Publication reviews

Novello Guide to Sightreading

Key information

  • Title: The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing
  • What it is: Sight-singing guide and online resource
  • Authors: Ralph Allwood & Timothy Teague
  • Publisher: Novello & Co
  • Price information: £18.99-£19.99
  • Available from: Amazon.co.uk / Musicroom.com / Scorestore.co.uk (with a 5% discount)

Choral director, Brian Cotterill, reviews Novello’s new sight-singing guide

Ella Fitzgerald once said that ‘the only better thing than singing is more singing’. A major problem for so many potential singers though has always been how to sight-read. Sight-singing is different from sight-reading on other instruments because it involves pitching notes oneself, rather than ‘simply’ playing the correct note.

As a choral director, I have often found that the most useful singers in a choir are not necessarily those with the best voices but those who can sight-sing accurately.

This work – and it’s much more than just a book – is a fantastic publication. It can be used by students, teachers and choir directors alike. There is so much in it that it is, dare I say it, the ultimate resource.

Sight-reading has always been the scourge of music exam candidates. The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing should be in everyone’s music case. The authors have used their huge experience to produce the first truly interactive resource to teach the art of sight-singing.

The book

As a text book, this will be of immense use to singing teachers in lessons with their students but can also be used by students on their own, outside lessons. Although necessarily extremely detailed, the book guides the student through the theory and skills required to sight-sing effectively, notably rhythm, intervals, melodic shape etc. I particularly like the way the authors advise students how to pitch intervals – a common difficulty among singers.

The exercises are cleverly chosen from ‘real’ pieces of music and each one focusses on a particular aspect of sight-singing. The annotated musical examples in the book, while initially appearing quite daunting and reminiscent of university students’ analysis assignments, on closer inspection give a vast array of tips and techniques to improve one’s skills.

Screenshot 1

Additional Case Studies, Example 1

The book provides explanations, exercises and tips and tricks covering:

  • basic music theory
  • scales and stepwise motion
  • larger intervals and awkward leaps
  • fast and effective reading of choral scores
  • examples from popular choral repertoire
  • general good practice for choral singing

I don’t know of another book which brings such a thorough approach to the art of sight-singing. Singers are taught to notice things in a score as they sight-sing (arpeggios, scale passages, repeating patterns etc), aspects of sight-singing which are crucial.

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

The book is extremely thorough; indeed, perhaps a little too thorough for use by a student on his or her own. Nevertheless, for use with a teacher or by a choral director, it is a box of delights.

The online Soundcheck resource

The unique aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing is its online Soundcheck resource. By logging into SoundWise, not only is the whole book available as an E-book on screen but also all the exercises are available for practice, each pitched for both high and low voice.

Once the chosen Soundcheck exercise is on screen, the student can try to sing it (through the microphone of his or her computer) and the performance is then ‘marked’. The student can try each exercise as many times as he or she likes, hopefully improving his accuracy. ‘Stars’ are awarded to celebrate achievement.

Following a successful ‘performance’, the student is encouraged to do a ‘lap of honour’ by singing the exercise again. This helps confirm the skills used (and also checks that the previous performance wasn’t a fluke!).

SoundWise's Soundcheck resource

SoundWise’s Soundcheck resource

This online resource is of huge value and is the main thing which, for me, puts The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing in a different league from the old and crusty sight-singing books I have on my music shelves. Here, for the first time, the student can practise the art of sight-singing on his or her own with an online ‘teacher’ who marks every exercise instantly and will do so 24 hours a day – fantastic!

The SoundWise online aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing can be accessed on all media devices, including phone, tablet and personal computer, so is available for use anywhere – in a lesson, at home, in school etc – I even tried it in the bath!

In conclusion, I highly recommend The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing. It will no doubt establish itself as an extremely useful resource in the choral world. If I have one reservation, it would be that the book can appear too detailed for the student working alone, especially if he or she is young, but for use by adults, teachers and choral directors, it will doubtless prove invaluable. Ella Fitzgerald would have approved.


About the reviewer

Organist, pianist, choral director, composer and teacher, Brian Cotterill spent over seven years as Director of Music at Lanesborough School (the choir school of Guildford Cathedral) before becoming Director of Music at St Edmund’s School in Hindhead, Surrey, where he oversaw the running of seven choirs every week.

He has undertaken choir tours to Salzburg, Rome, Venice and Tuscany, which have included performances for Pope Benedict XVI. Brian is the official accompanist of Song Circle, a chamber choir formed from members of the BBC Symphony Chorus.

Web: http://briancotterill.webs.com
Email: brian.c@talktalk.net


Key information


Primary Music Specialist, Finn Ros, tries out a new book and CD introducing young children to improvisation

In the Gap! is a brand new, beautifully illustrated book and CD, aimed at introducing young children to improvisation within their individual and class music lessons. Written by musician and teacher, Hannah Brady, it lays out each lesson clearly with original catchy songs and ideas.

The seven songs cover a range of topics including healthy eating, Spain, traffic/vehicles, weather etc. The activities are suitable for learning purely as a means for encouraging improvisation and building confidence in the classroom or, alternatively, these songs could be built up to be performed as concert pieces. The pieces are suitable for a variety of instruments and both concert and Bb transcriptions are included.

I used the upbeat song, Vamanos Amigos, in my Year 5 ukulele Wider Opportunities lesson and, I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about the idea of getting 30 lively 9-10-year-olds to improvise but they absolutely loved it! I found the planning clear and helpful. I personally adapted it to work with my class but I believe that it would be just as successful delivered exactly as prescribed in the suggestions. The song was immediately popular and the performance track got them dancing; always a good sign… We were able to have an in-depth conversation about improvising and I found that even those who were not keen on it in the first week were enthusiastically joining in by Lesson 2, trying out new techniques and commenting on and complementing each other’s efforts.

The song can easily be adapted to instrumentalists of varying levels, from the very beginner to small ensembles, with different parts to play. Planning, as mentioned, was very straightforward as each song comes with such a comprehensive set of notes including information on and suggestions for:

  • Style and background of song
  • Things to listen out for
  • Rhythm work
  • Melodic work
  • Improvisation

In the Gap! suggests that it is suitable for use with Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) straight through to Key Stage 2 (KS2). I believe that the Early Years would enjoy listening to and perhaps singing some of the songs but I think that the activities are far more suited to KS2 as the EYFS are naturally inclined to improvise anyway so it might provide too much structure, therefore limiting their creativity. Having said that, I can see some of the simpler songs working with, for example, a Key Stage 1 (KS1) recorder ensemble.

In the Gap! provides opportunities for experienced and less-confident music teachers alike to plan and deliver engaging lessons, with opportunities for the children to improvise creatively alongside learning fun new songs, for performance opportunities or purely for the experience. Piano parts for the songs are available to purchase separately on the website for £3.99.

All in all, my students and I enjoyed the experience of using In the Gap! and it has given me the confidence to experiment with improvisation more in my planning. I would recommend it to KS1 and KS2 peripatetic and Wider Opportunities teachers alike.


About the writer

Hannah Brady is a musician with considerable teaching experience across different settings – from Whole Class delivery at KS2 to workshop leader for Sheffield Jazz.

Her recent projects include partnerships with Jazz North and Sheffield Music Hub.

Web: https://improvinthegap.com
Twitter: @HannahIntheGap


About the reviewer

Finn Ros is a trained Primary school teacher, specialising in Early Years and Music Education.

In 2011, she founded Crescendo, which provides quality music sessions for Early Years children across London.

Web: www.crescendolondon.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crescendomusicclasses
Twitter: @crescendouk


In the Gap! on Soundcloud