I recently saw a joke on the internet. There was a picture of some music with a caption asking "what's wrong with this picture?" and I found myself stumped. The time signature and the note values added up right, the key signature was written correctly, bar lines and other symbols were placed right and I could not figure out what was wrong to save my life. Then I read some other people's comments and realized the music was supposed to be the opening of Beethoven's Fifth. Without any further information, I immediately saw that the last note was wrong and the rhythm was wrong (glaringly so). And then I realized something. I hadn't been able to "see" what was wrong because I hadn't turned the visual notation into sound in my head (a skill taught in sight singing classes) until I knew it was supposed to be a specific piece. And what is more, this happened in spite of the fact that I learned to sight sing years ago and even taught sight singing. All of which caused me to recognize what was happening at last; this was a dyslexia glitch I hadn't been aware of before.
the issues with dyslexia is that turning symbols into what they
represent is tricky. Written letters and words are the most typical
examples but it can happen with numbers or music notation too. Most
dyslexics only have trouble with some symbols and not others. This is
why some dyslexics can't spell but can handle written math and read
music or have trouble with written math but no trouble with music or
reading. My main dyslexic trouble is spelling not music notation. But
suddenly I realized that turning written music into sound in my head is
just a bit more problematic for me than anyone would expect because of
Now sight singing or turning notation into
sound in our heads is not something people do automatically. Most
people have to learn the process and they tend to find it challenging at
first. A few folks have a knack for it but generally it is something that must be taught,
practiced and sweated over. Once learned, some people can't turn it off
(every notation "sings" to them) but most have to make a conscious
effort to sight sing music. I was in the second group. If I just look at
notation, I don't just hear it right away. I must make a conscious
effort to "hear" the notes and rhythms written out in front of me. This
isn't really that unusual nor is it considered an issue so I hadn't ever
noticed that the effort I make is just a bit more, a little longer, a
smidge more complex than is typical. The fact that learning to sight sing is not
easy for anyone hid the fact that I don't turn written music
into sound in my head easily. It wasn't until I had trouble getting an
obvious (to musicians) joke that it came out into the open.
isn't a big problem for me (clearly since I was trusted to teach
freshmen the basics of sight singing). I've worked around it for decades
without even realizing it was there. What's more, once I have played a
piece, it is outrageously easy for me to "hear" the music when I look at
it. That extra bit of information, the physical memory of creating the
sound on my flute, kicks my sight singing skill into high gear and I
can even catch tiny changes in the notation with ease. This makes a
great deal of sense given my history of using finger spelling to manage
to learn to spell at least a bit better. Attaching physical sensation to
the visual symbols helps me process the symbols. And I can, in fact,
sight sing a piece without ever having played it just fine; I just need a
few extra moments to work it out. Since I'm an instrumentalist not a
vocalist, this is simply not a problem. But now that I know about it, I
can work with it and find the alternate ways I process the written music
into sound. Like "fingering" the notes on a pencil as if it was a
flute, something I used learning to sight sing.
to anyone who has struggled to learn to sight sing music, you now have a
small hint of what it feels like to be dyslexic. That process of
transforming notation into music entirely inside your head is quite
similar to fighting to handle moving letters while learning to read.
initial stage of learning to sight sing (according to me and my
non-dyslexic friends alike) is unsettling. It seems as if there is no
point of reference for what you are learning, nothing to hang on to or
use as a tool. This is because you are restructuring your brain to do a
brand new thing. Dyslexics often take extra time to learn to read
because they must work out new methods of processing the written letters for their brains. The same thing happens when learning to
sight sing music for nearly everyone.
And remember that there is more than one way to
learn to sight sing (just like learning to read or do written math).
Different teachers use different methods and each person develops their
own tricks. Ask others for tips if you have serious trouble and explore
other approaches. Remember that it may never be automatic and that's ok.
Practicing the skill at whatever level you have it will teach you how
to develop it. Don't expect your sight singing to match others but use
your skill your way.