Last week I talked about the rhythm part of sight reading, this week it’s time to dive into the arcane world of notes. No, no, don’t run away…it’s not as scary as you think.
As Maria Von Trapp presented it, “Let’s start at the very beginning” with the simple DO-RE-MI scale. (Back when I was a kid I met Maria at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. She didn’t look like Julie Andrews at ALL. She was built like a refrigerator with a head on it. Very nice, though, with a big smile.) Sneaky choral trick for figuring out where DO is…look at the last measure. There’s a really good chance that the bass part is singing it. Not always, but a lot.
If you really want to know, the DO-RE-MI scale is referred to as “solfege syllables”. News to me…
Now look at the lines of the staff. Simply put, each line and each space are a step in that scale (yeah, yeah, I know…minor keys blah blah blah…we’re starting with the basics here). If you start at DO and work your way up to the next note you’ll find the interval between the two. It works like this: let’s say that the two notes you’re seeing are three steps apart, meaning that if DO is 1 then the next note is 4 or FA. Just sing DO-RE-MI-FA and then DO-FA. That’s all there is to it. You don’t need to know that it’s called a fourth, it’s DO-FA. You can do that with any interval and start to piece the line together. Don’t do it along with the rhythm at first, you can combine them later.
Another sneaky trick is to find some common uses of an interval so you can just plug and play. Here are a few good ones.
A second or DO-RE: The first two notes of “Happy Birthday”
A third or DO-MI: The first interval in “’O ‘Oe ‘Io” or the first interval of “When the Saints Go Marching In” (the “oh when”)
A fourth or DO-FA: “Here comes the bride” or the “we wish” in “We wish you a merry Christmas”.
A fifth or DO-SOL: The chant of the wicked witch’s soldiers in “The Wizard of Oz” (you know, the “Oh-Ee-Oh” bit) or the interval between the first to twinkles in “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Start”
A sixth or DO-LA: The first two notes of the “N-B-C” three tones that the network uses or the first two notes of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”
A seventh or DO-TI: The first and third notes of “Bali Hai” from “South Pacific” (so it’s “Ba” and “Hai” with an extra note in between) or the first and third notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (so it’s “Some” and “O”)
An octave or DO-DO (yeah, there’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m resisting it…it’s hard): The “Somewhere” of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” or the first two notes of “Let It Snow” (“O the weather”)
If it sounds like a lot of work to get started, you’re right. There are multiple pieces of good news that come of it however. First, you’re learning to read music. All you need to do is assign the letters to the lines and spaces and you’ve got it. And heeeere they are:
Second, you’re really getting to know your music and that can only be a good thing. Third and most important, as with all things in music, the more you work on it the easier it becomes. Once you get over the hump of getting the nuts and bolts of it you’ll be amazed at how easy it will be. You’ll never figure out all the lines of all the pieces we sing but you’ll have most of it (use the Chorus Connection sound files to check your work and fill in the blanks) and that’s the kind of confidence that makes you a better singer.
And THAT is also always a good thing when you’re surrounded by a hundred other people trying to figure it out, too.