4 Tips to Prepare for Sight Singing

Tall slender man standing in front of a white board with a music staff on it. Superimposed is a staff with the tonic cord displayed and the not G highlighted by a red dot.
Dr. Steven Weber giving a short lesson on sight singing tips.

Singing at contest generally makes one a little anxious, but add an unfamiliar piece of music and the requirement to work it into a performance level piece in a matter of minutes and things become downright uncomfortable. But there are some techniques that can help prepare you for sight singing. Dr. Steven Weber, professor of choral education at Wayland, offers four tips that can help you feel a little more prepared for facing the unknown.

Dr. Weber compares sight singing to learning to read. Children learn language, then letters, then start recognizing groupings of letters that form words or phrases. He said it’s the same with singing. You already know the notes and what sounds they make, but familiarizing yourself with groupings can help transition to a quicker understanding of an unfamiliar piece of music.

Practice Your Scales

The first grouping that Dr. Weber encourages student to practice are the scales. Take segments of scales and practice singing from one to the next up or down the scale. This is something all singers are familiar with and comes naturally.

Recognize Chord Outlines

The next step is recognizing chord outlines. Singing the tonic chord (C, E, G, E, C, G, C) is something vocal musicians do every day. Weber’s advice is to shake up the order of the chord. Instead of the standard, move the chord progression around in order to better familiarize yourself with moving between notes. He said this is also a good thing to do with the 5/7 chord, which is a chord with which singers may not be as familiar.

Practice Sequences

Weber’s third tip is to practice patterns of notes, moving between notes in chords. He said with his students he will often set a pattern within the scale, for instance singing C, A, B, G, followed by A, F, G, E. Then to help students get used to moving between notes, he will have them continue the pattern up and down the scale.

Get to Know Your Neighbors

The final technique to help prepare for sight singing is what Weber refers to as using neighbor tones, or simply the tones that surround a note. He said singing a note, then following with the notes before and after teaches students to move between notes with ease. For instance, Weber will sing an E followed by F and G. He will then move through the scale with this technique.

While you can’t fully prepare for sight singing ahead of time, Weber said using these four techniques will help you recognize patterns and groupings, making it easier to transition from note-to-note.

For more helpful hints and music techniques, follow the Wayland School of Music on Facebook, and subscribe to Wayland’s YouTube channel where you will find the Music in Minutes playlist. A new music lesson is posted every two weeks.


Music in Minutes is a product of the Wayland Baptist University School of Music. Wayland is an All-Steinway School and an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Music. You can contact the school at www.wbu.edu or 806-291-1076.