctly. If you're unsure, you can use an instrument to check. But try to work towards a point where you can sing slowly and without rhythm and confidently know that you've sung each note correctly.
3. Use a metronomeWhen you can sing each note in the passage slowly, and you know you've sung each note correctly, start using a metronome - still without the rhythm. Hold each note for a quarter note (or a half note to begin) and start at a slow tempo.
As you develop more confidence, start to slowly bump the tempo up.
You might start to develop a love hate relationship with the metronome (I know I have). It's so beneficial to be able to see when you're pausing, even just a little bit, but it can be frustrating at the same time. Try not to blame the metronome though and keep working at it!
4. Reintroduce the rhythmNow that you can confidently sing the passage without rhythm, bring it back. Start slowly and without a metronome, and try to get the gist of the rhythm. Then as you get better, bring the metronome back and try to get it perfectly.
5. Practice multiple passages in a single sessionAs you'll soon find out, the problem that you'll run into is that you'll learn how the passage goes pretty quickly. There are only so many times that you can sing/hear the passage before you know exactly how it goes. When this happens you'll be singing it correctly because you know the passage, not because you're sight singing it correctly.
To minimise this, work on a single passage for just a few minutes. As you start remembering how it goes, move onto another one. I think having about 5 to work on in a single session is good.
When you've memorised how one goes, substitute a new one in for it.
And revise back over old ones occasionally. You may have forgotten how they go which makes them a great sight singing exercise again, and even if you still remember, it acts as good revision.
So that does it! If you follow these tips you should have success with sight singing and your ears will gradually and consistently improve. Good luck!
About the Author
Scott Edwards is the founder of EarTrainingHQ.com. He has helped hundreds of musicians to train their ears and become better players by breaking the process of ear training down into easy to follow steps so it is simple and easy to progress, and providing effective, targeted exercises for each step along the way.