Fergus Black

music teacher and performer


Quick-fix Checklist for Sight Singing

This is a check list for ABRSM Singing Grades 1 to 5, and for general aural tests in Grades 6 to 8 (tests 6b, 7b and 8b). I find that many students are in need of a systematic approach to the subject, which I aim to provide through this checklist.


Look at the time signature: how many beats are in each bar?
Is it the crotchet, the quaver, or the minim that is one beat long?
American version: Is it the quarter note, the eighth note or the half note that is one beat long?

What are you going to count? (This is NOT the same question as "How many beats are in the bar?")
On which beat of the bar do you start?


Say the rhythm of the music to 'da': if you know Dalcroze rhythm names, use them.
Practise dotted rhythms

Image of Dots after Notes explanation
(This image is part of my pamphlet Theory for Singers)


Check the line breaks - does the music go up or down as it moves from the end of one line to the start of the next.
Ask yourself "What key are we in?". Find the key note on the page, and make a mental note of it.
Play the key chord, the key note and starting note on the piano (or ask the examiner to do it)
Anchor yourself in the tonic: Sing a scale and arpeggio in the key of the piece:

Ask yourself : Is the piece mainly scale or arpeggio.
Go through and spot any awkward leaps


If the piece is in crotchets, sing at about 1 beat a second.
Follow the music with your finger as you sing; tap the beats


There are some books I recommend, and use frequently, but none of them is a substitute for a teacher.

Successful Sight Singing by Nancy Telfer (Kjos 1992).
This is the only book I have come across that begins with a fifth (rather than a second) as the first interval to learn and memorise.

Learn to Read Music by Howard Shanet (Faber and Faber 1957).
Transcription of public lectures of a remarkable attempt to teach adult beginners how to read music. Creative and imaginative approach that is also thorough and rigourous. Needs access to a keyboard in its later stages.

Sight Sing Well by Jonathan Rathbone (Edition Peters).
Far and away this is the best Sight-Singing book for younger students. It is a proper course, not a quick fix, like my checklist above.

More tips

There is a page on eHow about How to Sight Read Music Vocally