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hi this is Dale Duncan creator of the S cubed site singing program for beginners and you’re listening to the musicality podcast ever wondered why some people seem to have a gift for music have you ever wished that you could play by ear sing in tune improvise and jam you’re in the right place time to turn those wishes into reality welcome to the musicality podcast with your host Christopher Sutton hi this is Christopher founder of musical u and welcome to the musicality podcast how do you feel about sight singing to be handed a sheet of music and expected to sing it perfectly right off the bat or stepping back how do you feel about singing in general maybe even singing a familiar song sounds a bit intimidating to you today on the show I’m joined by Dale Duncan also known as Mr. D online who is the creator of a popular method a teaching site singing specifically to grade school students which is perhaps one of the most self-conscious groups of students you can imagine to try to get singing I was desperate to pick Dale’s brains on how exactly he approaches this and how he’s able to quickly get young people up to an impressive level of sight singing that has them winning competitions and sight singing material that the vast majority of experienced adult singers would struggle with in this conversation we talked about how he helped students who struggle to sing in tune and why he never requires members of his choir to sing solo one core technique he uses to teach sight singing and how it enables you to practice sight singing independent of school notation and the clever way he helps students to integrate their pitch and rhythm skills when sight singing Dale’s s cubed method for teaching sight singing is specifically designed to help other music teachers and choir directors like himself but as you’ll soon hear Dale has a ton of insight that can be helpful to move anybody’s singing or sight singing forward I hope you’ll enjoy this my name is Christopher Sutton and this is the musicality podcast from musical u welcome to the show Dale thank you for joining us today awesome to be here thanks for having me so these days you are a world leading specialist in sight singing and particularly in the middle school environment and I’d love to understand if this is something you were skillful in from the very beginning or if not what did your own musical journey look like what were your early music education experiences I started playing piano when I was five and I had a teacher that I did not like she was I don’t think she was able to work young children and um I stayed for about a year and then I stopped or until I was maybe 11 and then I took for a couple of more years but I didn’t practice very much so I love to sing more than I love to play and when I decided to focus more on singing at around age 11 I became less interested in piano and just did more performing things with my singing I did an opera as a little boy I sang in Boys Choir and then when my voice changed I did productions in junior high school and high school and performance really was where my passion was and I think when I stopped taking piano I kind of lost some of the abilities I might have obtained with sight singing and when I was in high school I really didn’t know how to figure out the notes at all like I just kind of sang and listened and estimated I didn’t know what I was doing and then when I went to college I had encountered the same situation I went to music school in the University of North Carolina and when I was there we had to have sight singing in her freshman year I decided to pass I would record every example and this was a long time ago so I recorded it I put it on like uh what it was a Walkman and I would put it on my head and walk across campus and listen to the examples we would have to sit down next to the teacher and the teacher would have a sing the examples and I would study the examples when I would be sitting and listen to the examples when I’d be walking and then I would be able to identify what they were so I down next to him and each time I would get a great grade because I just listened I was a sight singing though so then I started teaching which was a nightmare and the kids I had to impart this tool of sight singing on them and I had no idea what I was doing and remember they would get the books out they were trying their best for me but when they would start to sing it they’d get to like measure two and then every would just drop out and and hey whenever

I would ask them to take out this guy singing books they would say they would just moan you know and that was just not a good situation so that is sort of what led me to start working on Oh to teach this subject better to a true beginner that’s really interesting you know from my own experience I grew up doing a lot of singing and particularly in the choir context and looking back I was never really talked to safe thing you know when I was doing oral skills prep for instrument exams there would be these little bits where you have to cite sing to bars and you know I get a fifteen-minute teaching session where they tried to explain intervals to me and give me a reference song for the intervals and they were just like MN sing the example and I was like what how does this all fit together and and that was how it was for me for about ten years and some people in choir could figure it out and then I just listened to what they did and replicated it but it looking back it’s bizarre that we were handed this sheet music in choir expected to sight sing it and then in reality most people just kind of picked it up by ear and I’m sure some of our listeners are surprised to hear that someone like yourself who went to college for music it sounds like you also weren’t really taught step-by-step how to do sight singing know if when they would say go up a half-step really literally until my junior year I was guessing I had no idea what was doing and I didn’t I didn’t I just didn’t have the skill sets and the skill sets required to be able to cite saying are just tremendous the brain I would love to see a study done like of the brain a scientists you know looking at the brain as its sight singing as its trying to learn these skill sets because there are so many things involved as I’m sure there are with instruments but with an instrument you’re touching something you know with a piano you’re touching and that you your body is doing something with all the other instruments which I’m not familiar with I didn’t play any other thing but I know that there’s the you know there’s touching there’s with French horn I think that’s such a hard instrument right but like I don’t really even know how they get the pitch because I’ve never played one but I know that every French horn player I know has such a great ear you know so there are so many things involved at with singing in singing classes throughout my life we never did anything we never use the cordilla hand signs we never nobody ever taught me the skill sets required and so what I’ve tried to do over my career with my students is to break it down step by step and to give them the skill sets one step at a time and let them master it I’m a former gymnast so for me I think about teaching sight singing the way we teach gymnastics which you don’t progress from level one to level two until you’ve mastered the skills and level one and and when you go too fast if you skip a step you never ever will it be very good gymnast even if you topped out at level six if you’ve skipped steps you’re just not going to be that good so that kind of has influenced my approach of this step by step and being able to instill it successfully and most importantly to be able to do it in a fun way that’s engaging because I teach you know 11 to 14 year olds and if it’s miserable if they’re moaning when they pull out a book which you know it’s just a miserable experience they’re really even if they are successfully taught it it’s not a great journey and I want that for them well I’m sure a lot of our listeners a feeling the way I would have if you had said to me at the age of 16 I can teach you sight singing step by step which is super excited and curious now how that can work because to me it was definitely a magical kind of skill but before we dig into all that goodness I want to just come back for a moment to there’s something you talked about there which was when you left college and you’d had this experience of sight singing where you kind of you know used your ear to get through the requirements but you didn’t really go through the process of learning sight singing and then you were cast into this teaching environment where suddenly you were in the teachers position take us back to that and those maybe the first year of teaching what was that like for you was it was it just the sight singing that was tricky or what was it like becoming a music teacher it was an absolute nightmare I would say for really three years like I question I had I had sung on a cruise ship between my finishing my master’s in Hawaii of all places right a beautiful place before I began teaching but I knew I would teach and so I questioned myself so many times I’m like that cruise ship in Hawaii why am I not on that cruise ship it was so bad like the classroom management piece wasn’t what’s really hard i I looked about twelve years old and I you know the students were 12 so I mean that was a really tricky thing I tried to be mean instead of really just relating to the kids I wasn’t being myself it’s the bottom line and and then with the sight singing you know I was determined to I wanted to make them literate I wanted to take them to education you know the state adjudication because a vehicle it helped me prepare them for something um and

each time I worked on it it was just I couldn’t figure out like how to get them to be able to combine pitch and rhythm at the same time the first time they would encounter a half note they would not hold it long enough they and some child would move on to the next pitch before time and then of course this age group is not very confident you know usually I never have taught a Mozart so I don’t know what where those come from I’ve been waiting for 27 years I have not had one yet but every time my students would encounter that difficulty they’re just embarrassed to be wrong and so I was encountering that over and over and over again and the first year I didn’t take them to adjudication because I couldn’t get them ready enough the second year I took them to adjudication and they sang two songs for you know a rating of superior excellent good fair blah blah and then they went to the site singing room and they did the same now by the second year but in that state they only had to do stepwise quarter notes unison it was very simple they did get through that very well which was awesome and I was grateful so I was starting even then to figure out how to get some of this even though now my students can go 3 parts and do skips as white as an octave and chromatic sand things that are crazy that never could have happened back then I just but I was starting to figure it out I just didn’t really realize that they got a superior insight singing but when they were in there with the judges singing their songs they they had always gotten superiors before me the teacher always received superiors they got a good a3 which is they were bad I was devastated we got on the bus and the students looked at me and they were trying to make me feel better and they were like mr. Duncan and they were trying to use some slang they said we did good and then we all laughed that was fry it was fine but I and then after that the state I was teaching in North Carolina they had a magazine for choral teachers they had always published the superior ratings that year they accidentally published all of the ratings so all of my peers that had gone to school with everyone saw that my students had received threes that was really humiliating and I almost stopped teaching I was really ready aye-aye-aye at the end of that year said to myself I either have to stop doing this because I’m not good at it or I’ve got to figure it out and then in year 4 I start I really made an aggressive attempt to get it all figured out and I just you know I had already been trying but I was really on the brink of leaving well and in a moment I want to dive into that fourth year and how things starts to come together for you but before we go into the super interesting topic of sight singing which I think for a lot of people seems like quite an advanced skill in the world of singing let’s just talk a minute about singing in general because you were there cast in with 11 to 14 year olds and that’s an age where confidence is just starting to form and you know personal identity is coming into its own and I know for a lot of our listeners who are adults singing is intimidating I imagine it’s 10 times so for the kid in the classroom who’s not sure they’re a good singer how did you approach that or what were your experiences in those first few years of children just not wanting to sing or feeling like they can’t sing or indeed not being able to sing in June yeah singing is such a personal thing because it comes out of your body I mean I think I just said this to some of my students last week like it’s not the same as sitting out of a piano or picking up an instrument you can hide behind that a little bit and with singing it’s it’s so personal it’s so intimate and I absolutely never make my students sing by themselves unless they want and I make sure they know that from the beginning it’s terrified of that a lot of teachers question the fact that I don’t voice test I never voice test like I I would never want them to have to I did in the early years and I regretted it because I’d watched their faces they were just so scared I didn’t want to put them through that unless they wanted to go through that right like if we’re auditioning for a solo and they’re they’re trying to face that fear where they’re auditioning for a musical that we’re doing or something that’s a whole different thing that’s a whole different child and I want my room to be a place where those children can be and also the children who really have no interest in singing alone because it is just scary so these students in my room know that I’m never going to make them do that and and if they if they want to do it they can and in my home I have a karaoke machine and I love having karaoke parties right and it’s so much fun and I love it I love hearing people who are and coaxing people who are not really comfortable singing – singing now there may not be some alcohol involved when that occurs but we definitely get

that a little bit you know more comfortable and then when they sing it’s just so sweet to me and so often they think they they can’t do that and and when they do they’re so freed it’s awesome and these are of course friends so I understand that fear but the importance of singing if for any instrumentalist I think is is critical because it helps you sing it helps you learn to play it will allows you learn to play in tune more I think I think if you can figure out what the part is on the paper before you’re trying to play it I think that can only be a good thing now I am NOT an instrumentalist outside the piano and I’m not even that good at the piano so I’m not the expert on that subject but I I know how much is required in the brain to get people to to even seeing anything in tune or to sight singing especially you know to pick notes off the page and in that moment be able to sing it so many things are happening so uh III think adults are like little middle school kids you know the ones who never sang are still afraid to sing you think about your life how many things happen in middle school that you think about still when you’re in your 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s that was an awful time for so many I understand that fear just sits just like you’re in sixth grade scared to sing absolutely and I love that you do not force the kids to come sing solo at the front of the room it’s something that’s come up a few times in the show when talking about people thinking they can’t sing because that is so often people’s first experience of learning whether or not they can sing that at the front each play isn’t it on the piano if you hit it great you’re inquire if you don’t you can’t sing and for the rest of your life you think you cannot sing and I I wish and then you don’t exactly you don’t even try and I just wish more choir directors would make it clear to people considering joining their choir that that is how they approach things that they’re not gonna be put on the spot like that because I know so many instrument players who like the idea of going along even to their church choir or just the local community choir and giving it a go but they won’t because they’re nervous that the first time they’ll be put in front of the piano they won’t get the note right and it’ll be really embarrassing and that that’s hard as an adult it’s hard as a child I don’t want my students to have that imprint on them you know from me ever I just I think that my groom should be a place where anybody who wants to sing can do it I don’t screen my sixth and seventh graders ever and in eighth grade I only I can only have 84 students in a class and so the way my schedule is set up I do have to screen some of those because and I don’t ever audition them I just like I a program called music prodigy that my students used and they sing into it I can listen to them sing and I can see the grade there’s a grade that comes up for them it’s just like singing program and I use that as a part of the screening process and it takes some pressure off you know if by the time they’re in eighth grade they haven’t gotten certain skill sets then I I can but hey you know I make exceptions even for that or the students who just really want to sing desperately you know I try to find a space for them in that room because I just I not that I have any judgment on people who do screen that the kids if that’s a program they’ve set up but I think even in those programs there should be places where students can sing who are not screened if they want to sing you know in my high school we had it felt like we had this top choir which I was lucky enough to be in I think it’s a male it’s a little easier to get in that either you can’t sight sing and then we had the other choirs and and I felt like they weren’t as good they weren’t as valued and for me that was that was not how I wanted mine to be gotcha so one thing I love about you and the material you publish online and your blog and your videos is that you’re clearly someone who does have this very inclusive encouraging joyful spirit to your teaching but you balance that with some very serious teaching you know you are not just creating a fun music play environment you are imparting real skills and so I think I have to ask the follow-up question of if you’re not putting them on the spot and checking before they join the choir that they can sing in tune what do you do when you’re you know aspiring to take them to competition and you can hear as the choir director that there are two or three in the room who are just not hitting the pitches how do you handle it well I do it first of all I do a lot of listening every single day and my ear has become so good at spotting where the children are who are having the issues I move around the room when I hear that happening if I need you because I have very large classroom let’s say I have a

child boy this is typical of middle school whose voice has changed very quickly who’s dropping the octave he’s matching pitch but it’s it’s on the octave that child what I would do with him is at the end of class I would ask him you know without anyone hearing or maybe just only the person next to him because I don’t want to put him on the spot could you come see me during homeroom you know or whenever I have time and I’d write him a pass he come to me I would find where his voice is living and usually I use a minor third you know so it’s all or whatever and it’s usually way down to you where they are so I’d go to where they are and I find it and I help them feel what it’s like to match the pitch because it’s such a physical sensation when they do it and then they hear it as well instantly because if you let them not match pitch for a really long time then physically they become numb to it and it becomes really difficult to fix it I compare it to walking with a hunchback when you’re a young kid you know and people say straighten up your body you know your muscles go and they remember that position and then it becomes very hard to correct and then suddenly you turn 60 and you’ve got this you know happening worried or whatever I also compare it to the lines on her faces you know it’s like if you’ve been frowning your entire life you’re gonna have the frown marks if you’ve been smiling you’re gonna have the smile marks you know so these are the things I think the muscle memory the physicality and I try to get them to find it I take them up by half steps until they stop feeling that they’re in tune and hearing and that and I have them recognize it and when they recognize that then we’re on our way and this is not a one-time fix you know I might have to have that child back several times I teach them to listen class I use tons of ear training things with that are on my youtube channel I have you know i think it’s called follow the da or you I think you may even know better than me but there’s a there are things that they have to do do I sing out of tune on purpose I play a P on the piano I a little sharp and then I I tell them I’m sharp and then I ask them afterwards if they can hear when I’m out of tune something that simple and then I’ll say well I went sharp again like I’ll start in tune and then I’ll go sharp and I’m just training their ears slowly there is nothing quick about learning to sing in tune there’s nothing quick about learning to sightseeing for some kids it’s easier than others there are some students who have more natural ability in those areas than others but I believe that every child can get there you know if we have take the time you know with them and if we if our teaching techniques are strong in the classroom we can keep the individual work to a minimum it’d save us a lot of time so that’s what I’ve tried to do is become more efficient and more effective in identifying and addressing early fantastic I think will definitely put a link in the show notes to one of your videos that I enjoyed on this topic which was you had a bull’s-eye diagram on the board and you as you said would play a note on the piano and then you would match pitch and then move gradually up or gradually down and the students had to indicate when they heard that you’d gone off pitch which I thought was really elegant as a way to separate out that ear skill from the movement control you need to match pitch yourself and the best thing is they laugh about it like they they look their faces get all twisted because they can’t you know I’m so out of tune and then I have fun with it and then they laugh and then I end up laughing and then anyway it’s just that’s the way it has to be I love that and sorry to interrupt go ahead no I was just going to ask if there are any other exercises or ideas you found useful you know if someone’s in the situation of trying to teach this to themselves or trying to learn in the privacy of their own home are there any things like that they can do to help tune their ear and their voice into the matching pitch you know I would I would just again refer to those YouTube videos I made several about singing in tune and bulls-eye and your training if they go to that YouTube channel and type in ear training these are meant for middle school but these people anyone any age can learn and listen and hear and I think when you start to hear what flat is you know through those videos and then you record your yourself I think recording yourself is gonna be really important to identify you know learning once your ear sharpens a little bit you record yourself you play it back there’s so many easy ways to do that and then you listen very carefully and non-judgmentally and and you say oh okay maybe I was out of tune there and that’s all you can identify is that you were out of tune and you’re still on your way

right but uh you need to learn whether you’re flat or sharp and what your tendencies are you know do you will over time if you listen to yourself because you’ll have habits for you maybe your tendency is when you go into the higher range of your voice that you tend to go sharp or whatever you learn to identify those tendencies and then you can slowly begin to address them more and more over time on your own with your own recordings fantastic and you referred earlier to the program the app that you use with your students music prodigy and I believe you know that doesn’t just let you listen to their recordings it also gives them feedback on that singing pitch is that right yeah yeah it’s so good it’s like a day they they listen it’s well they sing first and then they as they’re singing they get a red dot if they’re wrong a yellow if they’re close and agree and if they’re right and that includes pitch and rhythm and of course the exercises that I use with music prodigy are their ones I created to compliment s cubed they’re available for anyone who wants to do it it’s really it would be a good ear training thing for people but it’s on the music prodigy website but you the examples are really really simple and they’re in the beginning and then they get harder and harder as time goes but in the start you know they’re just singing quarter notes and they’re you know basically seeing if they’re singing in tune and then later on I incorporate the rhythm and other things and skips and such is that so they can see if they can improve with time terrific well I think it comes back to what you were saying before about needing to make it set by step and then certainly what we found it musically you you know a lot of the people who come to us wanting help with singing what they’ve experienced is that learning to sing is here is the song try and sing it oh you didn’t sing it right nevermind and when we try and do is break it down for them into let’s first make sure you can sing one note in tune and then we can worry about singing another note after that and vocal control and so on and then we can work our way to songs and repertoire and that’s we’ve just found that’s really liberating for people because they’re still working towards the songs they want to sing confidently and accurately but they don’t have to tackle that all at once and they can master the the building blocks first yes it’s it’s definitely the best way you are less frustrated you can enjoy the process more you think about any song any given song and how many pitches there are in different rhythms and how how can you expect if you’re if you’re learning to be able to hit every single one of those pitches in tune you know right off like in a live performance and how many live performers have we heard who are famous whose sing terribly out of tune when they’re in a concert venue filled with millions of people or you know thousands of people like it’s just we are human but we we try to perfect slowly over time and get our brain to awaken to what we need to do to sing in tune or to sights thing or whatever gets we’re trying to do yeah I love that you mentioned that because I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming it’s kind of an on/off switch either you can sing or you can’t and I was just thinking about this this week you know I was singing a Beatles song to get my 7 month old to sleep and I was in a room where there was quite a lot of echo and so it was really easy for me to hear my own singing and I was I was very aware that you know my pitching is not great these days you know my voice is nasty I will be a little sharp or a little flat and I can hear that and I can correct it and when I’m paying attention I do find but it just brought home to me you know this is not a one-and-done kind of thing yeah always is such a biological instrument you really do need to make sure your ears are sting turned on and vocal control right what are the things I say to the students often especially early in the year is to self assess and self correct as they’re singing you know and that’s that is something that definitely clicks with even that age group and maybe it’ll click with some of your listeners you know singing is something act you know and I can see and I say this to my students I can see when you’re listening I don’t know how maybe it’s all these years of being in the classroom and I can see children who are just singing and not that there’s anything wrong with that like I want them to enjoy it I want their faces to be alive but you have to be able to do all of those things and it takes time to be able to do that so it’s like there’s my sixth graders who are new to me 11 and 12 year olds I have in the first nine weeks the first semester really I am teaching them how to learn to to self assess and self correct instantly and when they do I reward it and I say I saw I know that you’re doing that like it’s true it’s happening right now like and and then you know they know that I’m noticing and not beating them down you know so I try to keep it as positive as I can and as we have to do with ourselves as individuals if we’re self teaching you know absolutely so let’s talk about sight singing in particular then so so by that we mean being presented with a piece of sheet

music and then trying to reduce it with your voice and you do this in the choir context and you alluded there to competitions can you talk a little bit about what site singing is to you as a high school music teacher singing teacher and what those competitions look like because it’s something that I have to admit I hadn’t really come across as now who grew up in the UK and wasn’t immersed in that world of competitive choirs it’s very interesting well in the state of Georgia where I live in the middle when I moved here I moved here from New Jersey so North Carolina had a unison requirement unison step-wise that was it for this age group New Jersey had no requirement Georgia has three parts for eighth grade three parts skips as wide as an octave with dotted quarter eighth combinations syncopations crazy stuff I mean I was so alarmed when I read what they required and I thought it couldn’t possibly be true that I called a colleague who’d been helping me and this was 2002 and I was like she said yes that’s what it is that’s what they have to do when you go and I I want to go to these things because they are really helpful for me when I get feedback from the judges about the two songs they sing and it helps me dot my eyes and cross my T’s as I’m teaching the site singing I want to make sure I get it you know it get the skill sets in them so they can beat the page you know so in the first year I went to it and they sat down and they did the very best that they could do and and it was not good well they’ve failed I mean they got like a three out of one is best five is worse the kids were disappointed I was disappointed but fortunately had this wonderful sight singing judge and she came out and she gave the kids and me some some tips that were really helpful and so I went home that summer and I just started like thinking about those tips and how I could incorporate some of those things for the coming year because when people ask me about sight singing you know that’s when I really started developing s-cube that’s when it really got like I started I’m sure I started before that but I but I I started to really put the puzzle pieces together because I was determined to go and beat that page the next year you know with the kids and and in the outcome of getting to that well for me to get to that outcome had way more positive impact than I ever could have anticipated for my students they have to occupy they have to sing acapella they have five minutes to figure out what the example is I can’t sing with them I can’t help them I can only give them dough and maybe a scale they can sing a scale and arpeggio that’s all they can do and so all I can do and I can guide them and say look at measures three or look at measure five but these students had to be able to beat that page and so the second year I had gotten the skills that’s in them enough that they were successful in a great feeling but I watched so many teachers and their students walk out of the room completely demoralized that I was like I’ve got to figure out ways to share it you know back then there was no YouTube there was no Google ID have any idea how to share so around 2009 I was living in Switzerland for a year with a gymnastics stuff and I was thinking about sight singing and how I could share it so I started writing a book and I submitted it to music publishers nothing not interested it’s boring it really was it didn’t translate this way more years go by and then in 2013 I found Teachers Pay Teachers which I was like I didn’t know a thing about it but I knew that I could offer it digitally I could play powerpoints I could record myself singing I could record the students learning which I there was nothing like that out there and so I did it and it was terrible my powerpoints are still awful but the the YouTube links are all out there most of them are public your listeners can listen to them and see what they can learn that will help them but mostly I’m just really glad I’m helping teachers you know who-who need help with the subject matter and I’m taking them step-by-step through the process if they just follow it and turn the page you know or click the link or whatever they have to do to the next thing they can figure it out with their students but it’s not a it’s not a quick fix there is no such thing really sorry I wish I had better it’s just how it is it takes time to build skills we refer sometimes on the show to the advantages you have as an adult learner and I think one of those is definitely a realistic sense of what’s possible and so I know a lot of our

listeners won’t be put off by the fact that this isn’t an overnight trick to sites again you know it is gonna take practice but on that front I think what you just described is fascinating and I think it it’s supercool that those competitions exist and stretch high school middle school choirs in that way because that’s not something I’ve come across and clearly it results in students who are equipped with an amazing level of sight singing that will serve them in all of their musical life but I mentioned there you know the practice and repetition that’s gonna be involved to learn the skill over time when I was faced with sight singing that was essentially all that was presented to me you know try it try again oh you got it wrong try it again yeah that’s incredibly frustrating and clearly you’ve developed a step-by-step process and I wonder if we could just give our listeners a glimpse into what that might look like what are the tools you’re drawing on or the ideas or the frameworks that mean because you know you alluded to the simplicity of stepwise quarter note sight singing scales I know for 99% of musicians that is impossible like genuinely literally 99% of good instrument players would not be able to accurately sing stepwise quarter notes and by stepwise we just mean it’s moving up and down the scale without any jumps and that’s no criticism of them as we’ve alluded to this isn’t something that’s taught but once you learn these skills that does seem like a very simple example so can you give a bit of a glimpse into what this process looks like and what is that enables your middle schoolers to do this amazing sight singing or at first I think the important thing is the code I hand signs you know I play a game with the students where I introduce it it’s fun for them I teach them the importance of going up and down I teach them the importance of the half steps and things like that over time you know in over the first couple of weeks within two or three weeks of doing this game called forbidden pattern they’re been able to go I point to an example on the page very simple step wise and actually before I do that I have them do something called follow the hand and I will just use the hand signs I’ll give them dough and they follow the hand and they’re essentially already reading music you know you can say because they’re following my hand you know and then I the next step as I go to the board and I point to the example and I tell them this is dough and then they point to it and you know if I ask them if it’s on the space or on the line because you know the visual impact that the vision there’s not only good ear training component there’s a visual component I mean many people I didn’t realize for many years that some students don’t understand the D below on the treble clef below the staff that it’s a space note I didn’t realize that like they don’t they thought it was the e you know or whatever and when I realized that I knew then that I had to my students visual training you know and how to see what a ledger line is what is what does the note look like when it’s below the lecture line I didn’t realize how much my students were tricked up by when a note is a quarter note versus a half note because it’s white versus black I mean there are so many things with a young beginner that I didn’t know so I was taking them through those steps like train their ears or train their eyes and then we’re building the skill sets to rhythm that would be the next step we’re just adding one layer at a time but that’s how we get to you know when they are doing rhythm I have them pulse you know that’s something I didn’t do for a long time you know pulsing I tell them that by the time they get to the pulsing there it’s like they’re tapping their head and rubbing their bellies at the same time and tap dancing you know they’re doing so many things and they don’t realize that and for them by the time we’ve built slowly to that point where they can actually maybe seeing a unison this probably takes maybe eight weeks for them just seeing unison with maybe half notes and whole notes and we don’t do we do it 10 to 15 minutes a day three to four times a week so it’s not like it takes that much time but it’s really just being committed to that process one step at a time but I say to them just you know I like do a cartwheel or something the room because I’m like you know this is awesome that you are able to do this then they for them they’re like well he’s excited you know but like for the that might feel like that much but they’re still appreciating that I you know it is a big deal you know but we don’t want to feel like a big deal it’s like learning any language you know you you if you go to France and you don’t speak French and you have translator with you all of the time you will never learn the language and so if you’re if you don’t if you don’t actually try to speak it and you’re listening and you’re looking at the physical cues that people are doing and all the things that require or required when you’re learning a language

you know it’s not just oral it’s not just you know visual and it’s not just kinesthetic it’s all of it you have to leverage all learning styles and that’s what that’s what I’ve tried to do as I’ve used my program with my students good show well I want to pick up on that point about speaking a language in a moment but first I think I need to hit pause because you mentioned a lot of really good stuff there that to me or you is clear but to our listener baby a bit less familiar and so specifically code I hand signs it’s a bit tricky for us to convey on an audio podcast yeah you wouldn’t mind just explaining what is that how does it work and why is it helpful besides singing okay the code I hand signs were created by a Hungarian a man his last name was Cody and he it’s used in his system which I’m not an expert on by any means I’ve taken level one many many years ago but it’s a good system for younger singers really young like you know ages 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 some some teachers use it beyond their and they’re really good at it my system is is based on those hand signs on some level you lift your hand up you lower your hand you show the skips with your hand there are certain specific hand gestures for soul versus me versus Fah that sort of thing so those are the hand signs we play the game with and this students are also uncomfortable with those from the beginning if they’ve never been exposed and I encourage them to use them even if they’re you know making mistakes it’s really about the doing you know and and not worrying if you’re making the errors of this moment cool and so this is something where you have a particular hand sign for each note of the scale and which will do sulfur so it’s doremi facility toke whatever guy you’re in yes I used moveable dough but in the beginning I used a concept called a varied but comfortable dough because my I used like C C sharp D d sharp and E around there because middle school students are afraid to sing high and almost ever and they get paranoid and then that becomes the focus if we go to the key of G and we ask them to sites thing they’re like oh very timid you know they’re scared so I figured in the beginning I would stick them around there without any regard for you know going from the key of C to the key of G to the key of F which is what most sight singing methods do and for middle school this age group it just seemed to be an obstacle so I just removed the obstacle now over time by about the 14th or 15th week then they get into moveable to and we stick to what’s really on the page because they’re able and they’re ready we have to get out of that very big comfortable dough because they really do get stuck and they can’t sing in the correct keys if we don’t do that gotcha I love that and it lets them get a real physical visceral sense for those hand signs and pictures and how they sound before you worry about connecting it with the nitty-gritty of of notation and the staff oh yeah yes and I I actually not until really year three do I talk that much about Erie you know it’s a I teach my students my s cubed for three years the first two years I repeat because I get a lot of new students and then a final year we go into all kinds of things but they’re still not getting there they don’t leave me a theory experts they leave me as competent like it’s like they could let’s go back to French just like they can speak French completely fluently give them anything that they can do it just about anything they haven’t what they’re doing but they’re ready for high school teacher to go into all of the things that I didn’t touch on because it really it really gets in the way on some level it’s like we don’t expect you know a baby to come out and conjugate a sentence you know I mean they have to speak and they have to learn the cues it’s just the same perfect well I’ll make sure we have a link in the show notes to one of your videos where people can see this in action with some of your middle schoolers as a choir singing and hand signing their way through si singing example the other specific thing I wanted to pick up on there was you mentioned pulsing which i think is a really interesting idea that people may not be familiar with did you explain what that is and how it helps well when we get into keeping the steady beat which is a skill in its own you know like it’s not an easy skill and especially for these young kids students are taught by me to to constantly their hand goes forward with each speed as their I’ll count them in I’ll go one one two ready go and then they’ll just pulse to that beat with the solfege sides and they are lifting and lowering their hands at the same time which is really really hard to do you know so I go carefully and slowly and I

hold them through that process until they master that skill and they keep it in the fourth it’s nothing with within a month or so it’s like second nature very cool well again you can see this in action in the videos but just to give you a sense is it’s like watching someone hammer with an imaginary hammer yeah a very restrained version of a Metallica crowd pumping their fists in the air absolutely the best way to put it so these I just wanted to get a glimpse into this for the people listening because I think it conveys clearly how there are very practical tools that you’re using here in the s cube method in your own teaching this isn’t something where you study theory carefully and then you intellectually know how to do it and it’s not something where you just need to be born with an instinct to do it this is kinesthetic visual auditory all combined together in a step-by-step fashion that helps you really internalize what the notes on the page should sound like you mentioned there the analogy to language and how your students get very good at speaking the language and one blog post I loved on your site was about what you call chaos and how it compares with the activity of aw da ssin and we’ve talked on the show before about the advantages of audio imagining music in your head and I was delighted to see how you use this idea of chaos in Nia Haring for sight singing I wonder could you first just talk us through you mentioned your students have five minutes before sight singing performance as it were a sight singing test how do they use that five minutes and how does that connect to this idea of chaos well chaos any any middle school teacher knows what that is already but anyway chaos it’s like a you know it’s a time when they get to personally practice I teach I teach chaos to them this is how it goes these are the rules this is what you do they sing out loud on their own they have to block everyone out in the room yeah because it sounds like an orchestra tuning up and this I found to be a useful technique because it gives them their own personal time which everybody can work at their own level I encourage them that if they only get through measure one but they’re successful that’s okay and if they have the person next to them who gets all the way through it five times during the minute of practice that I give them or whatever that’s okay too and not even to worry about it I want them to work at their own pace their own level I found that it really helps the kids to improve over time in their space and their time in their way and then the entire group does better together as a result of that audio is a great technique I think some of the things I’ve written may lead people to think I would never have with my students no I actually do but I I think it is something that we we need to do later we do it after they’ve gotten all of those skill sets in and with my eighth graders there so they’re really good at all the sight singing that’s when I begin the Audion because they built all the skill sets those are ingrained and and they can listen they can really hear like I think I saw too many of my students when I used to try Audie a ssin in the early days with great failure they would just sit there like what are we supposed to do you know like they were doing nothing because they didn’t know what to do you know they had no idea because I teach true beginners so they just sat there and it was nothing productive and then when it was time to sing out loud they were just so scared and frustrated and wrong you know and this way they’re taught during chaos like during the time that’s times that we use it they can hear their mistakes they can self assess they can self correct and I encourage that all the time and I’ll talk to them as they’re doing chaos I’m like I hear a mistake on file you know or you know and to help them learn what what maybe they’re not doing right I’m guiding them but over time I guide them less and less than less it’s like I’m taking the training wheels off you know so they can do their own thing chaos I think it’s really great for people to you know just sing out loud in their environment before we begin the audition process which is also going to help them be just better musicians over time in our country there are some states in their adjudication process that I’ve described in Georgia where students are not allowed to sing out loud they they have to audio the entire time and I that’s what I’ve written on my blog thumb it’s in response to that I think that’s really not a great situation for kids I think it causes frustration for teachers I think I think in some level it causes teachers to stop attending those events which I think impacts the kids because they’re so frustrated that they don’t understand

how to get the skill sets into the kids and that’s that’s never a good thing we want kids to sing yeah I think it’s beautiful and I love the name I don’t know was it you who gave it that name or is this a concept as memorable as I could in the process you know I wasn’t always successful but that one is something that you even if you’re not using my program and you’re required teacher and you’re just looking for something to use in your class you can you know alert you could use it and enjoy whatever is on the YouTube channel and figure out how it can work for you yeah well it’s just so liberating and I think that’s so often what’s needed I I think partly why won’t me such joy to see your videos demonstrating this was that you know I alluded to my own choir experience when we were handed a fresh piece of sheet music there would be 60 seconds where you know there’d be some kind of timid humming from some people and other people would be muttering about intervals and I would literally just be stood there waiting until we sung it the first time and then I’d be able to sing it and I remember like I remember thinking you know what if you just gave me five minutes alone in a room I could probably figure out how this is meant to sound but I’m not gonna do that out loud in this silent room and now I know your idea of chaos and encouraging everyone to experiment out loud is the exact opposite and so empowering I think it’s so good for them and it’s so good for them to learn to block out things that make jokes about it I’m like you know how you block out your mother when she says it’s in your room but if she says you’re gonna get an iPhone 10 you listen right so you can do the same thing you can choose at this moment to walk out right so we try to make it as fun and funny and silly so that the point is driven in an a they really do work to try to block it out and do their own thing and then it just becomes part of what they do and that’s another skill set that’s gonna serve them even if they don’t sing there’s got to be something about what they’re taught in those moments that serves them in some other way in their life I’m sure of it because it takes so much brain power to do those things absolutely so I think we’ve given people a sense of the Spirit of s cubed and your teaching approach as well as some of the specific tools and techniques you use but I’d love if you could just talk a bit more about the s cubed program what it is how it works who it’s for okay well I honestly when I when I built it I built it for teachers in my state of Georgia to help them with their adjudication process that’s what it was for originally it’s on available on Teachers Pay Teachers and so teachers around the world have found it over time and they have found it really useful which is awesome it has far surpassed anything I ever ever could have thought would happen and I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone you know I mean everybody’s different but the people who have used it it seems like I’ve had and teachers who have been stuck in the Kuril classroom who decided that it works for them had two high school teachers which I built it for middle school Titan who teach beginners upper elementary teachers is it’s just a step by step program where I hand hold a hand hold I want it to be like a personal trainer for the teacher so I wanted them to be able to get up that morning an hour before they were teaching kids look at the lesson plan study it really quick look at the videos fast-forward what they was boring you know and get the concept and then go and do their thing and use what works and throw out what doesn’t you know I wanted it to be fun I want the process to be it’s much philosophy as it is a method and the philosophy really is that this process needs to be one where we celebrate every single time that they accomplish something we never ignore it because it’s hard what they’re doing and we we enjoy interacting with the kids through the game I that and then slowly before you know it they’re singing three parts then they can figure out chromatics things that I I really I don’t think I could do even when I finished my master’s degree you know some of the things I understood the theory behind it which was great for me but in terms of actually being able to do it that was a whole different situation for me and many of my peers in the same school and I went to a great school like I love my school I got a great music education there but I think that the things that I kind of thought about were things that I saw happening in my room I’m like they don’t understand this like I for me it’s natural because I played piano they they don’t understand that this is a line note versus a space note they don’t see it because it’s so small so maybe you have to make it bigger for now so then they see it and then I’ll gradually go smaller I mean things things that nobody else had addressed before for use in a classroom practical use in a real classroom with real beginners that’s what I I want that wanted this to serve terrific well people can find the sqd program at in the middle with mr. D one that’s the number one blogspot.com and

we’ll have a direct link to that in the show notes for this episode and you’ll also find their links to Dale’s YouTube channel where all of the videos we’ve mentioned can be found as well as his teachers pay teacher’s store if you’re interested in getting the full s cubed program which you can get bit by bit or as an entire care and twin program and it’s probably been clear from this conversation but I am just a huge fan of the way you approach what you teach the way you equip your students foresight singing which is a skill that intimidates most musicians including able singers so I think it’s wonderful that you’re doing this work to empower other teachers around the world to do the same thing with their students and just definitely applaud you for that hopefully it’s also come across that this is you know something that’s designed for teachers but there is a ton of interesting stuff on Dale’s website in the middle with mr. T that can help any musician and particularly if you’re curious about these topics of singing in tune or learning to sigh sing yourself I would love for you to head over to his YouTube channel watch some of these videos and be inspired because if he can get a room full of rowdy middle school students doing the kind of sight singing he does then there is definitely hope for all of us adults who struggled with it in the past big thank you daily has been such a pleasure talking to you today and I hope you have every success in your continuing work in this area thank you for this opportunity it was great talking to you the musicality podcast is brought to you by musical you more musical – you calm so I think whatever experience or interest you might have in singing and sight singing you will have found some truly interesting nuggets in that conversation let’s recap Dale grew up learning piano and singing from early on and continued focusing on singing through college before beginning his career as a school music teacher perhaps surprisingly for someone who’s now so expert in sight singing Dale wasn’t someone to whom sight singing came naturally and in fact he sort of bluffed his way through his college sight reading requirement by memorizing the required examples in advance it wasn’t until he was thrown into the world of teaching and in particular the state choir competitions he was entering with his middle school choirs that he realized how much he needed to study up on how to help his students learn this skill of sight singing for me it was fascinating to get a glimpse into that world of choir competitions and this seriously impressive sight reading abilities that are expected of quite young singers as I said in the episode the simple examples he mentioned in some states such as stepwise quarter notes only are actually already a challenge for most instrument players or even singers and so the more complex examples that he tackles with his own choirs are really a demonstration of what can be learned when it comes to sight singing even without as he having any little Mozart’s in his choirs we talked about the basics of singing and how he approaches the fact that not everybody shows up for his choir is able to sing in tune I love his inclusive and encouraging attitude and he shares the opinion we’ve had expressed by several singing experts here on the podcast before which is that everyone can learn to sing regardless of the natural ability you start with or any negative experiences you might have had in the past even when the practicalities of his school’s program require him to reduce the numbers in his choir he is always keen to find ways to include anyone who has the desire to be part of singing that even extends to his personal life where he uses a karaoke machine and perhaps some light refreshments to get his friends feeling comfortable enough to sing we talked about the need to break singing down step by step and start with the simple building blocks you don’t Chuck students right into the deep end of singing songs and then throw your hands up in the air if it doesn’t come out right if he hears that a student is having trouble hitting the right notes he helps them privately one-on-one beginning from their comfortable range and helping them to tune into the physical sense of matching pitch what it sounds and feels like to be in tune versus sharp or flat he also does this in a group setting with a bull’s-eye a game where he’ll begin singing a note in unison with the piano and then gradually move his pitch up or down asking the choir members to indicate when they hear it’s gone sharp or flat again this helps them internalize that sense of being in tune versus not we talked about how this isn’t a one-and-done skill to learn the voice and the ears are biological and that means this skill doesn’t need to be kept up over time that point about helping choir members who are struggling in a private setting is a really important one he said he never requires his singers to sing a solo if they don’t want to even to audition for his choir there are opportunities do you want to

sing solo but he’s never gonna put a singer on the spot in front of a roomful of people and challenge them to match pitch or sing something in front of everyone I think a lot more adult choirs around the world would be flooded with new members if they made clear that that was their attitude if you’re in that situation yourself of liking the idea of singing in a choir but maybe feeling nervous that you’ll be put on the spot to sing alone I hope you’ll be encouraged to get in touch with choir director ISM and simply ask them because as Dale’s example shows being put on the spot like that is absolutely not necessary even if it is quite common perhaps you’ll find a choir like his that lets you find your way into singing in a gradual comfortable way as well as helping beginner singers in general Dale’s real specialty is in sight singing where he’s able to take students in just a few years from the beginning of singing through to sight reading exercises that most singers would struggle a bit with and on to mixed rhythms even syncopation and pitch leaps as large as an octave given that sight singing is so often not taught at all and so either seen as something you should just magically be able to do if you’re a singer or as an advanced skill that you don’t really need to worry about I was keen to ask Dale about how he’s able to bring a group of young singers through to such an impressive level of ability he explained how he uses code I hand signs to establish a visual and kinesthetic connection to the notes in the scale although he’s not a full-on Kodai practitioner he’s found this particular tool helpful for getting students to connect to how each of the notes in the scale sounds he uses a particular game forbidden patent to teach this in a fun way and although we didn’t talk much about it in this conversation we will have a link in the show notes so that you can see it in action Dale only links sight singing to the staff a bit later on and even then he avoids the Nitty Gritty of worrying about key signatures I think that’s really smart and it’s an often overlooked aspect of the code I hand signs that they can actually be used to practice sight singing in a way that’s independent of written notation just trying to produce the right pitches for the hand signs you’re seeing somebody do he teaches his students to pulse their hand signs in time with the beat so that they’re physically keeping the beat going quick she says really helps them juggle the pitch and rhythm at the same time something that can otherwise be quite tricky for beginners we talked about what he calls chaos meaning using the time before you tried to sightseeing a new piece to practice it out loud rather than expecting people to purely use silent Oddie a ssin to figure out how they’re going to sing it I’m going to link in the show notes to a particular video where you can watch his middle school choir go from start to finish with a sight singing challenge demonstrating these hand signs pulsing and chaos in action I love how that label of chaos liberates the students from worrying about making mistakes and I think that’s an attitude and an activity that we can all make use of if you’re trying to cite sing music at home by yourself it doesn’t mean pick up the sheet music and immediately sing it correctly give yourself that space to experiment before you try to perform it this comes back to something else he said about teaching the students to listen as they sing he said that while it’s great to lose yourself in the enjoyment of singing it’s actually essential to remain switched on so that you can self assess and self adjust along the way Dale also uses a program called music prodigy to provide his S cubed exercises in an interactive way that lets students get immediate feedback on their pitch and rhythm accuracy we’ll put a link to that in the show notes through learning to teach sight singing to his choirs and achieving success in the state competitions Dale began to see the opportunity to help other teachers apply the same principles and philosophy with their own choirs he developed this as the S cubed program for sight singing and makes it available online it’s offered in a really flexible way at affordable prices so if you are curious to know more whether as a teacher yourself or purely as a musician who’d like to be able to sight sing then definitely do check out Dale’s Teachers Pay Teachers catalog which will link to in the show notes I’m sure it came across in the way I talked about my own sight singing experiences growing up that I really see this as a major weak spot in the way singing and choirs are traditionally taught and I think a lot of singers are missing out on learning to sight-read when as Dale has demonstrated it can be taught impressively well with just a few 10 to 15-minute sessions each week and the same is true of those foundational singing skills of matching pitch and singing in tune so I love the work Dale is doing and the encouraging and inclusive spirit he brings to his teaching check out his website in the middle with mr. d1 that’s number one dot

blog spot.com which will link to in the show notes at musicality podcast calm or what Dale actually said to me if you google middle school sight singing you’ll find him and have fun watching his videos and reading his blog posts with great advice and ideas for teachers and students alike thanks for listening to this episode and I’ll see you on the next one thank you for listening to the musicality podcast this episode has ended but your musical journey continues head over to musicality podcast calm where you will find the links and resources mentioned in this episode as well as bonus content exclusive

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