Numerical Sight-Singing Part 2

(This post is part two concerning the topic of Numerical Sight-Singing. If you have not yet read part one, please do that before continuing here.)

After teaching my student the basics mentioned in the previous post, the next step was to move “1” to different positions on the staff.  Over a period of about five minutes, I moved a roll of gaff tape around on the giant floor staff to various locations. With each new position on the staff I made sure my student knew that this new location was now “1”.  Each time “1” moved, we went through some simple exercises discovering where pitches 2-7 were in respect to that new location of pitch 1.

I need to point out that I never mentioned key signatures. There was no need. In my head, I knew that we were only concerned with exploring the major keys. When I declared the bottom line as a “1”, in my mind I was thinking that we were in the key of either Eb major or E major. My pupil did not need this information. She just needed to know that any note on that bottom line was now the “1” note. Any note on the second line was a “3” and the line above that was a “5”, etc. If we moved “1” to the first space, I recognized that we had now “modulated” to the key of F major or F# major. My student did not need this information. She just needed to know that “1” was now on a space and everything else moved relative to that. (i.e., 3, 5, and 7 would now be on the adjacent ascending spaces, and 2, 4 and 6 would be on the lines.)

This whole process until now took about ten to fifteen minutes, after which she could easily calculate any note’s scale number within an octave span.  Although given a bit of time, she could name all the note names on the staff, she did not need to know the name of any of the notes to sing with the numbers.  She merely needed to know the location of the “1” note. Finding any other note on the staff then simply became a simple exercise in patterns. It is a simple concept, but it worked.

It was now time to apply what we had learned by introducing her to her first vocal literature piece. I chose a classic worship song in the key of C that she had never heard before. Once I showed her where “1” was, we slowly worked through the refrain singing by numbers. In no time she realized that what we had been working on with the huge staff on the floor also applied to the printed sheet music. We’ll spend parts of many future voice lessons building on this concept, but in a mere few minutes of instruction, an inexperienced musician had learned to sight-read a new song. Awesome!

How does this apply to Kids Worship Arts? This post and the previous one refer to an individual student’s journey. I chose this example because it was the easiest way for me to covey the numerical sight-singing concept. However, I’ve used this method with larger groups with just as much success. The process usually moves a bit slower when the numbers of singers increases, but the principles work whether it is a single voice student or a full choir. Sight singing by numbers is an awesome tool to help any singer become a musician. All that is needed is appropriate guidance. Be their guide!