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Joining the Dots: the author's perspective

3 years ago

 

Alan Bullard, composer and author of Joining the Dots, provides an insight into the most recent additions to ABRSM's series of books to support sight-reading and sight-singing practice.


Published towards the end of last year were the five volumes of my Joining the Dots Singing – subtitled ‘A Fresh Approach to Sight-Singing’.

The Joining the Dots series already contained books for piano, violin, and guitar, but when the opportunity to do a series of sight-singing books arose, you couldn’t hold me back (though it took a long time to get it right!).

Joining the Dots Singing 1

Joining the Dots Singing 2

Joining the Dots Singing 3

Joining the Dots Singing 4

Joining the Dots Singing 5

What have I enjoyed?

Sight-singing is such a useful skill – for all musicians – and I’ve always wanted to do my bit to help people with it. In the process of writing these books, I’ve very much enjoyed the logic of working out the best approach to improving skill and confidence in singing at sight.

How does the Joining the Dots approach work for singers?

The traditional approach of many singers to music learning and performing is different from the traditional instrumental model. Most solo singers aim to sing ‘away from the book’ as soon as possible, to facilitate performance and communication, and many are therefore just not so used to the concept of reading music in the way that instrumentalists are.

Therefore, Joining the Dots Singing is a structured, step-by-step approach to sight-singing. Like the other Joining the Dots books, it contains Workouts, opportunities for improvisation (Make Music), as well as rounds, duets, and songs to sight-read with piano accompaniment (of similar standard to the relevant sight-singing grade) – but, unlike the instrumental books, each book is designed to be worked through from beginning to end, to build on and develop the student’s skills over time.

What’s in the book?

Workouts - Book 1It follows the carefully ordered structure of the ABRSM sight-singing syllabus, which leads from stepwise movement and simple rhythms using quavers, crotchets and minims (in Book 1) to leaps of up to a fifth, and a much wider rhythmic variety (in Book 5).

In each book the Workouts develop the rhythm and pitch skills required for the grade, and are taught both aurally and from the page. Each workout page introduces its particular topic in a ‘singing back’ exercise for teacher and pupil, followed by a number of short exercises to promote effective reading from staff notation, using tonic sol-fa, numbered degrees of the scale, or any suitable syllable.

Make Music - Book 5The Workouts lead on the Make Music sections, which, using an approach which is not primarily notation-based, contain activities which will help to familiarise pupils with the ‘feel’ of a key centre and of different intervals. Further sections include It Takes Two, where pupil and teacher (or two pupils) can work together on the techniques used, building confidence through duets, rounds, and voice and piano songs, leading to the Read and Sing section which provides sight-singing exercises similar to those in the exam. Finally, there is a page of Songs with Words for pupils to sing together, cementing what has been learned and preparing for the next book.

Thus, at every stage, each new concept is introduced aurally, notationally, and through creative work.

Did I bring any of my experience as a choral composer to this project?

As a composer of choral music, I’ve worked with many choral singers, and as a teacher, I have taught sight-singing and general musicianship for many years. There is no doubt that quick and efficient sight-singing saves a great deal of time in choral rehearsals, and also helps instrumentalists to internalise the music they are playing – thus, in both cases, achieving more efficient learning and more time to develop the musical details and performance skills.

Instrumentalists and choral singers as well as solo singers, then?

Yes, I believe that that Joining the Dots Singing will be of use not only to solo singers taking examinations, but to all singers and instrumentalists who wish to develop these skills.


Joining the Dots Singing is published by ABRSM – the five volumes cover the sight-singing requirements of the ABRSM Singing exams, Grades 1 to 5.

This article was originally published on Alan's blog on 7 January 2016.

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