Thursday, 13 January 2011

epershand: A speech bubble with "tl;dr" (tl;dr)
Ok, tonight I finally had the epiphany about what makes sight-singing so hard for me. I mean, I've known I've been struggling with this for... ever? Ever since I actually learned how to read music in a systematic way and wrapped my head around intervals, at least. But it finally hit me:

Sheet music just doesn't encode intervals in a uniform way. In order to be able to sight sing, you just have to *know* if an interval is major or minor and the only way you know that is that you've (a) memorized what all the internal intervals within a scale are, (b) you can glance at the key signature and know what key you're in and if you're in major or minor. Without that separate memorization work you're SOL--the transmission system simply doesn't record that there is a difference in the distance between, say, a D and an E vs. between an E and an F.

(b) takes me probably a minute the first time I see a new piece for all but the most standard keys (I'm better at flat keys than sharp keys) while I work my way around the circle of fifths, look at the first and last triads of the piece to figure out if it's major or minor, etc. (a) I just don't have and so I spend 500 years calculating things out when I'm actually called upon to sight sing and things go painfully slowly. So I mostly learn by ear, and when I get stuck on hard bits I circle it and then come back and sit down and do the actual work of reading the music.

So, I have a question to those of you who are more functional site singers than I am. Is there a secret way to learn (a) that isn't one of the failed techniques of my past? Or do I just really have to sit down in earnest and do the hardcore memorization and quiz myself all the time if I'm ever going to be an acceptable sight-singer?

Also, how do you normally think of it? Do you say to yourself: "Ok, we're in F major, so that C is sol, and that E is ti, and the distance between sol and ti is always a major third, so this is a major third" Or do you say to yourself "Ok, I am imagining a keyboard and there are six half-steps between those notes, so this is totally a major third"? (This is what I do when I get stuck--you will often find little erased pictures of keyboards on my sheet music. Less often now than you used to because I've gotten lazier about sight-singing and have gone back to learning by ear.) Or do you do something else entirely?

Enquiring minds need to know. At least mine does, anyway.

ETA: Also, is there a BOOK that you recommend that will teach me these things? When I took music 101 there was a very excellent book we used in class, but we only got as far as music that contained Do, Mi, Sol and La by the end of the semester. I actually aced the sight singing part of the final on those grounds, but that amount of knowledge doesn't actually get you very far in the real world. I wish I knew what that book was, because it was excellent.

ETA 2: Do all of the people who can sight sing secretly play another instrument that gives them another mental schema for thinking about reading music. Is this THE SECRET WAY TO LEARN? Apparently as my speculating on this subject goes on it gets less rational, since I am now starting to think of people who play instruments that aren't the voice as DIRTY CHEATERS AT MUSIC READING.

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