Identifying the Home Note

Hi! I'm Harry Buerer! Sight-Singing is the skill of seeing music notation on paper and reproducing the sound with your voice. It's sometimes referred to as music reading for singers. In this short course we aim to give you successful experiences at reading simple melodies from the very first lesson. I'm going to assume that you know absolutely nothing about music, so this first lesson might seem overly simple. But you need to have the basics down pat.

Most songs in the Western tradition are based on a pattern of notes called a major scale. One of these notes is considered to be note #1 of the eight notes in the scale. That's the note we're going to focus on in this lesson.

A scale can start on any note. A song built on that scale is considered to be in a certain key, represented by note #1 of the scale. This note is called by several names: the tonic, the key note, Do. We're going to sometimes call it the "home note".

For sight-singing we have to know what the home note sounds like, and what it looks like, so we can make a connection between the two. For the sound, many a cappella groups will introduce a song by playing a note on a pitch pipe, or some other instrument. This note is usually the home note, or the key of the song. I will play a few notes on a pitch pipe, and you sing that note, in your range, on the syllable "Ta". (play notes)

Being able to sing the note that is sounded is half the challenge. The other half is to know what the note looks like on paper. Music notation is written on a staff of five parallel lines. The notes are represented by ovals on a line, or in a space between lines. The notes of a major scale are on alternate lines and spaces.

At the very beginning of each line of music is something called a "key signature". The key signature is a pattern of little symbols called sharps or flats. This key signature tells you which note is the home note, if you know how to read it.

For now, we're going to consider key signatures with two or more flats. The flat signs, that look like little 'b's, are arranged in a particular order from left to right. To find the home note, you start on the right side of the key signature and look at the second flat from the right. This flat symbol is on the line or space that represents the home note. Any note on that line or space will have the pitch of the home note. Here are some examples of the home note in several keys. Be sure that you can identify each of these as the home note by matching it with the second flat from the right of the key signature. For each one we're going to blow a pitch pipe, and then sing "Ta" on the home note. (examples)

Only one thing is missing now, rhythm. The appearance of a note on the staff determines how long the note is to last. We're only going to consider one kind of note in this lesson. Start tapping your foot at a medium speed. Then say "Ta" for each time you tap. It might sound like this: "Ta Ta Ta Ta". We will call notes at this speed, "quarter notes". We'll explain more about that later. Quarter notes on the staff look like filled-in black ovals with a stem going up or down.

We're finally ready to sing a very simple melody from the sheet music. First we will look at the key signature and determine where on the staff the home note is. Then we listen to the pitch pipe and match it. Then we sing the notes in relation to the home note with the indicated rhythm. For this first melody, notice that the home note, matching the second flat from the right, is on the second space from the bottom. That note sounds like this: (sound pipe) "Ta". Now sing the melody.

We will try several other similar melodies in different keys. I'll give you the home note for each. There is also a quiz for you to identify whether the pictured note is the home note or not. In the next lesson we'll add another note to our repertoire. Be sure that you understand everything in this lesson before you go on.

Lesson 1 Quiz

True or False: For each note pictured, is it the home note?


Answers: 1-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-False, 5-True, 6-True

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