Thinking Out Loud – How School Has Failed Students In Teaching Sight-Singing

If you tie a piece of candy to a string and hold it 10-feet above a young child, do you expect that if the child jumps to reach it everyday that they will gain the incredible skill of jumping five times their height by the end of the season? Golly, if it was that easy, we could build star basketball players while they are still in diapers.

How about you put a boulder in front of a person and ask them to punch it till it breaks. Do you think that within the timespan of after a few months they will have the capability of shattering anything in their path? More likely: their own shattered fist and a shattered bank account paying medical expenses.

Now, take this different scenario: having a person come into a gym and starting with exercises within the capability, following with more challenging exercises overtime at a gradual rate. Do you think that that after a good length period of time this person can have the strength to life 200lbs?

Absolutely. Because here was have a logical, gradual progression stemming from increasing skills over a long period of time with no rush.

Why hasn’t this simple logic reached the minds of music professors? “Because that’s how we’ve done it in the past, and that’s how it will continue?” With what, all the faulty results it does now?

To inform those that don’t know about what I am getting at: in college, a student majoring in music will more than likely have to take a music theory & aural skills that involves sight-singing… which is the task of reading a piece of sheet music at first glance and performing correctly on the spot by singing.

All is well till after a month, the repertoire every student will be asked to perform will be utterly impossible. Impossible to the point that even trained opera singers have trouble performing these vocal melody lines after ample time of rehearsal. Rhythms are technically difficult, vocal range is two wide to the point that it might strain one’s vocal chords, and stress is high because you are under the pressure of getting it perfect or you will fail out of the music program – kiss those thousands of dollars invested into your education goodbye! And yet, we grade these vocal gymnastics as if they are commonplace.

Most – that’s right MOST – will receive a barely passing grade unless they are 1) trained vocalists and 2) have perfect pitch. Those that don’t possess those skills leave the class discourage about pursuing music. Athletes train for years and years to get at the legacy level; why do we have this stupid concept of forcing student to do the impossible and expecting improvement within the few months of a semester?

And yes, while I am speaking from my own biased perspective of having trouble with these sight-singing exercises in college, I do know that there are a lot of people out there having trouble out there as well; and furthermore, I do know that there is a better way of strengthening a student’s sight-singing skills. What I don’t know, is the person within an educational system that will question this faulty standard in order to better their students.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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