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Sight Reading in Middle School...Is It Possible?

I will graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education (choral/general concentration) in May, and I am student teaching at a middle school (my most preferred age group). The students are rely heavily on the piano, and I am required to plunk out all of their notes when teaching them their repertoire. At my current placement, the minute I take piano away from them, they begin to sing timidly with low confidence and poor technique.
While I respect my co-op's program and teaching process, I'm wondering when I get my own choir if it is possible to get the students reading their music, so I can spend less time at the piano and more time in front of the students.
To you current middle school teachers, how successful is a capella singing with middle school age students. How much success have you had with teaching middle school students to sight read their repertoire, what music literacy methods have you used?
Any thoughts? Advice?
Thanks :)
Replies (16): Threaded | Chronological
on March 14, 2011 6:14pm
When I taught middle school, I took the job after a woman who taught the kids solfeggio.  They learned so well that she would feature them sightreading in solfege in 4 parts, at their concerts.  She would hand them an example and they would write in the syllables, she'd let them sing the scale of the piece, and then they would find their first pitches and go.  I think most high quality programs use this system, as do the majority of professional level children's choirs.  It is not hard to make it fun, through the use of Curwen hand signs and games you play with it ("name that tune" in solfege, the "think" game, etc.)  It helps all ages of kids to learn to keep the whole key in their mind while they link the pitches on the page to their place in the scale.   Like you, I was not taught the use of solfeggio at my college (I can't believe it) - teaching was the start of my experience with it.  I have used it for 27 years thereafter.  Nothing works better for training the inner ear and then making the jump to notes on the staff.  
on June 7, 2013 11:36am
Lots of great advice above.
Please check out Masterworks Press as a source of material that you are able to legally duplicate at will as materials for your students.
I have my students solfege everything they get with moveable DO, notate the counts, then mix it up singing solfege or count singing - singing the correct pitch but using the counts as text before adding the text of a piece. I also regularly give out homework where they have exercises on which they write the solfege below the staff, then either the counts or the pitch letter names above the staff. Everyone learns both treble and bass clef. We do use the hand signs.
As they gain more expertise, we also do 4 bar dicatation exercises, beginning with just simple rhythm notation on a timeline, then moving toa staff adding two pitch dictation, then working forward with example difficulty.
The room is never so quiet as it is when I have played a 4-bar example and they are all audiating internally. The vast majority of students I have encountered in my 30+ years are able to do this.
I currently teach at the HS level, but this worked very well at the MS level when I did that.
The best part of all this is that at the mid-year after our Holiday Concert I pull out about five titles from the library that are within the reading ability of that particular ensemble, pieces that could become part of the repertoire, give them about 5-8 minutes to look over the piece, talk them through the form, then have them sing it. When  done, I ask the question, " Could we have done that at the beginning of the year?" The answer is a resounding, "No!"
They get it. Then they really get the value of reading and solfege.
I then let them pick one or two of those selections for performance in the Spring Concert.
Carol Krueger and Michael Driscoll are both terrific.
Best of luck

Thomas R. Martin

Choral Director

Keene High School



The Arts exist to express the inexpressible!



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