For 40 years I’ve taught sight singing, ear training, staying on pitch, practical theory, composition, orchestration and conducting to musicians from every genre.  I also teach people how to play music by ear, without reading music. (Surprisingly, some of the same skills are useful for both activities.)

With me you won’t learn how to sound pretty, you’ll learn how to sing the right notes at the right time, in tune.

Early Training
I started my musical training at the age of 6 with two Nadia Boulanger disciples at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, Bain Murray and Starling Cumberworth. (Boulanger was the premiere musical pedagogue in the 20th century). At 18 I received a diploma in composition, winning a composition prize at Interlochen, National Music Camp and conducting my own double woodwind quintet at my high school graduation. I was one of a very few Oberlin freshman to pass out of the first two years of music theory. At Queens College I worked my way through my first Masters degree teaching sight singing and continued to use it as my bread and butter as I developed a career as a viola da gamba player in New York. Now, as director of HESPERUS, I perform, record, tour, and teach.

The three basic steps in the process of sight singing are
   -Reading a note on the page
   -Hearing the note in your head
   -Singing the note

The process can get complicated as the singer must go from note to note in rhythm, maintaining a constant speed. I compare this process to learning how to drive stick shift. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a student identifies notes by letter name, solfege syllable, or relative position on the staff as long as s/he engages with the actual pitches. Singers generally have trouble with one of these steps, sometimes two, seldom three.

 Music is a graph, and learning to read a graph just takes a little training and practice. Hearing the interval between the pitches can be harder, compounded by a common weakness in perceiving rhythm and meter.  To teach intervals I use popular songs as mnemonic devices; to teach rhythm I use Dalcroze and Hindemith techniques, get the student walking, clapping and singing.

Most students have a passive understanding of theory but need to learn how to use it actively to support their sight reading.  I re-introduce standard terms such as scale, mode, key signature, meter, chord and inversion, defining them in functional ways that students can build upon. Usually in a few weeks there’s an ‘aha’ moment as the student connects his/her previous experiences with notes, chords and intervals to this new approach.

In order to go to a new note, you must remember the note you just sang. Most people don’t listen to remember, they listen for ensemble, timbre or pitch, or they don’t listen at all and watch the conductor. Some simple repetition and copying games can retrain a student’s ear.

Many amateur singers don’t sing loudly enough; sometimes all they need to sing on pitch is to learn a few basics of support and placement so they can hear themselves. If that fails, I bring in a tuner or even a tape recorder so they can hear their pitch from the outside.
Rapid sight singing is at least 50% anticipation. That’s not the same as anxious guessing, a trap that many students fall into. Thoughtful anticipation combines an understanding of theory, an aural memory of what’s  just been sung, and a visual grasp of patterns on the page: sequences, repetitions, transpositions, inversions and augmentations.  Handel’s Messiah is a great textbook for patterns.
It’s virtually impossible to teach sight singing unless students make nice, loud, frequent mistakes. Most students try to hide their mistakes, one reason why teaching class sight singing is so difficult. This type of training works best when 1) the student is asked to be a partner in the process, and 2) a ‘diagnostic’ approach is suggested (What went wrong? Where did you get off track?) rather than a judgmental one (That sounds horrible).

Every student is different but in my experience 99% of students can improve. Sometimes it takes so much work to maintain that improvement that students give up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

What We Offer
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What's That Note