Throughout my personal music journey, I have played under many conductors, been taught by several music teachers, and have even just observed other teachers and their preferred teaching techniques. Over the years, there have been a few educators who have really stuck out to me. What made them stand out from the others? Singing. I should take this time to note now that I'm speaking about instrument ensembles and classrooms, not just a choir setting. The benefits of singing in an instrumental setting can be endless, but when it comes right down to it, not many people take advantage of it. Signing in an instrumental setting is, in my opinion, one of the best kept secrets in the music world (that shouldn't be a secret!!!)
I managed to stumble across an article by NAfME (National Association for Music Education) member and string teacher, Kelly Thomas. In her article "Developing Sight-Reading Rock Stars in Orchestra," she talks about how when she first started playing string instruments she was "at best, an average sight-reader." However, when she learned solfege in in 8th grade, her sight-reading skills immediately got a lot better! No, it's not coincidence. When you are able to easily recognize and sing intervals that you see written on the page, that will easily translate onto whatever instrument you play. After all, being able to recognize pitches and actually hear them are a HUGE part of playing music, right?! Right! So by developing your sight-singing skills, you will be able to drastically improve your sight-reading skills! But what do you do if you, the teacher, aren't very comfortable with solfege or sight-singing? I'm willing to bet that at some point during your musical career you have encountered at least one vocal teacher or performer. UTILIZE THEM! The music education community is incredibly caring and helpful, always willing to share resources and knowledge, as well as "pro-tips" that have been discovered along the way (kind of like some of these blogs??). Contact a vocal teacher, choir teacher, or anyone who is comfortable with solfege. Chances are they have some really easy tips for honing your solfege skills!
There's a chance that you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "so only sight-reading? That's the benefit of singing? Is sight-reading really that important?" Well, yes, it is, but that's not the only benefit! I have played under several conductors who, during rehearsal, have the ensemble sing their parts. The first time this happened, I thought the conductor was crazy! I sat there with my bassoon thinking, "Why am I hear to play bassoon but instead sitting here SINGING the British Eighth March?!" Turns out, he knew exactly what he was doing. Singing your part, even if not all of your pitches are 100% accurate, you are able to hear what isn't lining up between your part and the rest of the ensemble. It also gives you a chance to hear the other parts more. It's amazing how much more you can hear when you're not focused on embouchure, fingers, etc. You can also do a singing exercise while fingering along. This way, your fingers are still getting the practice in, you can work on rhythms and vertical alignment, but you're giving the chops a rest! Choosing a unified syllable is ideal for this kind of exercise. That way, you can easily hear attacks and releases, or just moving lines in general, that aren't quite lining up. This is also a great tool for rhythmic exercise that needs to be done several times. We've all been there. That pesky little rhythm that we just can't seem to get, or just can't align between sections or players. What good will it do to have someone play it over and over until their lips are about to fall off, when instead you can have them sing it while fingering along?
Do you still need convincing on the benefits of singing? Here is the link to the article written by Kelly: http://www.nafme.org/sight-singing-in-the-string-classroom/?platform=hootsuite
Enjoy and happy singing!