Tag Archives: sight singing

Review: Go for Bronze

One of the biggest challenges any singing teacher faces is teaching sight-reading skills. Sight-singing is often neglected because singers tend to learn more by listening than reading. Many singers can go a long way with only rudimentary ability to read music – much further than a violinist or pianist can.

On my search for resources, I discovered Go for Bronze. Go for Bronze is a resource produced by the National Youth Choir of Scotland and it is used by them to develop musicianship in their choirs.

Image from musicroom.com

Image from musicroom.com

 

 

Title: Go for Bronze
Type of Material: Teacher’s Folder, Student Booklets
Publication: 2012, NYCOS
RRP: £35 for binder, £30 for 10 booklets (or individually from the BKA)

 

 

 

Go for Bronze is a comprehensive resource which is primarily designed for use with groups of children aged about 7 to 11. It uses traditional songs to help teach musicianship through the Kodaly method. It is structured to use tonic sol-fa along with physical movement and singing to teach fluent music reading.

Go for Bronze begins with the concept of holding a steady pulse or beat, before introducing the minor third (the easiest interval to sing). From there, rhythms are introduced in a slightly different order to traditional educational texts, as they draw on folk music rhythms. For example, syncopation comes much earlier in Go for Bronze than in most piano tutor methods. Complexity of rhythm is also built up much earlier than complexity of pitch which is really good for singers as they tend to be weaker on reading rhythm. Singing activities are interspersed with writing tasks as stick notation and then staff notation are introduced.

The general structure of the book is excellent, and very logical. There is plenty of time given to practice each concept before a new one is introduced. All the text is big, bold and clear. There is also plenty of information in the student book, making it a resource students can use confidently at home to practice and keep for years to come.

The pace of the book is quite slow – it takes a month or more to get to three pitches (so, mi and la). This can be frustrating for those who already read music, and for this reason, Go for Bronze may not be the best material for those students. For non-readers, or those with little more than school level knowledge, Go for Bronze starts right from the basics without being patronising. Despite the suggested ages, I mainly use this book with adult beginners, and they are very happy using it. Many of them enjoy singing songs they know from their childhood which appear in the book.

If you are considering using this resource, it’s well worth buying the teaching manual as it gives very clear guidance on how to teach each section. There are also loads of ideas about additional songs and games to reinforce concepts. The teaching manual also includes the end of level tests and photocopyable certificates which can be given to students. The Go for Bronze manual includes both levels in the one binder. The student books are good, but probably insufficient if one is using this programme with a group, or with several students. Unless you are already very familiar with Kodaly based learning, I would advise getting the Go for Bronze teaching binder.

Overall, the cost of this resource is quite high, but the effectiveness makes the £35 worth every penny. Since using this resource, I have become completely converted to this being the best method to help singers learn to read music. Kodaly resources are, by no means, the be-all-and-end-all of musicianship resources, but they do what they do extremely well.

Go for Bronze has two further levels: Go for Silver and Go for Gold. By completing the whole course, students encounter an equivalent understanding of music theory to the ABRSM Grade 5 theory examination.

Content: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Layout: ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Value for Money: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

ABRSM Exams – Supporting Tests: Sight-Reading

NB: While reading this series, it can be helpful to keep a copy of the ABRSM Singing syllabus to hand. The syllabus can be downloaded here

Sight Singing. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of music students everywhere! I used to be really scared of this part of the exam, but I realised later that this was largely because I didn’t get the level of study and preparation that I should have done until my very last, Grade 8, exam. I even failed my Grade 5 sight-reading…

One of the biggest holes in singing teaching resources is a really good series of materials targeted at the ABRSM graded sight-singing requirements. For most of the other popular instruments there’s a great series of 8 books which help students work through the transition between each grade. Not so for singing.

There are, however, still plenty of good books around. I make use of “Improve Your Sight-Singing” by Paul Harris regularly, as it does have a good progression through from simple tunes to harder ones. I have also got hold of a few sets of tests including some I’ve found online and a big book I first discovered in the university library. Arming yourself with loads and loads of material to sight-sing is the first part of the battle.

Before tackling even Grade 1 sight-singing, singers do need to be able to read music. Some singing students come to me as “second study” singers having previously learned to play an instrument. These singers can already read music, but need to learn to read it in a new way to be confident at sight-singing. Other singers come to singing as their first ever music lessons, and they are often either non-readers, or only know a very little.

For those who can read music, the best option I have found is to switch between using a sight-singing book like Improve Your Sight-Singing and simply presenting the student with real music. Make sure that you know what kind of level you’re expecting your students to be able to read at – for Grade 1, the range is small, and the steps are all tones or semitones within the major scale. (The syllabus has all the information you need). Don’t be afraid to give students more challenging music occasionally, but keep it largely close to the exam requirements.

For non-readers, sight-reading is much easier to teach as it can be built into a musicianship scheme like Go for Bronze or Jolly Music. Both of these schemes use Kodaly principles to introduce written music in the context of “sound before sight” – students sing a song, and then see the notation. By the end of the two levels of Go for Bronze, students should be more than ready to tackle sight-reading at Grade 1.

For all students, when facing the actual exam itself, it’s good to go over a process that students can engage in during the 30 seconds of looking time. I teach students to work through the following questions while using the example tests from the ABRSM book:

  • What is the tonality? Is it major or minor? (For singers, the specific key is not as important as it is for instrumentalists)
  • Are there accidentals? Where are they?
  • Are there any arpeggio/scale patterns I recognise?
  • Are there any large intervals?
  • How does it end? (If there’s time, hum through the first two and last two bars)

Singers, while required to perform with an accompaniment, no longer have an introduction, allowing students to set their own speed. I encourage students to start as slowly as they dare. Students can sing to “ah”, or to sol-fa names. From Grade 6, there are words, but they’re not mandatory. Make sure your student knows what they are going to do on the day.

It’s also worth reminding nervous candidates that they can choose to do their sight-reading first if they want to. The exam order is chosen by the candidate not the examiner.

There are no easy solutions or shortcuts to good sight-reading. The only certainty is that if you neglect it, it only becomes more difficult to catch up. This is probably the one area I would want to be sure a student was ready to pass before submitting them for an exam.

Useful Resources:

Next, we’ll look at the aural tests, which are (thankfully) much easier to prepare for and pass with flying colours.

–> Next: “Supporting Tests: Aural Tests

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