To extend the range further, a most useful melody is Hot cross buns, which also makes the octave interval very familiar:
Girls and boys come out to play provides another good resource. Again, use the melodies for playing by ear (and for harmonising) as well as singing them. Hot cross buns works well as a round, and sung or played twice through can be easily combined with Frère Jacques. Two singers or players can have a lot of fun with this, and one intrepid pianist can combine the two melodies, one in each hand. After this kind of thorough workout, extend the range of the flash cards and cover the Grade 2 Aural Test B.
By now your pupil will be ready for scales and arpeggios. Write out a major scale (D major is suitable for pitching) ascending and descending. Give the key note and ask your pupil first of all to sing it out loud, and then to sing it in his head. Now ask him to sing two or three notes, starting easily with, for example, 3 – 4 – 5, moving on to skipped notes, 2 – 4 – 6 or 8 – 5 – 8, and then extending to more complicated patterns. A useful way to focus attention and increase concentration is to cut out simple frames from a piece of card. The frames can then be placed over the notes of the written out scale which are to be sung. Allow time for the pupil to internalise the missing scale notes at first, but repeating the process will help skips to speed up. Build on this by singing the now familiar songs using letter names or numbers (or tonic solfa) without looking at the keyboard. Useful materials now will be the Aural Test B from Grades 4 and 5, tests C and D from Musicianship in Practice Book I (ABRSM), Aural Time, Easy Sight Singing Practice by David Turnbull (Bosworth), and 333 Elementary Exercises from the Kodaly Choral Method (Boosey and Hawkes).
By now quick skips around the major scale will be aided by focussing on intervals. Remember to work on these both up and down. While many pupils find it fairly easy to pitch a fourth upwards, many find it much more difficult to do
this downwards. Well known tunes can be used to help fix the interval securely, but if you do this, you will have to go over it many times to make sure that the correct tune and interval are matched – they do tend to get mixed up. Flash cards of intervals consolidate the whole process, and it is useful to point out positioning on the stave, for example that a third is always either from a line to line or from a space to space whereas a fourth is from a line to a space or from a space to a line etc.
Your pupil is now ready to sight sing the melodic line of the next piece (in a major key) that he is going to learn. Can he hear it in his head, perhaps just a few notes at a time? Perhaps he can sing it out loud too. Persuade him to memorise (without playing) just a few bars of the left hand opening – can he play this while singing the melody off by heart or even tapping the melodic rhythm? Invaluable in developing this two-activities-at-a-time work are the echo singing with ostinato tests of the Practical Musicianship Syllabus, Grades 1 and 2. Again, Musicianship in Practice Book I (ABRSM) gives plenty of examples.
Follow on by making minor and then modal patterns familiar in the same way. Playing by ear, harmonisation and improvisation will all improve musicianship skills, as will an understanding of theory. All sorts of ensemble work, from simple two-part sight singing to playing rounds and duets will enhance confidence in holding a musical line. Space has not allowed me to discuss rhythmic work here, but all aspects of this too need to be steadily built up hand in hand with those of pitch.
The aims of all this work are two fold; firstly to become a good sight singer (and instrumental sight reader) who can enjoy a range of musical activities. Unless our pupils are to become good sight readers we have failed in our efforts to produce independent musicians. The second aim is to be able to look at a page of music and hear it in our head. Can we tell by looking if a sheet of music is by Beethoven or Brahms? Only by becoming familiar with the composers’ styles. Can we hear the harmony in our head? Not, I suspect without having spent time playing cadences and chord progressions. Can we remember accurately the sound of an oboe? Again, only through repeated listening. As teachers, part of our job is to knit together many of these fringe skills which are actually central to a musician, and which will open up for our pupils the magical musical kingdom.