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Sight Singing In The Real World

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

What's it like sight singing in the real world? What are you expected to do? What's the standard? Is there a lot of pressure?

In this blog I'm going to answer these questions for you.

First of all, quite a large part of my living is made sight singing - I'm good at it, I know what I'm doing, and most importantly I'm reliable!!

That's part of the reason I created Sing By Sight - my online sight singing course written specifically for Contemporary Commercial Music singers - I want to pass my sight singing knowledge and experience on to other singers and tell you everything I've learned over my years at the top of the vocal industry..

So let's get to the questions, and more importantly the answers.

1. What is it like sight singing?

Sight singing can be a bit daunting because you don't know what you're going to be handed, you are literally singing at sight.

When I'm booked on a job, 99% of the time I will be handed a piece of music I've never seen before and expected to perform it. This is where my Routine For Reading comes into play, the routine I go through every time I pick up a piece of music.

But Emer, I thought you said you're a good sight singer, do you really need to go through a Routine For Reading?

Well yes, even though I'm very fast at sight singing, I still use my Routine For Reading as a process to help me take in a lot of information very quickly and see as much information on a page of music as possible. I talk a lot about a Routine For Reading on Sing By Sight as it's a hugely important part of becoming a quick, efficient and accurate sight singer. Think about developing your Routine For Reading to help you become a strong sight singer.

Have a method you use when sight singing so you can control any nerves or anxiety.

2. What are you expected to do on a sight singing job?

When you're on a sight singing job, on a session in a studio for example, you're expected to pick up your piece of music and sing it.

This involves:

  1. scanning the piece of music as soon as you get it, going through your Routine For Reading, looking for all the usual elements such as clef, key signature, time signature and starting note.

  2. moving on to look for other features such as the structure of the piece, any accidentals, maybe a key change, and also any bars that leap out because they're busy or look tricky.

  3. listening to the track a couple of times and under-sing it (sing more softly than normal) to get a feel for the style and the track

  4. singing your part.

The piece of music can be in any style, so I need to not only read the part, but also interpret it in the style that's required, and then also be ready to make any adjustments to the part that may be necessary. To do this I need to be able to talk in the language of music. I need to be able to express myself clearly if I have a question, and also understand instructions from the person in charge of the session.

Always aim to be efficient and accurate on a sight singing job.

3. What's the standard of sight singing needed in the real world?

This kind of depends on what world you're in, who's booking you, and what job you've been booked on. For me, I can basically be asked to sight sing any music and for any client, from pop BV's to movie soundtrack material.

This is because fixers (people who book me) know I am a very strong sight singer and I can work at a high level, so I will get booked for jobs where time is precious i.e. no time for going through parts, and no time for rehearsing (or note-bashing as its called in the business).

However, if you've been asked to sing on a more low key project where maybe there's more time available to go through the music, work out the notes on your line, or practice and rehearse the parts, then obviously your reading doesn't have to be as quick and efficient as maybe mine does.

Choose your sight singing jobs carefully and wisely.

4. Is there a lot of pressure when sing singing?

Ultimately the answer to this question is yes, especially when dealing with big projects.

Keeping calm and remembering all the basics of reading as well as your Routine For Reading really helps you deal with any pressure, so try and fill you head with this information instead of with fear and panic.

We all make mistakes (even me!) and the most important thing to take away from that is that you have to move on, keep going, and when you go back to that part in the music where you slipped up, don't make the same mistake again.

If you know you've walking into a job that you can handle, the pressure will be a lot less, and you stand a great chance of really showing how good you are, so try not to end up in situations where you're slightly out of your depth.

Be honest about your sight singing ability to avoid any anxiety or stress.

This photo was taken at Abbey Road Studios, London, after we had finished recording the vocals for the recent Disney live-action version of 'Aladdin'.

I was working for Capital Voices (Annie Skates), and the Chorus Master on the day was Stephen Hill (left).

The amazing Alan Menken, composer of soundtracks such as 'Aladdin' and 'The Little Mermaid' is in the centre of the photo, and I'm on the right.

The music we were recording was taken from the animated version of 'Aladdin' so we kind of new what we were going to be asked to sing, however we still had to work on interpretation and delivery, as Alan had some ideas he wanted to play around with and alterations he wanted to make from the original Disney soundtrack.

This photo was taken at the soundcheck/rehearsal for a Christmas concert with Capital Voices at The Royal Albert Hall, London.

Chorus Director was Annie Skates and we were sight singing music for the 'Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag' Christmas concert.

The programme covered a wide range of styles and genres, and we had a 3 hour soundcheck/rehearsal to look through the music (about 40 pieces in all!).

The split was 2 Sops, 2 Altos, 2 Tenors and 2 Bass, and I was singing Alto 2 (the lower alto part).

A job like this can be a bit scary as you don't get a second chance on a concert to correct any mistakes, and as you can see from the photo, we're all close-mic'd. (We did dress up and look very smart for the actual performance 😉).

Don't forget to check out Sing By Sight, a fabulous sight singing course, written specifically for Contemporary Commercial Music singers with over 250 videos and over 700 tracks,, all helping you to become the best sight singer you can be.

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