THE TEACHING OF SIGHT-SINGING
Instruction in sight-singing should begin by teaching the staff notation through the Tonic Sol-fa method. Objections to this are sometimes raised by very musical people, who have no recollection of any ‘method’ by means of which they themselves learnt to sing at sight, and who therefore think their pupils can pick up the knowledge in the same instinctive fashion. Experience proves that this is very rarely the case.
With very little children it is well to keep entirely to hand signs and ear tests until all the notes of the scale are known, through their ‘mental effect’. One reason for this is that such children cannot read or write, so no musical work can be done with them which implies this knowledge. Care must be taken to vary the lessons as much as possible.
At one lesson the teacher can give the hand signs and ear tests herself. At the next, one of the class can give the hand signs for the rest of the class, and the teacher the ear tests. At the next, a child can give the ear tests, and so on. An experienced teacher will find plenty of similar ways for producing new interest in the lessons, even though the actual amount of work done be necessarily small. Nothing is gained by hurrying over the initial stages of ear-training. The foundation must be securely laid, or trouble will come later. Those who have had experience of class work in kindergartens know the special difficulties to be met—the irregularity of attendance, the constant stream of new pupils coming in, and so on. Unless plenty of opportunity is given for revision the work will suffer in thoroughness.
For children who take this work between the ages of eight and twelve, no better scheme for sight-singing can be found than that contained in Somervell’s Fifty Steps in Sight-singing, supplemented by the children’s books, A Thousand Exercises, published by Curwen. It is essential to read carefully the appendices to this work, especially that concerned with the minor keys. Another book of sight-singing exercises which follows the same sequence is the Rational Sight Reader, by Everett, published by Boosey.
In teaching the keys of G major and F major it is most important that the class shall themselves discover the necessity for the F[#] and B[b] in the respective signatures. Inexperienced teachers sometimes teach this as a dogma, and thereby deprive the children of the delight of discovering it for themselves.
Thus, if the scale of G major be played with F[n] instead of F[#], the class will discover that taw has been played instead of te, and will soon find out how to correct the wrong sound.
Similarly, if the scale of F major be played with B[n] instead of B[b], they will say that fe has been played instead of fah.
If the order of keys taken be that of the Fifty Steps, the following diagram will show at a glance the underlying plan: