Killian, J. N., & Henry, M. L. (2005). A comparison of successful and unsuccessful strategies in individual sight-singing preparation and performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(1), 51-65.
What did the researchers want to know?
What observable strategies or characteristics are associated with high-, medium-, or low-accuracy among high school sight-singers?
What did the researchers do?
Participants were 198 singers in two high school choir camps designed to help prepare students for Texas all-state choir competition. Killian and Henry recorded each participant sight-singing two melodies—one in which they were given 30 seconds to prepare and one in which there was no preparation time. Each student’s performances were audio-recorded and later scored for accuracy, which Killian and Henry used to classify them into high-, medium-, and low-accuracy groups. The researchers also viewed videos of each student’s preparation and compiled a list of observed behaviors, which included the following:
- pitch strategies (tonicizing, using Curwen hand signs, using solfege or numbers)
- rhythm strategies (keeping a beat in the body)
- overall strategies (tempo, starting over, isolating trouble spots)
Participants also completed a survey to provide demographic information, such as age, voice part, and sight-singing practice habits.
What did the researchers find?
Strategies associated with higher sight-singing accuracy for either condition included tonicizing (vocally establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs. Students who performed with more accuracy were also more likely to state that they practice sight-singing individually and/or that their director tests sight-singing individually.
Note: Killian and Henry’s complete findings, including the effect of preparation time and other demographic differences associated with sight-singing accuracy, can be accessed in the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.
What does this mean for my classroom?
If we wish to improve our students’ sight-singing abilities, modeling and practicing strategies such as tonicizing (establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs may help. For example, tonicizing before any type of singing will strengthen students’ audiation and recognition of where the tonal center is, thus helping them sing with a more accurate sense of pitch. This could be done by arpeggiating the tonic chord or singing a quick “tune-up” in the appropriate key.
If sight-singing is an important skill we wish our students to have, we should also consider encouraging them to practice sight-singing on their own and holding them accountable through individual sight-singing tests.